- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Can we survive "Survivor" this week?
The archetypical "reality TV" series reaches its much ballyhooed conclusion tomorrow night as the final member of the rat-eating, querulous, bug-bitten group prevails to win $1 million. Forty million people are expected to tune in.
The two-hour episode has another two hours of extra programming surrounding it, including a "reunion show" with the 16 original castaways and their families, complete with viewer call-in.
The finalists are river guide Kelly Wiglesworth, 23, of Las Vegas; corporate trainer Richard Hatch, 39, of Newport, R.I.; retired Navy Seal Rudy Boesch, 72, of Virginia Beach; and truck driver Susan Hawk, 38, of Palmyra, Wis.
A "Survivor" soundtrack will be out next week, and CBS may rerun the series opposite the Olympics next month.
Print and broadcast media are on for a big feed. Already there are time lines, best moments, castaway profiles, commentary, social analyses, public polls and gambling scenarios built around the series.
But this is only the beginning.
Reality TV shows of every persuasion are in the works as competing networks vie for "Survivor"-like ratings. The show and its spinoff "Big Brother" are among the top five most-watched programs, according to Nielsen.
But reality TV needs real people. Lots of them. Producers are scouring the countryside for the nervy few who can be themselves or a reasonable facsimile on camera.
In theory, the goal is to craft starkly unscripted moments that intrigue and titillate viewers moments that rise above the predictable clutter of prime time and court viewer loyalty.
Those "real" folks can do quite nicely in the aftermath.
"Survivor" also-rans have latched on to lucrative commercial endorsement deals, TV and radio talk-show appearances.
Ten have signed on with Hollywood agent Sherry Spillane, who manages skater Tonya Harding and Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers. Another went with the prestigious William Morris agency and is entertaining "serious film offers," he noted.
The cachet of such instant fame, money and media hoopla has proved irresistible to many. The original "Survivor" drew 6,100 hopefuls to public auditions.
"Survivor II" which will be taped in Australia this October and debuts after next year's Super Bowl got 50,000 applicants.
HBO's popular gangster drama, "The Sopranos" also tapped into the public's newfound thespian appetite. When an open casting call went out last month for "Italian-looking" people with no acting experience, producers were inundated by 28,000 hopefuls.
Those who are "outgoing, adventurous, physically fit and suspicious" should contact ABC, which must people "Mole," a melange of risky stunts, odd tasks, a secret spy, lots of traveling, dopey clues and a $1 million cash prize.
There will only be nine episodes taped over a three-week period beginning in late September.
Five men and five women travel to secret locales, play games and complete tasks while a clandestine saboteur tries to thwart them. It is, ABC contends, "an international phenomenon, an intense, gripping reality series."
In the last two weeks, ABC staged open casting calls in five cities, querying hopefuls about their love lives, body piercings and prowess aboard a motorcycle, among other things.
"Thousands and thousands want to try," said ABC's Melissa Tetalman. "And we have no count so far on on-line applications and videos we're getting. The response is incredible."
But there are limits. Criminals need not apply. ABC also bans anyone running for office from auditioning.
"It's the equal TV time thing," Miss Tetalman explained. "If Al Gore tried out for 'Mole' then we would have to let George W. Bush on as well. We had to draw the line at this sort of thing."
Fox, meanwhile, is seeking 16 troubled couples for "Temptation," a disquieting game show that tempts twosomes with flirtatious singles in a tropical setting. The couple that spurns such romantic folly wins the cash prize.
At NBC, groups of "potential" couples will be chained together for five days, all in the name of "Chains of Love." The network thinks chains help determine who really gets along.
"It's an unusual relationship game," said NBC spokesman Curt Sharp, who also needs vengeful folks for "Sweet Revenge."
This new show aids and abets family members and co-workers in staging "perfect paybacks" on camera against those who have erred in one form or another.
The Dutch production company that developed "Big Brother" is now seeking overweight people for "Big Diet," which pits the plump against one another and "lots of chocolate" for days inside a fitness center.
Whoever resists the glories of baked goods and confections wins.
Even beauty pageants want that "real people" touch.
This year, Miss America Pageant officials are seeking an "instant celebrity judge" somebody who dreams of helping hand out that glittering crown at the end of a very long evening.
"Beer swilling frat boys" are discouraged, according to officials, who will judge would-be judges based on their answers to pageant trivia questions.
The winner gets a suite of rooms in an Atlantic City resort, money and "the trappings of stardom," and will indeed help judge the event, which airs on ABC on Oct. 14.
"After all, it's the fans who are the real owners of this program," said the pageant's president Bob Renneisen. "This lets a 'real' person have a hand in deciding who represents our country as Miss America."

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