Can Survivor Keep Winner Secret?

Monday, June 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Can `Survivor' Keep Winner Secret?

AP Television Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — With CBS' ``Survivor'' a giant hit after two weeks on the air, suspense is already mounting: How will things play out by summer's end for this game-show twist on ``Gilligan's Island''?

But the real mystery isn't which one of the show's 16 castaways outlasted the others to claim $1 million. That question was settled forever (and captured on videotape) on April 20, the show's 39th and final day on remote Pulau Tiga.

The still-unanswered question is: Can ``Survivor'' keep its secrets in this tell-all world?

CBS wants us to learn what happened on Pulau Tiga step by step, surprise by surprise, in a strictly administered regimen of 11 more episodes airing Wednesday nights. This information-rationing surely makes the show more fun and the ratings more robust.

Still, CBS is bucking a trend. We live in a news-when-you-want-it culture. We have a sense of entitlement that if something — anything — has happened anywhere, we ought to be told. Instantly.

In the information age, are secrets possible?

``George Clooney's surprise appearance on `ER' was a tremendous source of inspiration for us,'' says CBS spokesman Chris Ender, referring to the former ``ER'' star's return for a scene not even NBC execs knew about until the series' May 11 episode hit the air.

Ender says all 16 castaways signed confidentiality agreements that bar them from discussing the outcome, at the penalty of forfeiting their various cash prizes, including the survivor's million bucks. They could also face punitive damages. All of their interviews with the press are chaperoned.

But what about the unintentional tip-off? When a ``Survivor'' washout returned home less than 39 days after the contest's March 13 launch, wasn't that a clue to a co-worker or a next-door neighbor that this person could be crossed off the list of possible winners?

No, says Ender. As each contender was voted off the island, he or she was invited to stay on at a Malaysian resort. All but three (Ender isn't saying which three) accepted the offer. This means nearly everyone returned home at the same time.

What about the staffers of CBS' ``Early Show,'' which has dibs each Thursday on the castaway seen banished the night before? ``Early Show'' executive producer Steve Friedman says he learns with the rest of the nation on Wednesday nights which member of the ``Survivor'' party will be his show's guest — and by then that person is already in New York, accompanied by someone who works for ``Survivor.''

What if one of those bounced from ``Survivor'' is miffed and decides to blab, contract or no?

Unlikely, insists Chris Ender. The castaways ``are all tremendously proud of what they've accomplished. In conversations we've had with all 16, I can tell you that it's more than a matter of the confidentiality agreement. They've banded together to maintain the secret.''

The media, he adds, ``has for the most part been aggressive in its coverage, but tremendously respectful of what we're trying to do.''

Still, how can CBS guard against the emergence of an ``Outsmart `Survivor''' Web site, whose contributors might somehow put all the pieces together? Or the mischief of a computer geek with too much spare time?

This summer, only the survival of the secret is in doubt.


On the Net:

CBS' ``Survivor'' Web page: