Survivor on Implicit Biases and Lived Experiences

Ivan Ornelas
8 min readNov 5, 2019

In the 6th episode of CBS Reality TV Show Survivor’s 39th season, Island of the Idols, there was a powerful and informative scene that viewers witnessed.

Jamal (left) and Jack (right). Photo courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

The scene begins with Jamal Shipman, a then 33-year-old African-American college administrator from Providence, Rhode Island, having just shown the other members of the Vokai tribe (the show’s term for team) some West African dances he had learned from his experience as a Teaching Assistant for a college level dance course. It seemed like a typical “Survivor downtime” scene where viewers get some insight on typical life and dynamics between several contestants at any given time. Moments later, Jack Nichting, a then 23-year-old Caucasian graduate student from Harrisonburg, Virginia, refers to Jamal’s buff (headband) as a durag. This is where things get tricky, even after re-watching the episode and analyzing the situation. Nevertheless, I will do my best to explain why this is such a nuanced situation between two people of different walks of life.

Having watched every episode of the US version of Survivor, I fail to recall another instance where the term durag was used to describe the now famous Survivor buffs, which have become a collectors item for fans as well as a memento of their time on the game for the former contestants. So I can understand Jamal’s visible disappointment when Jack used the term durag, which, as Jamal explains later in this scene, is slang for a cloth worn by many subcultures but is often associated with African Americans in less than positive contexts. Jamal’s immediate response is “Durag? Wow” as he appears to be taking in what had just happened. As he begins to talk about why that comment was a race-related remark, Jack is seen nervously walking away (which is pointed out by another team member). The show then cuts to two confessionals (private interviews), one each from Jamal and Jack, breaking down their reactions followed by an immediate individual conversation between the two. Jack is quick to apologize, emphasizing how embarrassed he was to make that comment, and Jamal appears accepting but also concedes that he will need time to move forward from that moment. Jack respects where Jamal is coming from.

After Jamal, again in confessional, explains that the durag comment is reflective of the image a lot of…

Ivan Ornelas

Manchester United, Quakes, Roots, and Chivas fan. Primarily covering soccer, followed by other sports. Occasionally Writes about Reality TV and Games too.