Jeff Probst, <EM>Survivor: Cook Islands</EM> Jeff Probst, Survivor: Cook Islands

In the three weeks since word got out that CBS' Survivor: Cook Islands (premiering tonight at 8 pm/ET) would split up the tribes based on race Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics and whites pretty much everyone and his brother has weighed in on the controversial twist. But seriously, who cares what assorted reverends, rights groups and Tom-Dick-and-Harry bloggers worldwide think about the premise? How did the 20 people actually competing on Cook Islands react once they realized that they were being sorted by kind? took that highly relevant question to Survivor host Jeff Probst, who in turn revealed that the players were informed of the color-coordinated twist the night before it was revealed on camera, "because we anticipated some of them might have a strong reaction and want to talk about it." And did they? "A few had opinions on the [racial] division of tribes," he says, "but for the most part they didn't see it being a factor one way or the other."

Still, there were some strong viewpoints to be had.

Detailing some of the individual takes on the setup, Probst tells us that Yul, from the Asian tribe, who tried out for Survivor for the express purpose of changing television-based perceptions of his people, "was concerned that we were going to portray stereotypes. We assured him that we did not cast the show looking to fulfill an existing stereotype, and as far as what any of the 20 did while on the show, all we were going to do was observe." Vietnamese Cao Boi, Probst recalls, "thought it sounded fun to be in a group made up only of Asians, because simply based on what part of Asia you are from, there are differences within the community. He looked at it all as one big opportunity to explore the truth."

Others, though, dismissed the division method wholesale and instead declared themselves ready to win this round of the reality series using tried-and-true and color-blind  tactics. For Latino Ozzy, "All he cared about was contribution. If you're carrying your weight, you're OK. If not, you're gone," says Probst. "Rebecca, from the African-American tribe, her focus was very clear who can help me win this game? If they could help her win the million [dollars], she'd team up with them."

Similarly, for Pavarti, a cute-as-a-button waitress/boxer from West Hollywood, California, and a member of the white tribe, "ethnicity didn't matter at all," says Probst. "She [plans to] use her femininity to woo any guy, regardless of ethnicity, and pair up with people she could take with her to the end."

In other words, racy unions and not racial divisions are in her sights.

All told, as Probst declared in an earlier conference call with reporters, "This will go down as one of the five best seasons we've had," due in good part to the fact that since the show had to actively seek out specific ethnicities to fill its rosters, they wound up with a lot of Survivor-unsavvy players.

"We have heroes and underdogs like we haven't had in a long time," he promised. "We have a record number of blind sides in tribal council. And we have three love connections, one of which is the strangest love affair you have seen, I would argue, on any reality show."

Let the races begin.

Hey, reality-TV fans, for an inside look at an American Idol marriage, pick up the Sept. 18 issue of TV Guide.

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