Survivor's Jeff Probst Talks Out This Week's Racial Incident

Survivor: Island of the Idols Jamal and Jack 2019 CBS

Spoilers ahead from Survivor: Island of the Idols' October 30, 2019 episode, "Suck It Up Buttercup."

Survivor: Island of the Idols just gave two players, and all viewers, a lot to think and talk about in this week's episode. Survivor 39 host Jeff Probst shared his thoughts on the race-related conversation between Lairo tribe members Jamal Shipman and Jack Nichting.

During the October 30th episode, Jack made a comment about Jamal's Survivor buff, calling it a "durag." Jack knew pretty much immediately he had said something insensitive, and the two allies had a talk about why Jack calling Jamal's buff a durag felt disrespectful.

Jamal said he knew some people would wonder why that would be a big deal; he talked about stereotypes about black men, including being deadbeat dads wearing "wife beater" shirts and durags. So when a white person like Jack uses the term durag to a black man like Jamal, it has a different connotation and can feel like a slur.

Jamal, 33, and Jack, 23, had a civil conversation about it, and Jack offered what appeared to be a sincere apology. Jamal got tearful to the cameras about it, saying he never gets apologies for things like that and it went a long way with him. They remain friends and allies in the game.

Here's what Survivor's Jeff Probst had to say about the conversation in his post-episode interview with EW:

There is so much going on in this scene between Jack and Jamal. As you mentioned, for this kind of beautiful connection to happen, both sides have to be open to it. Jack was so clearly earnest in his desire to both apologize for offending Jamal and also learn from the situation. And Jamal’s response was so powerful. He was a teacher, he was a friend, and above all else he was a healer. It says so much about both men. Jack is a young guy, but he handled himself with such maturity and openness. And Jamal continues to be an empathetic and rational voice despite being on the wrong side of the numbers week after week. His thoughtful explanation made it easy for all of us to understand the importance of the conversation.

Survivor has had tense race-related conversations in the past -- like when Survivor: Redemption Island's Phillip called Steve racist for saying he was crazy. Survivor has also delved into conversations about being transgender, as when Survivor: Game Changers' Varner outed Zeke.

Jeff Probst appreciated how the scene between Jack and Jamal could've gotten ugly, but instead ended up being a powerful human moment between two friends:

I rank that up there with one of the most compelling moments we’ve ever had on the show. A moment that in the hands of two other people could have led to more strife or an argument or hurt feelings, but in the hands of Jamal and Jack became a real teaching moment.

Jeff Probst already told fans Survivor 39 would have a dramatic change to the storytelling and go for deeper dives following the modern culture shifts. (He didn't mean deeper dives into airing spoilers during commercials, and he was upset with CBS for its spoilery promos.)

Not everyone is down for that, and the conversations on Twitter during and after Survivor's episode showed mixed feelings about Jack and Jamal's talk. Many fans appreciated the way the two men handled the moment -- especially when compared to contestants on other CBS shows like Big Brother. It was a breath of fresh air and maturity. But other fans rolled their eyes or got upset at being preached at or were irritated by a distraction from the rest of the Survivor gameplay.

Speaking of that gameplay, Jeff Probst said the Survivor team had no idea about the pre-season connection between two players, which could now help their strategies during Survivor 39. What about Aaron? Can anyone help his strategy or is he toast after the results of this week's episode?

Survivor: Island of the Idols, starring my queen Elaine Stott and some other people, continues Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Gina Carbone

Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.