New survivors, old ghosts
February 17, 2005
The past isn't dead, the great novelist once famously observed, and it isn't even past. So, what would this august fellow (Faulkner, by the way, but you knew that) say if he tuned into tonight's "Survivor: Palau"?
The 10th edition (CBS/2 at 8 p.m.) will be set on a remote and spectacular island somewhere in the remote and spectacular chain of islands known as Palau, a sovereign country that is about 800 miles due east of the Philippines and same distance north of New Guinea.
But enough with the geography lesson. Twenty new castaways will be stranded with "nothing!" (says the promo) and with "no help" of "any kind!" And there's more! "Three castaways will go home before the night is over!" - another "Survivor" first.
And, in what can be construed as either a swipe at, or a rip-off of, the ABC hit "Lost," the CBS ad department tells us, "The No. 1 reality show is back, but this time ... the castaways will be lost ... for real!"
With this many exclamation points, one can be pretty certain that CBS is out to tell us something. After a lackluster and forgettable ninth edition, in which ratings dipped slightly and the afterglow of two superlative editions ("All-stars" and "Pearl Islands") is long gone, what CBS wants to say is that TV's best reality show still knows how to take chances.
And there will be plenty of changes, too. Two contestants will not even make it to the first challenge tonight. And in a new game twist, 20 Survivoristas (up from the usual 18) are dumped on the beach and told ... zip. They're left without food, directions, water, Jeff Probst.
Then told ... more zip. Rather than divide them into tribes, they are told to do whatever the heck they want to do. It's "Lost" meets "Lord of the Flies," which is what the show was supposed to be about all along, anyway.
But just to add to their anxiety level, and perhaps ours, they - and we - will be forced to grapple with that tricky Faulkner query re: past. Is it dead-dead, or in some complex, deeply emotional and symbolic way, still with us? This, too, is acutely unfamiliar territory for "Survivor" fans, but whether it wants to or not, "Survivor: Palau" will be forced to go there. That's quite possibly the biggest chance TV's reality champ is taking.
Now, the history lesson. On Sept. 14, 1944, the 1st Marine Division and 81st Infantry Division went ashore on the island of Peleliu, the southernmost island in the Palau group, to take an airstrip from the Japanese. Gen. Douglas MacArthur wanted to set the stage for an invasion of the Philippines and figured that by taking Palau, he could protect his right flank. The two-month battle of Peleliu was vicious and bloody, with nearly 11,000 Japanese and 1,336 Marines killed, and another 5,450 wounded. Scars remain - tanks, amtracs, a downed Zero here and there, and sunken transport ships. The past would appear to be very much alive in Palau.
Perfect clarity in the lagoons of Palau is one reason why it's considered a diving paradise, which is also a reason why "Survivor" picked this locale. Poor water clarity in past episodes limited the producers' ability to do underwater immunity challenges. There will be many this time, though.
Nevertheless, there is a question about the propriety of setting a prime-time entertainment show on the island of Koror, close to a graveyard - especially when memories for some remain so firmly intact, and while another war is under way on the other side of the world.
Jeff Probst, "Survivor" host, anchor and torch-snuffer, said in a recent teleconference that World War II will be "a big theme because you cannot go to Palau and not see the remnants - they are everywhere. We didn't have to do a ton of set dressing. There are Zeros that are crashed into beaches, and one that I see when I snorkel ... it's in 6 feet of water. You can see the cockpit of an airplane that hit the side of the mountain and disintegrated. For me, it was a bit uncomfortable. I did a few rec dives then stopped because I didn't like the feeling it gave me."
Palau was selected for economic reasons, as well. Palau's currency is the U.S. dollar, which has sunk in value and that would have meant artificially inflated production costs if "Survivor" was shot in another country.
"Survivor" czar Mark Burnett - who is, incidentally, a former British paratrooper - said that once this location was selected, producers instantly decided to "tie into the World War II theme, because it is everywhere here, and it would be almost crazy not to mention."
He adds that this edition will include "tons of underwater photography that is really extraordinary, [but] it wouldn't have been very appropriate to ignore the history of Palau, and to credit, they don't hide it."
As if, of course, they could.
The latest players in the battle of 'Survivor'
Meet the 20 castaways of "Survivor: Palau"
Coby Archa, 32, hairdresser, Athens, Texas
Ashlee Ashby, 22, fitness counselor, Easley, S.C.
Gregg Carey, 28, business consultant, Chicago
Bobby Jon Drinkard, 27, waiter, Troy, Ala.
Katie Gallagher, 29, advertising, Merced, Calif.
Caryn Groedel, 46, lawyer, Solon, Ohio
Angie Jacusz, 24, bartender, New Orleans
Jolanda Jones, 39, lawyer, Houston
Stephenie LaGrossa, 25, pharmaceutical sales rep, Philadelphia
Jonathan Libby, 23, sales, Dallas
Jennifer Lyon, 32, nanny, Encino, Calif.
James Miller, 33, steelworker, Mobile, Ala.
Kimberly Mullen, 25, graduate student and former Miss Ohio USA, Huber Heights, Ohio
Ibrehem Rahman, 27, waiter, Birmingham, Ala.
Ian Rosenberger, 23, dolphin trainer, Key Largo, Fla.
Wanda Shirk, 55, English teacher, Ulysses, Pa.
Willard Smith, 57, lawyer, Bellevue, Wash.
Janu Tornell, 39, showgirl, Las Vegas
Tom Westman, 41, NYC firefighter, Sayville
Jeff Wilson, 22, personal trainer, Ventura, Calif.