CBS Is Changing the Format of its Cringey Social-Justice Themed Reality Competition Series

After less than a week of online criticism for the new series “The Activist,” CBS is reconfiguring the show into a one-time documentary special instead of a five-week competition series. 

The social justice-themed show, hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough, was created for six activists to go head-to-head to compete for causes they cared about. There is no way to make that sound less Hunger Games-y.  

The show was set to premiere as a series on Oct. 22, but when it was announced late last week, the Internet had some thoughts (even we couldn’t hold our tongues on this one). Social media users, bloggers and news outlets pointed out the show was performative activism at its peak and laid into the competitive nature of making activists care about one issue more than another. 

Due to the overwhelming online backlash, CBS announced on Wednesday that although footage for the original structure of the series had already been shot, the documentary version of “The Activist” would be entirely new and filmed from scratch. 

In a joint statement, CBS and its producing partners Global Citizen and Live Nation explained the switch, saying: “‘The Activist’ was designed to show a wide audience the passion, long hours, and ingenuity that activists put into changing the world, hopefully inspiring others to do the same. However, it has become apparent the format of the show as announced distracts from the vital work these incredible activists do in their communities every day. The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort.

“As a result, we are changing the format to remove the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced),” the statement continued. “It will showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in. Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show.”

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According to Variety, the initial series had six activists representing three causes, in the fields of health, education and environment, competing in challenges to raise awareness about those issues in the initial four episodes. In the final episode, three of the activists were to have been chosen (one for each field) to attend the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October and meet with world leaders to personally advocate for their causes. 

Understandably, critics were upset with the way the show’s format created competition among causes, particularly because often times social justice initiatives overlap. A person’s health is often affected by their environment, and an education can determine how healthy one chooses to be. Issues do not need to be in direct competition with one another; rather, activists should be working with one another to address all areas of oppression.

The documentary series will hopefully showcase this message, and CBS seems to at the very least acknowledge their misguidance: “Activists and community leaders around the world work every day, often without fanfare, to advance protections for people, communities, and our planet. We hope that by showcasing their work we will inspire more people to become more involved in addressing the world’s most pressing issues. We look forward to highlighting the mission and lives of each of these incredible people.”

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