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‘Survivor’ has now made CBS the big winner

SHARE ‘Survivor’ has now made CBS the big winner

PASADENA, Calif. — The question that a lot of Americans have been asking — who will win the contest on the surprise summer smash hit "Survivor"? — has an obvious answer, according to one of the show's contestants.

"I think everybody already knows who the winner is," said Gretchen Cordy. "It would be (executive producer) Mr. (Mark) Burnett and CBS."

That's hard to argue with, given that "Survivor" has become the highest-rated summer show in the history of television, drawing huge audiences, great demographics and boosting the ratings of everything on CBS from "The Early Show" to the "Late Show," from daytime soaps to nighttime dramas and sitcoms.

Which is more than anyone expected from a program about 16 people ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s who traveled to a South Seas island, ate rats, undertook challenges and voted each other off the island, one-by-one, with the last remaining promised a $1 million prize.

"I'm not surprised by the pop-culture phenomenon," Burnett said of the show, which airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on Ch. 2. "I am pleased, although I wasn't expecting the ratings to be so large."

And, despite reports that the winner had been hacked out of CBS's Web site, neither the producers nor the network nor the contestants are saying who the real winner is. And the former "castaways" say it's not just because they signed agreements that could subject them to huge lawsuits if they blab.

"I think everybody would agree that we feel personal about it," Cordy said. "We want it to be a good show to the end."

"We worked so hard to get this far," said Joel Klug, "and why blow it now? To wreck it now would be a disaster."

CBS took precautions here on the Television Critics Association press tour. Contestants did not attend a reception that featured network stars there to make themselves available for interviews — CBS publicists didn't want people who knew the answer to the big question anywhere near alcohol and reporters. And, following their press conference, the five Survivors on stage were quickly hustled out the back and away from any follow-up questions.

The ex-Survivors have found themselves the center of attention, and most of that attention has been positive.

"I think it's been 99 percent good," Klug said. "The extra 1 percent . . ."

"Knuckleheads," interjected Ramona Gray.

And they were unanimous in their praise of the program.

"It's the best show that's out there," Klug said. "It's America. . . . Some people are going to band together. Some people could try to go on their own. Some people have a hard time stabbing other people in the back or fighting to win in every part of life. And that's what it is. That's why I loved it and that's why everybody else loves it."

What many of them didn't expect was the emergence of alliances among some survivors, who basically backstabbed the others in an effort to win that million-dollar prize.

"When I prepared for the show, I got out my old survivor manuals and started going to the Y and whatever," said Cordy, who spent five years as a survival instructor in the Air Force. "I naively did not prepare the way I should have prepared. . . . I didn't expect the type of people that were there.

"There's a lot more to that game than building a fire."

Gray compared it to choosing up sides for schoolyard games. "Somebody always gets left out. Somebody is always going to get picked first. It just happens. It happens every day to every one of us. I think that people can just relate to that. They love us."

But if any of them have any complaints, it's that editing hundreds of hours of film down to just a few hours perhaps gave viewers the wrong impression.

"My friends know me. They know I'm not lazy," said Gray, who appeared less than ambitious before she was voted off. But she insisted that she was sick and that the show focused too long on a nap she took.

"That was a long nap," Klug said.

While there has been considerable controversy over "Survivor" and its type of "reality" programming, there isn't much among the contestants. But there is some.

"I hope that this program doesn't teach the young people in America that the way to win is to be duplicitous and dishonest," Christopher said. "That's a concern of mine."

But Andersen, who didn't fare much better at the game than Christopher did, took exception to that.

"I think this show teaches people the positive role rather than the bad role," he said. "I disagree with you a little bit because I think it teaches them they have to try, and they have to be a little street-smart to survive. . . . And you have to remember the end goal."


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com