- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

NEW YORK — All the world is not a stage. It's a playing field. Life isn't the drama Shakespeare envisioned; it's a game.

These things come to mind with the kickoff of "Survivor: Africa," the third of CBS' back-to-nature tourneys. It premieres tomorrow at 8 p.m.

You know the game plan. Sixteen players are "stranded" (under the watchful eye of scores of production people) in some picturesque but rugged environment this time, Kenya's Shaba National Reserve.

Then whoever is able to outwit, outplay and outlast the 15 others comes away the winner.

Are viewers really in the mood? The nation is still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and jumpy at the prospect of more. The economy is shaky. A war is under way.

Is "Survivor" a game viewers still care about now, in the early stages of a deadly serious game the news channels like to call "America Strikes Back"?

Unsurprisingly, Mark Burnett, the series' creator, believes the audience needs a little respite. "I'm a viewer, too," he told reporters last week. "I'm totally in the mood for escapist television."

So let the game begin as "Survivor: Africa" joins other prime-time "reality TV" programs, including ABC's "The Mole 2," CBS' "The Amazing Race" and Fox's "Love Cruise."

Who will outwit, outplay and outlast this time? Will it be Jessie Camacho, the deputy sheriff from Orlando, Fla.? Tom Buchanan, the goat farmer from Rich Valley, Va.? Clarence Black, the basketball coach from Detroit?

They and their "Survivor" rivals come from ordinary backgrounds. These rough-and-ready volunteers are just like you at least, those of you who happen to be superfit, wildly competitive and in a position to blow off your families and jobs for several weeks of isolation millions of viewers will see.

That's reality TV.

Of course, "Survivor" demands far more from its players than armchair punditry. You have to leave your living room. You even have to leave the country.

You have to spend a month outdoors with other scheming people. You have to endure physical challenges and inclement weather. You don't get enough to eat. Then you're dared to eat bugs or animal brains.

What do you get for your pains? A million bucks in cash if you're the winner and, for all concerned, priceless attention.

The roster for "Survivor: Africa" was announced with great fanfare two weeks ago. Then the players were introduced last Thursday through their audition-tape clips on "Survivor: Countdown to Africa," which host Jeff Probst called "an insider's guide: how to watch, whom to watch and what to watch for."

The game viewers will watch starting this week is a done deal. "Survivor: Africa" has been played already. Now the footage will be packaged as an adventure narrative and parceled out to viewers in weekly installments.

Are viewers ready to embrace "Survivor: Africa" as they did its predecessors?

"When you watch for three minutes," Mr. Burnett promised, "you'll be saying two words: 'They're back.'"

Maybe they're back, but has their moment passed them by? "Survivor" is for people who are looking for trouble, the more frivolous the better.

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