Total Drama Island - Part 2: The History (And My Take On It)
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Hello. You may remember me gushing over Total Drama Island and how, in addition to its creative satires on the reality show genre and its grounded atmosphere, it benefited from coming loaded with some of the most diverse, identifiable, and relatable teenage characters ever made for television, even if they were meant to play into the show’s satires.
While this show was welcomed as such when it hit the American airwaves in Cartoon Network, those who have been lucky enough to have seen the show before then were taken aback by what the network actually did to the show besides airing it.
Because it featured teenage characters as the main characters, the show was originally made for 8-to-12-year-olds. But because it was also a cartoon that came with some zany jabs at the reality show programming, Cartoon Network took the opportunity to pick it up for the American market.
However, because CN was a children’s network, they wanted to make sure it was as accessible to children as its own library of shows and movies.
The result: a boatload of censors made to conceal the harsher dialogues of the show. This was seen by many, primarily older viewers, as a really degrading move for the network; it made what were originally good, if slightly raunchy, jokes now not make any sense, and it also hindered on the authentic experience we would have felt watching the show.
If you want to complete list of all the edits the Cartoon Network made onto the show, you can find it here on
Otherwise, if you don’t want to waste your time skimming through the entire page to find out what has been edited out in each episode on CN, then I’ll list down five examples of some of the most egregious CN-endorsed censors, all of which I went as far as to provide with video evidence so you’ll get the general idea of what I’m talking about.
The first one I’ll show you is demonstrated as sort of a 'before and after' scenario, the first one keeping the original Canadian audio and the second one demonstrating what it’s been censored into in the American airwaves, courtesy of Cartoon Network.
The Original Canadian Version
The American (Cartoon Network) Version
Yeah, is this the kind of dialogue you would expect to hear in an animated cartoon series that was meant for slightly older demographics than what CN thought it was supposed to be?
Seriously, if such kids' shows as Rugrats, Lizzie McGuire, and Andi Mack all discussed about Judaism in some form or another, what’s wrong with discussing about Catholicism in a similar manner? Come to think of it, what’s wrong with demonstrating that not all people follow the same religion? For something meant for preteens, that lesson is more fruitful than what late-2000s CN was giving the show credit for.
As for the next four examples, what you’re about to read on the video screens corresponds to what was originally spoken in the Canadian version. What you’re about to hear, on the other hand, corresponds instead to how it was shown on Cartoon Network.
The reason for the edit may seem obvious, but the fact that the original dialogue was meant as a pun doesn’t make it any less inexcusable.
You know what makes this choice of editing even more confusing? And less consistent, I might add? Later on in the same episode, the characters talked about the bulls being castrated or digesting cojones, all of which were left as they were on Cartoon Network. At that rate, anyone who knew what these words meant could have picked up right away that the ‘meatballs’ were really testicles, whether the censors were put into place or not.
This edit is a good example of how some of what CN decided to replace some of the saltier words with made certain jokes or discussions that were already good or easy to follow sound more nonsensical. The thighs in question would’ve sounded like it came out of nowhere in Cartoon Network, whereas in the original Canadian version, there was a reason it was brought up in the first place.
But this one? This particular censor, when it first aired with its accompanying episode on Cartoon Network, the outcries hurled against the network at that point for its needless censorship reached their boiling point. “Why censor a censor?”, I noticed someone complain. I think this edit was stupid, too, for two reasons. One, it took away an aspect of its reality show themes, that being that at some point or other, we’ve always heard at least one person swear in an actual reality show, complete with the bleep. The situations at hand could have been and were tense enough to result in that reaction out of someone, and the same could be said here. And that leads to number two: the way Lindsay, in the Canadian version, reacted to both being automatically eliminated from the game and being betrayed, all at once, by the one girl who she thought was her BFF (best female friend) was parallel to how we would have expected someone her age - I repeat, her age - to react in as similar and as severe a predicament. The way late-2000s-CN made it out to be, on the other hand, sounded more like how a six-year-old would have reacted, not a sixteen-year-old. These were some, if not all, of the reasons why this developed a reputation for being what I would describe as the “Han shot first” of network-endorsed censorship.
Even Tom McGillis, one of the co-creators of the show, commented on the American censors when reflecting on the outcome (and future) of Total Drama’s American presentation via CN:
"They like to comb through and take them all out. And they did. It was such a funny thing because that was the one thing that everybody in the U.S. identified (as) the big difference between Canada and the U.S. There were all these discussion groups about, you know, ‘In the Canadian version they say ‘suck’ 42 times over the series, and it's way better. And Cartoon Network should be ashamed to think that kids can't hear the word ‘sucks.’ It became a big issue for the fans of Cartoon Network, and they were telling the network you don't need to protect us from words like ‘sucks’ or ‘idiot.’ As a result, when they launched our second series, 6teen, recently, they barely edited it at all. But it remains to be seen how (Total Drama Action) will be handled this year."
In fact, the outcries from the viewers were so massive that season two (which was called Total Drama Action) onwards of Total Drama was edited less and less by Cartoon Network. Not only that, but some of the network’s then-incoming shows of the early 2010‘s, including Adventure Time, MAD, and especially Regular Show, incorporated some of the salty and raunchy dialogue and humor that the original TDI had (if only that was enough to reverse the edits CN made onto TDI). Ironically, however, both Adventure Time and Regular Show, along with Steven Universe, Over the Garden Wall, and We Bare Bears, all played a part in assuring a new Golden Age of television for Cartoon Network.
When you think of what CN had to go through in the late 2000s, you’d be thankful for its newfound glory afterwards. During then, Cartoon Network was in a phase of testing waters. Total Drama Island was part of its tests, too: after airing nothing but programs that were rated TV-Y (preschool), TV-G (General Audiences), or TV-Y7 (Older Children), Total Drama Island was CN’s first program to be rated TV-PG (Parental Guidance). They did come sort of prepared with parental guidance disclaimers attached to each episode of the show.
But as you can tell by CN’s choices of censors, it was clear that they played it too safe with their first TV-PG program, and it ultimately made the disclaimers for the show feel almost pointless.
As a matter of fact, when I say Cartoon Network was going through testing waters back then, I meant more than just testing waters. I also meant that CN was in a rut, or, as many others have retrospectively thought of it, going through its “dark ages”. Besides being successful with some of its shows, including with the premieres of Chowder, Flapjack, and even Star Wars: the Clone Wars, late-2000s-CN was accused by viewers of performing unsavory tasks that were out of place or counterproductive for the network. Those included airing live action shows when it was supposed to be devoted to cartoons (such as airing Out of Jimmy’s Head and structuring a black sheep of a programming block called CN Real) and cutting off one of the most popular and long-running blocks on the network, Toonami.
While we have mistakes like these to learn from, it's refreshing to see that we live in a time where children’s programming can potentially be expressive in its own free will, no matter what kind of content it may have or what its message may be. It helps that streaming networks Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, for starters, started promoting such shows. But even cable networks are getting in on the act, too, as you can see by the number of childrens’ shows as of late that have had at least one LGTB character in the mix. That’s a huge step forward in children’s entertainment, and any show that pulled it off in the early years, and were thus seen as ahead of its time for its accomplishments, should be honored and respected as such.
Speaking of Netflix, Total Drama Island did have the good fortune of not only entering its streaming service, along with some of its extra seasons, in 2012, but it even did so with the original Canadian dialogue kept intact. How cool is that? At least, it WAS cool until back in August 2018, when the show was replaced by the Total Drama Island that had Cartoon Network’s crummy edited dialogue, or, as I might just as well call it from now on, “Diet TDI.” I was so used to seeing the original TDI on Netflix that the only thing I was worried about was its longevity on Netflix before going off the service. Now, it’s the least of my worries with Diet TDI, and not the original TDI, present. I just hope that since Netflix grew enough in its technology to provide alternate audio options for its films and TV shows, Total Drama Island would be given both English audios for subscribers to choose from as an option. Viewers should have that option, no matter where Total Drama Island is viewed from or how it’s viewed. That would make more sense than replacing the original version of the show with a superficially coated version of it. Even Doug Walker made a similar statement on that issue when talking about the special editions of Star Wars:
“The idea of constantly going in and updating it, I don't mind. What I do mind is that we can't see the original. That's where I think people can get legitimately upset. We should be allowed to compare and contrast. Why are we just ignoring history? If Abraham Lincoln released another version of the Gettysburg Address and said, 'This is what I really wanted to say', that'd be neat. I would love to see that. But if he went back and said, 'No, this is what I said and what you heard is completely false and doesn't exist, I'm gonna erase it', that would be stupid."
Of course, it’s not just Total Drama Island or Star Wars that had to deal with multiple versions being made according to their creators’ best interests. Just recently, I finished reading the play version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, and I found out that it went through the exact opposite process that Total Drama or Star Wars went through. When the play was written in the mid-50s, it premiered with the third act being different from how Williams wanted it, after going through creative quarrels with director Elia Kazan. Later on, in the mid-70s, Williams revisited Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and rewrote the third act until it perfectly matched what he wanted to see of it. Since then, this version of the play was the one used most often in performances. Fortunately, it didn’t leave the original 50s version to be obscure; it could still be traced down in Theatre of Tennessee Williams, Volume III.
That’s what I think should be done with shows like Total Drama Island or movies like Star Wars. They should have the original versions be given as much availability as whatever extra versions they may have, so the consumer can have the option to either choose or to compare, like I am here with Total Drama Island. And while I would personally discourage anyone from seeing Diet TDI, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. That is all up to personal taste. I just like how the original one presented its story, its characters and its humor in as zany and in as authentic a style as it could possibly have accomplished, even if the content that came with it might have been objectionable to some people.
Speaking of which, imagine if The Simpsons went through the same editing process as Total Drama Island did. Yeah, its raunchy adult humor may have turned off some people, but at the same time, this was what kept it so popular for all these years to adults and even some children alike. Now, if someone went ahead and attempted to censor the show in the hopes of making it accessible to children and to families, the rich comedic flavor from the original Simpsons would’ve been lost in translation, and the show would potentially have struggled to maintain its hold on its viewers, had this ever occurred.
But like I said, this would be helpful to viewers, whether they’re preteens or adults, who were so used to something else, either in real life or on TV, before seeing something on TV that could potentially open their eyes a little to the real world. If they noticed something scary or objectionable from it, it would at least help them ponder over how to deal with it should they confront it in real life. I don't remember dealing with such people who would not believe that. And let me tell you about one such person who did believe in it: Walt Disney himself. Here’s what he had to say about it:
“I don't believe in playing down to children, either in life or in motion pictures. I didn't treat my own youngsters like fragile flowers, and I think no parent should. Children are people, and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things, just as adults have to reach if they want to grow in mental stature. Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows. Most things are good, and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too, and you are not doing a child a favor by trying to shield him from reality."
Well, that’s all I have to say about the matter. Besides promoting the idea that children and preteens should be treated more seriously than they generally have been, the take-home message from this entire history lesson as far as TDI is concerned is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Well, however it’s presented, Total Drama Island is so many things: it is a cartoon, it is a satire of the reality show genre, it has creative cartoony zaniness scattered all over the place, but it’s also a diamond in the rough, one of the most globally underrated cartoons ever made, and, frankly, one of my favorite TV shows, period. What could have been just a straight up satire of reality shows meant for kids, and that’s it, instead established itself as a unique show that satirized, but also embraced, its reality show aspects. The fact that the contestants were teenagers also helped tremendously; that was the right age group where both materials meant for kids and materials meant for adults could work off of them in equal measure, guaranteeing that this was one of those kids’ shows that had something for everyone. Finally, as long as we dismiss the extra seasons that don’t live up to the standards of the first season (along with Diet TDI especially), and most importantly, give Total Drama Island the proper exposure it deserves, I guarantee you that this ‘diamond in the rough’ might be rightfully uncovered sooner than later.
The designated scenes from the show that I recorded (except, out of the six clips being shown here, for one) were shown directly from Netflix, right down to the subtitles. That feels as inconsistent as the edits themselves, and that's another reason why I feel like Netflix should rectify this and provide the show with both English audio options.
If you want to watch the show for free, as well as the way it's supposed to be seen, click here.
Madhar, Raju. "Canadian cartoon show sucking 'em all back in." The Star, 11 Jan. 2009, https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/television/2009/01/11/canadian_cartoon_sucking_em_all_back_in.html
Parker, Brian. "Swinging a Cat." Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Auth. Tenessee Williams. New York, New Directions, 2004. 175-185. Print.
Walker, Doug. Star Wars: Special Editions – Disneycember, Channel Awesome, 20 Dec. 2015, http://channelawesome.com/star-wars-special-editions-disneycember/