Survivor takes a walk on the dark side
By Alex Strachan, Canwest News Service September 3, 2009
PASADENA, Calif. - The South Pacific has a lure all its own. Its islands are dotted with serene white sand beaches, verdant green valleys and extravagant, majestic waterfalls. It's a place where, as the song Bali Ha'i from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific had it, "Your own special hopes/Your own special dreams/Bloom on the hillside/And shine in the streams. . . . Where the sky meets the sea."
James Michener famously eulogized the turquoise seas and paradise islands in his 1947 classic Tales of the South Pacific and its followup, Rascals in Paradise.
But Survivor: Samoa showed a darker, more malevolent side to paradise, explains Survivor host Jeff Probst of the 19th season of reality TV's most durable, enduring survival competition.
There were rascals in Survivor's paradise, Probst reports - and paradise itself was not always what it was made out to be, either.
Survivor: Samoa bows Thursday, Sept. 17 with a new cast of the usual reality-TV suspects looking to outwit, outplay and outlast their way to a $1-million US prize and 15 minutes of reality-TV fame. The youngest contestant is 22. The oldest is 62. There's a doctor, a police officer, an urban planner and a rocket scientist.
Through it all, though, the wind howled, the skies opened up and the castaways were drenched."Samoa is very beautiful - and it kicked the ass of two people to the point where they had to be evacuated," Probst told Canwest News Service in a long, wide-ranging conversation. "It was hot, and then it rained. And it rained for about a week. They didn't have fire. And they couldn't get water. It was hard. It was definitely hard."
But the show must go on.
"I think one of the things that has happened over the last 10 years is that there are so many reality shows that are basically scripted - you can feel it when you're watching - that people may forget that Survivor is not fake.
"I'm not going to give you a bottle of water. I'm saying: 'I'm sorry you're thirsty but you've still got to run this damn challenge.' People push their bodies, and their bodies give out on them. If you can win this game, you've damn well earned it. It is a hard 39 days. I don't think I could do it."
Probst says he feels he would be better at the mental aspect of the game than the physical, but he doubts he would ever win.
"My strength would be that I'm a good strategic thinker. I can think a lot of moves ahead, and keep it all in my head. And I can get along with people.
"My weakness would be that I'm a leader. I can't follow someone who I don't believe is leading us well. So I would be the guy who, in episode three, would say, 'I'm taking over; we've got to go in a different direction.' And I'd probably be gone. People would think I'm cocky or arrogant or whatever, and that would be my demise. But I can't not lead."
As for that long-rumoured "cold weather" edition - Survivor in Canada? - Probst says it is unlikely to happen.
"We've talked about it. But the problem is this: what do you do when you're cold? You hibernate. You cuddle up. You're not outside, climbing coconut trees, running through the water. That's Survivor. Bathing suits and seeing people with bug bites. The sun. I think the cold could work, but it's a big unknown."
The last two Survivors were won by self-styled "nice guys" and magnanimous leader types: 24-year-old Alabama cattle rancher James "J.T." Thomas Jr. (Survivor Tocantins: The Brazilian Highlands) and 57-year-old high-school physics teacher Robert "Bob" Crowley (Survivor Gabon: Earth's Last Eden).
Probst cautioned against reading too much into that, though.
"I don't think there are any trends. I think you can have coincidences, where a nice guy wins a couple of times in a row.
"This season, we have one of our most dastardly guys ever. One of the greatest villains in our history. And this is our 19th season. He's had to beat a lot of people. And somebody like that could still theoretically win the game, if they pulled a Richard Hatch."
Hatch, a corporate motivational speaker from Rhode Island, famously won the original Survivor in the summer of 2000 by convincing the others that he used guile, deceit and outright deception to outwit, outplay and outlast more pleasant personalities, and therefore deserved to win.
"Nobody does that anymore," Probst said. "Nobody gets up and says, 'I kicked your ass; now give me the money.'"
That may change with Survivor: Samoa, Probst hinted.
Probst says 10 years of hosting Survivor - 19 seasons in all, with a 20th on the way - have given him ample opportunity for self-examination.
"I'm not the same person I was," he said quietly. "We could talk for hours. The biggest change is when I realized I am not the centre of the universe. None of us are. When you sit under the sky in Kenya and you look at the stars, you realize - hopefully - that, wow, that little world I live in back in L.A. is just that. It's a little, tiny microcosm, and this is a gigantic globe. That's what Survivor has shown me the most - that the world is massive, and I'm just one little squirrel trying to get my nut. "
Survivor: Samoa premieres Thursday, Sept. 17 on Global and CBS at 8 ET/PT.http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainment/Survivor+takes+walk+dark+side/1959903/story.html