- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 26, 2000

"Survivor" had everything TV viewers want and more: nudity, back stabbing, intrigue, alliances that turned on themselves, mind games and weird tribal rituals. Then there was, of course, the rejection factor: the tense council meeting at the end of every show, in which those chosen to leave the island previously pick that week's loser. And for all its unscripted drama, CBS showed America that reality really does sell better than fiction, with an estimated 40 million viewers for the last episode alone.

The question is, when 16 strangers are picked to spend up to 39 days together on an island in the South Pacific with cameras constantly running as part of a game of fitness and wits to see who will be the last survivor, can they really stay true to themselves? In the final round of challenges, winner Richard Hatch claimed he had.

Though manipulative, scheming and self-absorbed, Richard asked the final jury to vote him winner because he'd always been honest about his intentions: He was in it to win the game and the $1 million, period.

Runner-up Kelly Wiglesworth, 23-year-old river guide extraordinaire, wasn't so sure. She regretted joining a 4-person alliance which would greatly increase her chances of winning. She regretted trusting another contestant, Susan Hawk (Sue), the vengeful redneck truck driver. She was torn by loyalties throughout the show, caught in a dilemma between prioritizing friendships and the desire to win. In the end, she seemed bitterly disappointed that the friendships in which she had invested may be lost in the game, and pleaded with the jury to choose her based on her true desire to get to know them as people. "I thought it was going to be more strictly survival-oriented as opposed to people playing mind games," she told Newsweek. "It just made me feel crappy about myself."

In a tense 4-3 vote, the jury made its statement. The soul-searching, yoga-practicing tender spirit Kelly would have to go. She was "too wishy-washy," said one jury member. In a Newsweek poll, audiences quizzed before the show were also doubtful about her survival. She was considered least likely to win of the final four, and only 3 percent of those polled thought she'd still be famous in five years. Is this reality, where the person wins who plays the game without scruples, albeit openly? Are the reactions of the cast reality when "Survivor" host Jeff Probst taunts weary, hungry survivors with food beyond their reach? Or are they unwittingly following an invisible script Jeff is writing for them as the show unfolds, much as the producer did for Truman Burbank in the movie "The Truman Show"?

One thing is sure: "Survivor" has changed what audiences expect from American television. Bring in the raw talent; throw out the Hollywood scripts. Next season tune in for "Couch survivors" a show aired weekly after the island series where viewers are watched live as they tune in. The viewer with the most personality watching the series till the bitter end wins.

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