'Survivor!': Questioning candidates -- and the game
October 21, 1999
From Gloria Hillard
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- "Not including your current place of residence, in which other cities and/or countries have you lived and for what period of time?"
"Have you been treated for any serious physical or mental illness(es) within the last three years?"
"If you could hold any political office, what would it be and why?"
"Are you a vegetarian or do you eat meat?"
"Which former castaway would you be most identified with: Gilligan, Skipper, Professor, Mary Anne, Ginger, Mr. or Mrs. Howell?"
Those are among the questions being asked everyone who fills out an application to be on CBS' controversial game show "Survivor!" Producers say that as many as 130,000 people have visited the Web site that carries the application -- which must be accompanied by a video no more than three minutes long.
Instead of being marooned on "Gilligan's Island" with a millionaire, CBS is offering someone a chance to become one.
In March and April, the show is to place a group of Americans on a desert island in the South China Sea, off Borneo for 39 days. "Once they arrive, the 16 survivors need to work together to forage (for) a living to make their existence and their new world more palatable," says Mark Burnett, executive producer of "Survivor!"
Here's the twist: Every three days, the group is to vote to expel a member until only two remain. Then the contestants who were kicked off the island are to vote to choose which of the two remaining participants win $1 million.
"The idea is here is something that isn't going to cost a lot of money," says Brian Lowry, a television critic for the Los Angeles Times. "It's really what happened with the game show 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?,'" which had a hugely successful limited run on ABC last summer. "This is another example of that strategy."
A Swedish predecessor of the show, "Expedition Robinson," has been a hit with viewers. But in its initial season two years ago, the show ran into controversy when the first member to be ejected from the group committed suicide.
Burnett says Sinisa Savija's suicide wasn't connected with the show. "That person did have previous psychological problems," Burnett says. "He had broken up with his wife, was a Bosnian refugee and, unfortunately, took his life well before the show ever aired."
But his widow, Nermina Savija, has told a Swedish newspaper that her husband became deeply depressed. She says he felt degraded and didn't see any meaning in life, worrying about having to wait to see his failure on the air.
"He was a glad and stable person when he went away," Savija says, "and when he came back he told me, 'They are going to cut away the good things I did and make me look like a fool, only to show I was the worst, and that I was the one that had to go."
She tells the Associated Press, "It's not a game when you choose ordinary people and put them under great pressure, constantly in front of the camera."
Her husband threw himself in front of a train on July 11, 1997. Instead of pulling the series after the suicide, producers largely edited out footage of Savija. To soften the show's image, they also changed the rules in the following season, so players voted on who to keep instead of who to expel.
Savija's widow isn't alone, however, in questioning the wisdom of the show's setup. Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist, says, "How -- if they're going to be true to the concept -- they are going to bring out these survival instincts and not have anyone get hurt, psychologically or physically, is a mystery to me."
While acknowledging that the plan for "Survivor!" has elements of a sociological study, Burnett says he sees it as an exercise in cooperation. "What a great experiment: Take a diverse group in race and age and job background, put them on an island and see how they get along," he says.
"I'm looking for the honest-to-God diversity of America," Burnett says. "It could be as diverse as a 60-year-old Catholic priest, a 25-year-old NYPD cop and a 40-something mother of three from the Midwest."
They'll all be looking to become millionaires or, at the very least, media stars. And that could be scarier than the island's monitor lizards.
Those who want to be considered for the show have a November 19 deadline to get their applications and videos in -- and to answer those questions.
"What is your favorite topic of conversation at a dinner party?"
"What personality traits will make you a valued member of the society (on the island)?"
"What types of people would you NOT choose to have with you on the island?"
Cloud hangs over survival show's Swedish predecessor
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