TV Eye

At Long Last, Survivor

After three increasingly embarrassing episodes of Temptation Island (Fox) and the same number of perplexing episodes of The Mole (ABC), the second season of Survivor: The Australian Outback premiered this week. And none too soon. For anyone wanting to see how the reality-challenge show should be done -- or the "dramality," as producer/creator Mark Burnett likes to call it -- this is your chance.

Plenty has been written about the series, which has truly changed the landscape of television. The good thing about writing for a weekly is that it allows me to digest what other media watchers have said. On the other hand, by the time you read this, two episodes of Survivor will have aired, but I will have only seen the premiere episode. We'll see how I fare with my brilliant commentary and forecasts.

First, though, let's look at Survivor's naysayers: I'm amused by critics who pronounce a sort of death knell for Survivor, proclaiming that the show will never be the same. We all know the rules, we all know the strategies, we all know the type of person who will do well, and who will not. But as an example of why Survivor will do just fine, let's turn to the Super Bowl. After 35 years, football fans know the rules, they know the strategies, and they know what is at stake. Yet millions of viewers tune in each year to cheer on their favorites and see who will be the big winner. The same can be said of Survivor. Certainly the Burnett creation is much more manipulated than a sporting event, but as Debb Eaton, the first exile from the island discovered, it's not all about one kind of strategy.

A fortysomething prison guard, Eaton toiled, she sweat, she hauled wood and gluteus max, she valiantly tried to start a fire -- quoting ad nauseam the fire-building techniques she'd read about. Yet she was the first member of the Kucha tribe voted off. Why? She failed on the congeniality portion of the game. It was clear from poor Debb's exit speech that she was baffled as to why she was ejected, while the perpetually nauseous Jeff Varner (the computer guy) only received one vote -- from her. She incorrectly assumed that because he was sick (i.e., weak) he would be the natural choice for banishment. She may have been remembering Ramona's boot from the first Survivor for much the same reason. Except in that situation, Ramona was accused of not pitching in. Poor Debb neglected to remember that Gervase, whose mug has been showing up all over TV, saved his lazy butt with his charm and good humor for several episodes before his big slip-up earned him the boot (he said women were as dumb as cows). Rule one for playing the game: Don't use the previous season's profiles and exiles as an absolute guide. The network must be breathing a sigh of relief at Debb's departure, though -- according to her E! Online profile, Debb is engaged to her stepson.

Frankly, I was surprised Kimmi Kappenberg wasn't the first to go. Her constant chattering and laughing as her tribe was trying to get some shut-eye after a day of unsuccessful fire-building (meaning they were cold and hungry) was a good reason to throw her to the alligators in my book. My predictions for the first to get booted from the Ogakor tribe? Amber Brkich, the former cheerleader and sorority girl, Maralyn Hershey, the 52-year-old former police officer, or Tina Wesson, the mom/nurse. If votes are made on annoyance factor alone, torch-snuffing could go to 26-year-old Colby Donaldson. If he continues with his "I'm proud to be a Texan" riff, it's sure to get on someone's nerves. Sorry, I just don't think Texas chauvinism plays well outside the Lone Star state.


More Bold Predictions

Will "super-sizing" Friends and filling up the rest of the 7-8pm hour with live skits from Saturday Night Live create a dent in Survivor ratings? I don't think so. Both Friends and SNL are known quantities. Though Survivor has a following, there's an even larger legion of viewers new to the show who want to see what it's all about. I think NBC was on the right track by going to a live TV event, but better ammunition might have been a totally new live program, aired during the first half hour of Survivor, with Friends filling in the last half hour. I mean please! Who is not going to watch the tribal council segment of Survivor to see who gets voted off? Of course, time and money are factors, and live TV is risky -- which is part of why it's exciting.

Still want to know more about Survivor? E! Online has a useful guide at www.eonline.com, as does the official CBS Web site (www.cbs.com). But if you want some delicious and sometimes malicious commentary on the series, go to www.survivorsucks.com or consult the team of armchair critics at Salon.com, who take turns offering wickedly on-target episode recaps. Or you can check out Mark Burnett's recently released Survivor II: The Official Companion Book to the CBS Television Show. For newbies, the book offers background on how the first show transpired, including the entire text of the jaw-dropping "let the snake eat the rat" speech Susan Hawk delivered at the final tribal council. The best features of the book are Burnett's descriptions of behind-the-scenes events and his impassioned, if cringe-inducing, comments on Survivor and life. The book is published by TV Books LLC and should be available in bookstores for $15.


Call to Arms!

While some will be anxiously watching the outcome of the ratings war between the peacock and the cyclops networks, I'll be fretting over the future of the WB's The Gilmore Girls, shown opposite Survivor and Friends/SNL. I don't think I'm alone in wanting to assure the continuing presence of Gilmore Girls, so I'm thinking viewers should take the lead of other fans whose favorite shows were threatened with extinction. Roswell fans saved the show by sending bottles of Tabasco sauce to the network. (Tabasco is the soft drink of choice among the show's teen aliens.) The ploy worked, at least for the time being. When NBC inexplicably canceled the wonderful Freaks and Geeks, viewer outcry found it a new home on the Fox Family Network. Sex and the City (HBO) fans recently staged "Bring Back Big" and "Bring Back Aidan" campaigns. Pro-Big (Chris Noth) viewers sent red paint swatches (the color he painted a wall of his bedroom), and pro-Aidan fans (Carrie's post-Big love, played by John Corbett) sent pieces of wood to voice their support for the hunky carpenter. According to media sources, both characters will return to the show.

But back to The Gilmore Girls. What would make a lasting impression? How about some coffee beans, coffee cups, or novelty hamburgers? Lauren Graham's Lorelai Gilmore is a coffee addict, and her meal of choice at the town diner is a big, fat hamburger with fries. However, I'm sure a nicely written letter will do the trick, too. Here's the address (courtesy of E! Online's "Ask Wanda"): Jamie Kellner or Susanne Daniels, the WB, 3701 Oak Street, Bldg. 34-R, Burbank, CA 91522.

Since I'm handing out addresses, here's the correct e-mail address to send your thoughts on that No Nonsense pantyhose commercial. Make that: customerservice@nononsense.com. Sorry for the error. As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

survivor 2, survivor II, survivor: the australian outback, the gilmore girls

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