With public interest at a fever pitch, "Survivor" wraps up a stunningly successful 13-week run on Wednesday (7 p.m., Ch. 2) with a two-hour finale that reduces the remaining contestants from four to one — the one takes home a check for a million dollars.
And, according to the show's executive producer, viewers won't go away disappointed.
"I think the public will be extremely satisfied because of the dramatic arcs that continue through the series," said Mark Burnett.
Burnett insists he's not surprised that the show is a success, "Because good ideas always work." Although he didn't necessarily expect it to be as successful as it has become. Of course, neither did anyone else — even the CBS executives who bought the series have had their wildest expectations exceeded. It's the highest-rated show in the history of summer television.
The show's ratings were strong from the start and have steadily grown over the summer. And summer is supposed to be a time when networks can't attract an audience.
Few shows — even "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" at the height of its now-waning popularity — have managed to dominate the competition the way "Survivor" has. In recent weeks, the show has beaten everything on the other five networks (ABC, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB) combined, by huge margins — more than 25 percent in households; more than 40 percent in total viewers; more than 70 percent in advertiser-prized demographics like viewers 18-49, 18-34 and 25-54.
And they're all but giddy about this at CBS.
"When was the last time people actually woke up in the morning talking about the latest new, hot show on CBS?" said CBS president Leslie Moonves. "I've never seen anything like it. . . . I think 'Survivor' is fabulously crafted drama. It's a soap opera. . . . It is a well-executed show. It's well-edited. I think Mark Burnett has created something that is spectacular, and I think people are really gripped by it."
And it's more than just a CBS phenomenon.
"Katie Couric (of NBC's "Today Show") mentions it every week. Diane Sawyer (of ABC's "Good Morning America") mentions it every week. It has become a national phenomenon," Moonves said. "The third week it was on the air, it was on the cover of Time magazine."
All this for a little show about 16 people "stranded" (sort of) on an island with one voted off every week. Wednesday's two-hour telecast features the four remaining contestants — Kelly, Richard, Rudy and Susan — and will be followed at 9 p.m. by an hourlong reunion of all 16 who began the game back in July.
And, for whatever the reason, the show is oddly addictive. It certainly didn't start out all that exciting, but the suspense has grown with each passing week as "Survivor" became exactly what Burnett predicted — a show that's about the maneuvering and manipulations of the contestants with and against each other much more than their attempts to "survive" the island.
Although he insists the setting has a lot to do with the show's success as well.
"It's an adventure, and we all want one because, I can assure you, you won't be finding the meaning of your life inside your laptop," Burnett said. "It's to get outdoors and have an adventure. That's what they really signed up for — an adventure."
As for the folks at CBS, well, this has been an exciting adventure for them as well. Some of the 30-second commercial spots during the "Survivor" finale have sold for a whopping $600,000 — that's $20,000 a second. "That's unheard of at CBS," Moonves said. "Those are 'ER' numbers in sweeps when George Clooney is leaving. . . . That happens once in a lifetime."
Well, at least twice, he hopes. CBS will premiere "Survivor II: The Australian Outback" on Sunday, Jan. 28 — right after the network's telecast of the Super Bowl.
"Just think what a Super Bowl lead-in is going to do for that show," Moonves said.
And Burnett, who begins filming the followup in October, is already promising the same sort of riveting television the second time around. He actually expects Round 2 to get rolling faster than Round 1 did.
"The only difference may be the people that are stranded in the Australian Outback will play the game a little differently with their group dynamics," he said. "This time, clearly, all 16 of them will understand . . . alliances. What's happened in the show is some people didn't think that way. And, clearly, now having seen the series thus far, everyone will understand that kind of thinking and will or will not partake."