The Second 'Survivor' Series Debuts


Monday, January 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) — Figs anyone? An estimated 42 million people watched that unappetizing meal — laced with insects — tried by a member of the second ``Survivor'' crew.

A hungry contestant on the first episode bit into the fig, then quickly spit it out after discovering the fruit had hundreds of crawling bugs. On the first ``Survivor,'' adventurous diners ate rat.

CBS said the preliminary Nielsen Media Research ratings for ``Survivor: The Australian Outback'' on Sunday night might have been even higher if the Super Bowl's second half had been more competitive and the game show had started earlier than 10:17 p.m. on the East Coast. Ratings for ``Survivor'' were higher in the West, where it started three hours earlier.

The 42 million viewership figure would make ``Survivor'' the second most-watched show to air after the Super Bowl in the past 20 years. NBC aired a ``Friends'' episode in 1996 that drew just under 53 million viewers, Nielsen said.

The preliminary viewership figure was based on an overnight sample of 47 cities. Complete national ratings are due later Monday.

The show's structure was reassuringly familiar but the people and setting provided the contrast from the first ``Survivor,'' the television phenomenon that drew 51 million people to its climactic episode last August.

Sixteen scheming strangers — split into the Kucha and Ogakor tribes — began competing for a $1 million prize. Debb Eaton, a 45-year-old corrections officer from Berlin, N.H., had the dubious distinction of being the first voted out.

``She's not somebody in the outside world that I'd talk to because she'd make me crazy,'' Long Island, N.Y., bartender Kimmi Kappenberg said before voting to oust Eaton.

Eaton said on ``The Early Show'' on Monday that she believed her teammates didn't get along with her because she didn't want to participate in an X-rated conversation the night before she was kicked off.

``It's a dubious distinction, first off,'' she said. ``I wasn't that happy about it. But it's a game.''

Even before Eaton was sent away, ``Survivor'' got down to the serious business of creating heroes and villains, showing which contestants irritated others and which were working hard.

Eaton's Kucha tribe badly lost the first immunity challenge. Both teams had to cross three portions of the Herbert River in desolate northeastern Australia carrying a torch to light a bonfire.

``Survivor'' immediately followed the post-Super Bowl awards ceremony on CBS. The network estimated that between 125 million and 130 million people watched all or part of the game, down slightly from 131 million last year.

The first outback ``Survivor'' will be repeated Wednesday at 8 p.m. before the limited series moves its regular time slot — opposite NBC's ``Friends'' on Thursday at 8 p.m.

The next three months will tell whether new contestants Kappenberg, Keith Famie or Maralyn Hershey or others can become household names like initial ``Survivor'' winner Richard Hatch, the cantankerous Rudy Boesch or the blunt Susan Hawk.

More than 49,000 people applied to be on the second ``Survivor'' — and 10,000 other applications weren't opened because they came in late. It has made for a more photogenic crew than the first, where 6,000 people applied.

An Internet bookmaker, Intertops.com, has already posted odds on who will be the final ``Survivor'' this time, even though it knows nothing about the contestants beyond brief bios and pictures.

Famie, a 40-year-old chef from West Bloomfield, Mich., was listed as the favorite at 4-to-1 odds. Colby Donaldson, 26, an auto customizer living in Dallas, and Amber Brkich, 22, an administrative assistant from Beaver, Pa., were each given 5-to-1 odds.

CBS has again gone to extraordinary lengths to keep secret results of the game, which has already been completed and filmed. Be skeptical of any false leads before the final episode; the show's executive producer, Mark Burnett, pointedly ducked the question when asked if he was behind any false leaks last summer.

``We had great fun with it,'' he said. ``And I think it's a game like `Survivor' is a game and it's all in good taste and good fun. As long as the audience is having a great experience each week, that's our job.''

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On the Net:

Survivor: http://survivor.cbs.com/primetime/survivor2