Game shows go ape
TV networks exploit lottery mentality and ruthless competition to hike
(Page 2 of 2)
"It's just a challenge to imagine that the rules of modern society are suddenly removed," says "Survivor" executive producer Mark Burnett. "It doesn't matter if you're a CEO today. On that island, everybody starts off equal. It's not very often in life that can occur."Skip to next paragraph
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It is the removal of those rules, however, that worries Syracuse's Robert Thompson. "By taking it away from this nice, soft sort of Swiss Family Robinson and saying, 'OK, whoever's last wins a million dollars' turns it into a fight to the finish," he says. "Very Darwinian."
Ironically, Burnett is the same man behind Discovery Channel's successful Eco-Challenge races, in which teamwork is paramount. (Eco-Challenge teams are disqualified if they do not finish the race with their teams intact.) For his part, however, Burnett sees no contradiction between the two events.
"[In Eco-Challenge], very ordinary people finish because of their compassion for each other, and it's not a battle of muscle," stresses Burnett. "To win 'Survivor,' you'd better be compassionate, open-minded, and a team player because otherwise, you'll be kicked off."
The key to that dynamic, he says, is the fact that the voting will take place by secret ballot (although the audience will know the precise results). Burnett says that an open vote would allow a bully to dominate.
By keeping the vote secret, and by arranging for some staples of island life to "miraculously" wash ashore, the producers of "Survivor" are hoping to allay any concerns about the competition becoming some sort of primal endgame.
"There is no way I am going to drop 16 Americans off on an island and leave them because I truly believe that you would end up with 'Lord of the Flies,' " he explains. "I try to keep it authentic, but I'm not willing to risk people's lives to achieve that."
'Getting close to the money'
Without any real risk to the competitors' safety, though, will the show still live up to the network's adventure-oriented billing?
Probably not, says filmmaker and adventurer David Breashears. "Adventure is defined by what's at stake," says Mr. Breashears, co-director and expedition leader for the Imax movie "Everest." "What are they really surviving? It seems that what you have to survive is staying on that team and getting close to the money."
Breashears says the "Survivor" scenario and group dynamic bear no resemblance to the expeditions he and his peers have undertaken.
"No, not at all. Expeditions are autocratic. And at a certain point, you cut the umbilical cord, whether it's ease of retreat, communications, whatever," he continues. "When I look at the adventures of [Sir Ernest] Shackleton and others from polar and Arctic exploration, people survived because they stayed together."
Nevertheless, just because "Survivor" might seem a bit contrived to Breashears the climber does not mean that Breashears the filmmaker will not be watching.
"There is something about our common humanity that is going to be illuminated through the trials and tribulations of these people and the selections they make. So I'm not willing to dismiss it as 'Oh, it's not an adventure,' because I think that is a bit of the hook. It could be quite interesting."
He probably will not be the only one. CBS received almost 6,000 video applications to participate in "Survivor" - almost three times what the producers had expected.
If the audience displays anywhere near the same enthusiasm, Burnett expects his show will be fodder for water-cooler conversation across the country, with people debating weekly who goes, who stays, and why.
That was precisely the reaction "Greed" viewers had when Curtis "terminated" Janice a few weeks ago on his way to winning more than $400,000. Of course, Curtis had his reasons. He later explained that Janice had seemed weak in the previous rounds, and he feared she would bring down the team.
But under the rules of the latest wave of game shows, the answer to her plaintive cry of "Why me?" could have just as easily been "Why not?"
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society