Putting a bunch of strangers on an island called Pulau Tiga and turning the cameras on still sounds like a daft idea, but it worked partly because it was a game show and partly because the producers cut out all the boring stuff. Let's face it, "Survivor" is guilty pleasure. The formula still works with the current Australian adventure ending next week.
What makes Survivor: The E! True Hollywood Story (May 2, 9-10 p.m.) as interesting is there's more "realism" in it than in the whole series. The cast of the first series tells it like it was (baring things they were forbidden by contract to discuss at the time).
So what has fame done for the first cast? Most of them enjoyed their hour in the sun. Most of them are making hay one way or another from the experience.
Take Kelly Wigglesworth. Remember the final episode when the survivors were down to just Kelly and Rich, and castmate Susan Hawk let out a stream of invective toward her? Kelly sat there and took it with impassive cool. She behaved like such a pro, in fact, that she was deluged with job offers from various sources after the show aired. She had to get an agent, and Hollywood likes her style so much she will have her own show in the fall - "reality"-based of course.
"Celebrity Adventures" on E! will begin in September with Kelly (a wilderness guide in "real" life) escorting a celeb to an exotic local and pushing that willing victim to his or her limits - bungee jumping off the Great Wall of China, for example.
"We will be sleeping with the villagers, bungee jumping, swimming with the sharks - hard-core adventure," Ms. Wigglesworth said in a recent interview. Her work as a survival guide has been helpful in preparing for her new career.
She enjoys the spotlight, she says, although it can be kind of freaky. "It's fun to be famous.... It's weird when I hear my name and 'famous' in the same sentence. I don't think of myself like that. It's weird to go to meet people, and they know everything about you."
About Ms. Hawk's diatribe, Kelly says simply, "I knew something was coming; I just didn't expect her to be so creative. Yes, it was embarrassing. At the same time, I was comforted by the fact that the things she was saying had no merit." Hawk has apologized many times, sent her gifts, and is nice to her when they meet on talk shows.
Wigglesworth saw the first and last shows of her series, but has declined to watch the rest. "I had my experience, and I wanted to leave it at that in my memory. I didn't [apply to "Survivor"] because I wanted to be on TV. I wanted to live in the jungle and see if I could stay in the wilderness for 39 days."
She has watched some of "Survivor: The Australian Outback," but hasn't enjoyed it. "The new one has lost its magic for me. It feels very staged and made up, and I don't feel it's real anymore. They have so much food. And they have so much because we complained so much."
Wigglesworth lives in Los Angeles now - where she has an office - and still keeps in touch with several of the cast members, especially Gervase Peterson.
And she has her own show. She isn't willing to say much about it yet - the details are being saved for fall, she says.
"We've got young, hip, fun celebrities - we've got some cool people. We're starting off with the Seven Wonders of the world, so we'll go to the Lost City of Peru, the Serengeti, and The Great Wall. It will take 8 to 10 days to shoot each one-hour segment. Some locations will be quicker, some longer.
"But we're starting May 1."
* * *
The Song of the Lark (PBS, May 2, check local listings) from Masterpiece Theatre's American Collection offers a luminous tale of a young woman's coming of age. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Willa Cather, "Song" unfolds the workings of the creative process in one young artist as she finds her way to music.
Lovely Alison Elliott ("The Wings of the Dove") stars as Thea, a girl growing up in 1890s Colorado. Her youth, innocence, and beauty inspire the men in her life, but it is her passion for music that evokes in them the chivalrous need to protect and nurture her talent. When her young boyfriend dies in an accident, the money he leaves her is marked to send her to Chicago to study.
Her mentor, Dr. Archie, her male teachers, and a patron of the arts with whom she falls in love, all support her. But it is Thea's own drive and ambition that make her a great singer.
At one point in the story, Thea sees a painting called "Song of the Lark," by Jules Breton, at an art museum. She stands before it in a state of epiphany: In it, a young peasant girl who has been harvesting grain looks up at dawn, thrilled to hear the bird's song. Thea sees how hard she works and how inspired she is by the bird's music. Thea's empathy for the painted girl helps her understand her own life - as she will someday help others understand theirs. That is a gift art can give.
The film does not cover the entire novel, but focuses on Thea's youth and those good men who helped her achieve her goals as a singer. Masterfully written and directed, the grand themes gently inspire because they uncover the best impulses behind the creative process.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor