Asian Wins Survivor…Now What?

SFChronicle ran a below-the-fold, page-one story on Yul Kwon who won the latest installment of Survivor, the original reality show in its 13 season. The article focused in on the fact that the San Mateo native defeated “Asian stereotypes to win.”

I didn’t follow most of the season but I managed to catch the first and last episodes of this season on the Cook Islands. Somehow, for all the talk on the show of “representin'” your race, I didn’t quite fall for the whole gimmick. Really how much breaking down of stereotypes did Yul do? The human-Asian-encyclopedia Jeff Yang says Yul was, “tall, athletic, staggeringly handsome.” But really, everyone on survivor under the age of 25 is good-looking, regardless of race.

“I wanted America to see Asian Americans as they truly are,” says Kwon. Well, what are we? Are we all beautiful, eloquent, “god-father” figures looking the change our image on TV? Um, no. Clearly I would say a majority of Asians are not tall like Yao Ming, athletic like Tiger Woods (okay, he’s part Asian), and beautiful like Sandra Oh. Asian Americans are a diverse population of different backgrounds, upbringings, and social classes. You want to break down stereotypes? You must portray the immigrants in Chinatown, the affluent in Palo Alto, the struggling middle-class in Los Angeles. Portray not only a Korean but a Chinese, a Thai, a Japanese, a Filipino, etc. — and distinguish between them.

I don’t know too many Asian Americans like Yul Kwon. But Maybe I should be thankful for some representin’ on TV. Maybe he’ll become a idol for Asians everywhere or at least he’ll become as famous as an Amy Tan, if not recognizable by name, at least by face. I just hope he takes his short-lived fame and really runs with it, helping us Asian Americans figure out who we really are.


3 thoughts on “Asian Wins Survivor…Now What?”

  1. Asian American Power! What-What! Way to represent Ryan dear!

    All I have to say is that I don’t know how many Asian Americans actually watched this season of Survivor, but I highly doubt this guy’s going to be the kind of influence on “our people” as Amy Tan.. then again it may just be wishful thinking…?

  2. You say that in order to break down stereotypes you have to distinguish Asian Americans from each other. But then you conclude with the note that “Asian americans [need] to figure out who we really are.” How can we figure out who we are if we are all different as you mentioned earlier? I think that your post is a perfect example of the contradictory mentality that many people have. You are dissatisfied with the portrayals on screen, yet you lump together an entire demographic. Also, I think you need to be more careful in distinguishing between Asians and Asian Americans. Please note that Sandra Oh is Canadian born. In addition, the images of Asian and Asian American athletes are not portrayals of Asian Americans, they are real people. It is important to realize that Yul Kwon is also a real person on a reality tv show, so the way he is portrayed is due in large part to editing and a reality tv show format. I really think you need to be careful when making posts and consider all facets of the subject matter of your argument rather than settling for mashing them all together. And its interesting that you mention Amy Tan as someone that Asians/Asian Americans should strive for; she is a highly controversial figure in Asian American culture for her literature on “stereotypical” Asian American life.

  3. Re: Passing By

    Thanks for you comments. I hear you but I think you’re reading into what I’m trying to say.

    I am indeed an example of a person with a “contradictory mentaltiy.” What do you expect? I am Asian American. Well, I am half Asian American. Or maybe I’m actually half Asian. Or maybe I should identify as Chinese American. Sometimes others call me straight Asian. So what am I? I strive to distinguish myself as an individual but also identify with a larger group. That’s why I am “dissatisfied with the portrayls on screen yet still lump together an entire demographic.”

    I think Asian, Asians Americans, etc. can genuinely distinguish themselves and still identify as Asian American. I am “mashing” these two ideas together for a reason: it’s a reality for a lot of people, including myself. That’s how I can advocate for Asian Americans everywhere and for Yul Kwon to rock his stardom and still be proud of my individual heritage.

    I am not settling for the easy way out here. In many ways, it’s the hardest route of all: maintain a unique identity while identifying with unidentifiable group.


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