0.5: The Missing Series
Survivor fans know that
the popular television series actually originated in Sweden. It’s
been well publicized that the producers worked out the show’s
kinks there before launching it to the more – um –
discerning U.S. market.
most people don’t
realize is that a U.S. version was produced before the phenomenally successful Survivor
I appeared in the summer of
2000. CBS executives still weren’t convinced that the U.S.
market was ready for a show like this, so it was only aired following
the 1:30 a.m. Golden Girls
reruns, when most of CBS’s viewing audience was either asleep
or heavily medicated.
there were a few differences from the Survivor we all know and love today:
show was hosted by former Wheel of Fortune master Chuck Woolery.
those days, no one knew how fascinated the American public would
become with the lives of ordinary people, so the show’s
“contestants” were actually celebrities.
course the show was just a pilot, so the celebrities weren’t
exactly the top stars. The cast included Susan Dey, Judd Hirsch,
Mary Lou Retton, Billy Dee Williams, Babe the pig, and the guy
who played Captain Stubing on The Love Boat.
of Survivor the show was
titled South Pacific Celebrity Showdown.
TV execs were concerned that the Swedish version was too cutthroat
for American audiences, so they tried to downplay the backstabbing
and alliance-forming. Instead, at the end of each week, all the
contestants were marched to the “Tribal weigh-station,”
and the contestant who had lost the most weight was forced to
“winner” of the show was Mary Lou Retton, who had
bulked out to a plump 358 pounds by the show’s end.
the pig disappeared following the third episode. The cause of
his disappearance remains unknown, but some contestants later
revealed in interviews that Mary Lou’s breath “often
smelled like bacon.”
of the show’s somnambulant time slot, CBS executives were
unaware at first that they might have a hit on their hands. But
the morning after episode 4 (“Billy Dee’s lean-to
of Love”) aired, one viewer phoned the CBS switchboard to
tell them what he thought of the show. The caller, Homer T. Finkbottom
of Medford, Oregon, was passionate about South Pacific Celebrity
Showdown: “I haven’t
seen such terrific TV since they cancelled Hee Haw,” Finkbottom raved. “But you should get
rid of that Chuck Woolery – I think he’s trying to
hit on Susan Dey.”
had been watching the show since episode 2 (“Stubing’s
revenge”). He had dozed off as usual during The Golden
Girls but awoke to the sound
of Judd Hirsch choking down a kelp and banana sandwich. It turned
out that CBS executives had been dead wrong about how to market
the show – the backstabbing was what Finkbottom liked best.
“My favorite part of episode 2 was when Billy Dee Williams
slipped the Ex-Lax into Captain Stubing’s coconut juice
– I could hardly stop laughing after watching him run to
executives were surprised again when Finkbottom told them about
his favorite character: Susan Dey. “She just had that wholesome,
girl next door appeal,” Finkbottom recalled.
you a fan of hers from her appearances in The Partridge Family
and L.A. Law?”
the executives asked Finkbottom.
was a TV star?” the stunned Finkbottom replied, “I
had no idea – I thought she was just a regular person. She
was much more interesting than those boring has-beens that made
up the rest of the cast.”
turned out to be the pivotal moment in the genesis of Survivor. CBS bean-counters now realized that they didn’t
have to pay big celebrity bucks to make the show a hit. Instead,
they could cast an entire season’s worth of episodes for
a mere million dollars: using this chump change as a lure, they
could entice “normal people” into throwing away their
lives and exposing their most intimate foibles to an enraptured
early feedback from an ordinary viewer shaped Survivor into the phenomenal success it is today. With Finkbottom’s
input, such Survivor
staples as inter-contestant romance, eating live bugs, and advertiser
product placements came into being. When Survivor I debuted
in the summer of 2000, it went straight to the top of the ratings
charts. Now Survivor II
looks like it’s going to break the records set in the first
episodes. With writers and actors threatening to strike, the success
of these reality shows couldn’t come at a better time for
wonder about what happened to Finkbottom? Don’t worry about
him; he’s pulling in a cool two million a year as senior
executive consultant to Survivor III.
That’s show biz!