Who will survive?

Wednesday, August 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

"This is going to be just like a game show. Wait a minute, we're on a game show." - Survivor contestant Colleen Haskell

And what a show it's been, hooking an ever-escalating audience since premiering in shark-infested waters against ABC's once all-powerful Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

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Survivor since has supplanted Millionaire atop the weekly Nielsen ratings, jumping from 15.5 million viewers for its May 31 debut to 28.7 million for last week's next-to-last episode. Wednesday night's two-hour finale could well approach the 40 million mark.

The show's varied castaways, ranging from nubile Pagong Colleen Haskell to ne'er-do-well Tagi Richard Hatch, have become instant celebrities and fair game for psychologists, sociologists and others who presume to know what makes us tick. Survivor is more than a ratings juggernaut for CBS. It's one of the most sliced and diced shows of our time, underscored by a Time magazine cover story headlined
"Voyeur TV: We Like to Watch."

What we've seen are 16 contestants reduced to four for the show's last big splash. Two of the island's senior inhabitants, 62-year-old Sonja Christopher and 64-year-old B.B. Andersen, were the first evictees. Charges of ageism abounded, but tribal elders since have assumed the balance of power.

Of the four finalists, 72-year-old Rudy Boesch was already a teen when Harry Truman became president. Kiddo Kelly Wiglesworth, 50 years his junior, was barely out of her teens when The Truman Show opened. The other competitors are a pair of conniving 38-year-olds, Susan Hawk and Richard Hatch.

One of them will walk away with $1 million Wednesday night. Consolation prizes are $100,000, $75,000 and $50,000.

Here's a look at each contestant's chances to win the ultimate prize. (Note: Two separate votes will winnow the field from four to two. Then a jury of the last seven evictees will decide who becomes a millionaire before taxes.)

Kelly Wiglesworth - She's a long shot, but her path seems clearest. Simply put, Kelly must win two more "immunity talismans," which would make her bulletproof in the face of the lethal "alliance" of Rudy, Richard and Susan.

Kelly has won two talismans in a row so far, and both clearly have been lifesavers. Without one, Kelly almost assuredly will be evicted in the first or second of Wednesday night's votes. But if she makes it to the final two, Kelly would be the favorite to win it all. That's because four former Pagong tribe members hold the balance of power in the seven-member jury. They could exact sweet revenge by voting in a bloc against either Susan, Richard or Rudy, all of whom are perceived as more evil than Kelly.

Susan Hawk - Unless Kelly claims the first talisman, Susan likely will be among the last three standing. But she'll then probably have to win immunity herself to prohibit Richard and Rudy from aligning to vote her out. The odd-couple bond between those two seems unbreakable, leaving Susan the odd Tagi out if the pot boils down to three vipers. Then again, maybe Richard would rather face diabolical Susan than crusty Rudy in the final jury vote. Hmm.

Richard Hatch - With or without a talisman, he's a strong bet to make the Final Two in tandem with Rudy. But can he possibly go all the way? Probably not. Even if his final obstacle is Susan, he'll face a jury that perceives him as the true Darth Vader of the alliance. In this case, payback would be snatching $1 million from his grasp and leaving him with relative pocket change instead.

Rudy Boesch - Which leaves us with the old man and the sea. Rudy nearly was evicted in Episode 1, garnering three votes to Sonja's four. But he's since shown the resiliency of a round steak and the savvy to partner up with just the right wrong crowd. He's the likely winner in a final matchup with either Richard or Susan. Kelly could deny him the big prize, but the odds against her getting that far are longer than his. Never thought it would come to this, but Rudy is the pick to go all the way.

Survivor finale, 7-9 Wednesday night, Channel 11, followed by one-hour "reunion" of original 16 castaways