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When reality isn’t

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What if TV producers faked a "reality" show and nobody cared?

Well, there's not much "what if" left to this scenario. We've already learned that certain scenes in "Survivor" were re-created with the use of body doubles.

Which, we were repeatedly assured by the producers and CBS, didn't affect the outcome of the show. But which, just as assuredly, made the "reality" somewhat less than that.

And then comes the tawdry tale of UPN's "Manhunt," a horrendous idea that apparently turned out to be so boring that the folks at Paramount not only manipulated the outcome but actually reshot certain scenes to make them more exciting.

"Manhunt" was an appalling show to begin with — contestants are tracked down by bounty hunters and shot. OK, so the ammo used was paintballs, but the thought of hunting down and "killing" humans for fun is just the idea we ought to be putting in the heads of viewers, isn't it?

However, according to a former producer of the show, studio executives decided to keep a more interesting contestant alive by having the bounty hunters shoot to miss her. And Paramount has admitted that it reshot some scenes that didn't play out in a particularly exciting manner — but that the reshoots didn't affect the outcome of the show.

UPN executives insist they knew nothing about any of this. (The P in UPN, by the way, stands for Paramount.)

In neither case has the false-reality of these reality shows caused much of a stir — and for opposite reasons. In the case of "Survivor," the show is so popular nobody cared.

And in the case of "Manhunt," the show is so unpopular — ratings are abysmal — not much of anybody has noticed.

Reality shows have never really been that. Simply by choosing the people they choose, putting them in the situations they choose and editing the results in the way they choose, reality-show producers are creating their own reality.

Which is not to say that their shows can't be very entertaining. Some of them are.

But viewers shouldn't for a moment take the reality label all that seriously — and if producers don't take it at least somewhat seriously, the popularity of their shows could quickly fade.

MORE BODY DOUBLES? CBS's "Survivor" kicked up some controversy earlier this year when creator/executive producer Mark Burnett revealed that, in some cases, he used body doubles to re-create some contests for the camera.

Could similar things happen on Burnett's upcoming USA Network series "Combat Missions," which features teams of ex-military men engaged in war games? Could be.

Asked that question point blank, Burnett's partner, executive producer Brian Gadinsky, said, "Well, let's just put it this way. I'm not about to sit here and give away Mark Burnett's secret. I don't want to give the competitors any ideas."

So, was that an admission that body doubles will be used?

"I'm just saying I'm not going to comment on it," Gadinsky said.

Which sounds an awful lot like it's going to happen.

RUDY SPEAKS: Rudy Boesch, the blunt senior citizen/ex-Marine who came close to winning the million dollars on the first "Survivor" series, was unequivocal when asked about charges that the show's outcome has been manipulated by creator/executive producer Mark Burnett.

" 'Survivor' was not fixed," Boesch stated flatly. "There's no way you can fix 'Survivor.' "

So there.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com