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FINAL touches being put on Survivor III set in Kenya

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SHABA GAME RESERVE, Kenya (AP) _ As the park ranger turns tourists away at a roadblock, a front loader pours gravel into a dump truck and a generator whirs in the distance, giving away the secret location of Survivor III, the next edition of the reality television show that has taken some of the world by storm.

The ranger tries his best to explain why two-thirds of the Shaba National Reserve has been blocked off to everyone but the program's production crew and the warthogs, zebras and giraffe that cross the imaginary quarantine zone with impunity.

``They are making a film,'' the guard said Tuesday. ``They don't tell us anything else.''

Senior game warden Abdi Boru said only that a film crew had leased the park, that he had signed a confidentiality agreement and that he had never heard of the number-one ranked U.S. television show. He said only that the production company is called Mwandiga, which in Swahili means, ``to leave one behind.''

When told that Survivor III is game show in which 16 contestants match wits and survival skills to win one million dollars, Boru gets a puzzled look on his face and asks, ``Really?''

While no one directly involved in making Survivor III will talk openly _ for fear of being sued after signing the confidentiality agreement _ the bush telegraph _ and the Internet _ has gotten word to Nairobi that 300 crew will be flown from California and Australia in the coming weeks to begin filming.

CBS officials were not immediately available for comment.

A casting call has gone out in Nairobi, where people are being selected to give the Shaba location's set a test run before the 16 entrants arrive. Some said they were chosen for their appearance (young, fit and white), presumably to act as body doubles for filler shots later on, a practice used in past Survivor episodes in Australia and the South Pacific.

Again, lest they lose their dlrs 75 a day salary for seven weeks, no one dares admit to being on the show without guaranteed anonymity.

The semi-arid public game reserve, 225 kilometers (140 miles) north of Nairobi, is owned and operated by Isiolo County where it is located. County Clerk Adnan Racho said the park usually earns county dlrs 615,000 a year, which pays for schools, hospitals and other programs.

``I signed a confidentiality (agreement) so I can't tell you anything, and frankly they haven't told us what they are filming, they are very concerned about secrecy,'' Racho said. He refused to say how much Mwandiga was paying for the four-month lease, but he seemed genuinely stunned to learn that the winner would earn a million dollars.

But there is little doubt that the few lucky Kenyans who will participate in the production will make some much-needed cash. Kenya's economic growth was a negative 0.3 percent last year, and this May saw the lowest number of tourists in the East African nation since it started keeping track nearly four decades ago.

The manager of the luxury Sarova Shaba Lodge, located on the reserve, was the only official who confirmed Survivor III was being filmed, and he was already counting the tourists the show would generate.

``We expect that Survivor will have a very big impact because it reaches 40 million people,'' said James Gituanja. ``We are very hopeful, if it shows the park in a positive way.''

Workers on the reserve, who have seen the set, said two buildings and a temporary swimming pool have already been built, sparking concern about the environmental impact of the series.

Representatives from a local environmental group, Waso Trust Land Project, and several Kenyan journalists were detained Monday after they entered the cordoned area. The group met with Survivor III producers Tuesday to discuss their concerns, said Amos Marenya, an editor at The East African Standard newspaper.

The Shaba reserve is where ``Born Free,'' a film about a young lion reared and released by Joy Adamson, was filmed. ``To Walk With Lions,'' starring Richard Harris as her husband George, was filmed there in 1998.

But unlike Harris, the stars of Survivor III will not enjoy an everning whisky in the lodge overlooking the river to watch crocodiles slither into the water at sunset.

If the preproduction hype is true, the contestants will have to build and live in the traditional mud and dung huts like those of the Samburu people. And they will spend their days covered in the beige dust like everything else.

They will walk alongside reticulated giraffes and Grevy's zebras, an endangered species. And they'll have to hope the crew keeps the leopards and lions out of their camps at night.

Not that millions of people, particularly the nomadic Samburu, don't live like that everyday in Kenya. Only they aren't followed by TV cameras and aren't guaranteed clean water or medical care.

In fact, the average rural Kenyan lives in a mud hut, not because he or she auditioned for the privilege, but because they have to, and instead of competing for a million dollars, they are happy if they make a dollar a day.
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