And Now, a 'Survivor' First: A Tribe With One Member
By KATE AURTHUR
Published: April 14, 2005
n May 2000, the first episode of "Survivor" was broadcast on CBS. Three months later, Richard Hatch, the cackling saboteur who won the game, was a star; the phrase "the tribe has spoken" had entered the national vernacular; and the networks' reality television craze had begun.
Nearly five years later, "Survivor" is in the middle of its 10th season. In that time, several other reality phenomena have come and gone, while others, like ABC's "Bachelor" franchise, are hanging on for dear life. After its first two seasons yielded blockbuster ratings, "Survivor" has remained a constant in Nielsen's Top 10. The current edition, filmed in Palau, is no exception: it is the fifth-most-watched series of the season.
The current "Survivor" includes a twist viewers have not seen before: when tonight's episode begins, Stephenie LaGrossa will be alone on a Palau beach. She is the first one-person tribe in the show's history.
"Survivor," created by the reality tycoon Mark Burnett, has only a few invariable rules. The contestants are initially divided into two tribes, which vie for rewards and immunity from elimination. Contenders are eliminated by a majority vote at a tribal council, presided over by Jeff Probst, the show's host. Later it becomes an individual game, until voted-off cast members select which of the two final players will win a million-dollar prize.
Other than those rules, everything is in flux. Before each new season, twists like tribe swaps are built into the game that can upend a group's power dynamics, causing instant reversals of fortune for a person or a clique. (Once filming begins, however, the producers cannot change the challenges or swaps, lest they be accused of fixing the results.)
The 20 players sent to Palau were reminded of the mutability of "Survivor" immediately. After the contestants spent one night getting to know one another, Mr. Probst surprised them by telling them to divide themselves into two tribes of nine, a process that resulted in the ejection of two cast members right away.
"That was the beginning of our theme this season, which was choice," Mr. Probst said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. Mr. Probst, who is also a producer of the show, said having contestants pick their own tribes was risky. "We figured the worst-case scenario is one tribe decimates the other tribe," he said.
And so it happened. Ms. LaGrossa's group, named Ulong, lost all eight immunity challenges. At the end of last week's show, she returned to the camp by herself.
In watching his worst-case scenario unfold, Mr. Probst said, he had been wrong to think that the story of one tribe's continuous failure would turn audiences off. "This has turned out to be the greatest thing that could have happened, watching the tribe dwindle to four, to three, to two."
So what went wrong with Ulong, a tribe of nine physically strong players? James Miller, the 33-year-old steelworker from Alabama who was Ulong's strategist until he was the sixth person to be voted out of the tribe, said he knew they were in trouble when one of their strongest members, Jeff Wilson, hurt his ankle and asked to leave the game. "I came to the realization that we were going to go down from there," Mr. Miller said in a telephone interview. There could also be other reasons, he said: "Now that you look at it, you think it's got to be a curse. Either it's a curse or we just weren't thinking right."
Another former Ulong tribe member, Angie Jakusz, has also analyzed the group's losing ways. In a telephone interview from New Orleans, Ms. Jakusz, 25, said: "I'd watched enough 'Survivor' to know that you have an equal balance of both brains and brawn, and we didn't seem to. It became apparent that people even had a hard time listening to what Jeff Probst was saying about the rules of the challenges." When did Ms. Jakusz realize that her tribe was at a disadvantage in the smarts department? "As soon as, like, the tribes were picked," she said.
Whether there is hope for Ms. LaGrossa, a 25-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative, and whether she will get to join Koror, the other tribe, will be determined tonight. Mr. Probst - who, despite his position on the show, has always been an honest, often harsh critic of "Survivor," and of contestants he does not like - sang her praises.
"She's relatable, she has a strong point of view and, most importantly, she will not quit," he said.
Regardless of her fate, Mr. Probst said, this edition still has a long way to go, as the winning group has had to vote out only one of its members after a challenge in which each team had to eliminate a contestant.
"You haven't gotten to know the people from Koror very well," he said, referring to what is to come this season. "But you will. And the trade-off has been fantastic." He paused. "The downside to a season this good is you have to come back and do another one next season. Ay-yi-yi."
article link thanks and credits to VG @ Survivor Phoenixhttp://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/14/arts/television/14surv.html?8hpib