Mark Burnett presents <EM>Pirate Master</EM>. Mark Burnett presents Pirate Master.

Ahoy, maties! Mark Burnett — the man behind Survivor, The Apprentice and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? — has gone skull-and-crossbones for his newest show, Pirate Master, which premieres May 31 on CBS. The 13-week buccaneer series, hosted by Australian actor/musician Cameron Daddo (Big Momma's House 2), stars "16 people who all agree that had they been born 250 years ago, they would have liked to be pirates," as Burnett tells TV Guide from the Pirate Master set on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Contestants will live on a 179-foot-square rigger for 33 days while they search for buried treasure totaling $1 million.

The game is based, says Burnett, on a story he has devised about a mythical pirate — one "Captain Steel" — who had supposedly divided treasure equally among his crew and buried it on Dominica. "Each man returned to the ship with a set of maps and hid them in a chest with 14 compartments, and it was only a few weeks ago that the chest was recovered," he relates to us. "So the contestants are sailing to a different destination each week around the island looking for the treasure." 

It's a mix of the mind games of Survivor and the extreme physical challenges of Burnett's Eco-Challenge, all under a Jolly Roger flag. "It's a huge — and hard — adventure, with jumping off waterfalls, swimming up canyon lakes and crossing mud-filled jungles," Burnett says. The show's appropriate motto? "Watch your back." As Burnett notes, "Pirates have their own rules, and while they need to work as a group on the expeditions, you never know who's going to stab you in the back."

The wannabe brigands dress in period costumes, eat such yummy authentic food as gruel — the officers get better rations — and are ruled over by an elected captain who assigns roles to the crew members and can be overthrown if he doesn't treat his crew well. Mutiny, anyone? Each week at "Pirate's Court" — which are, according to Burnett, modeled after actual tribunals — a player is cast off the ship and set adrift on a raft. "If you can't run with the crew, if you can't swim or row or navigate, you're a liability."

The pirate crew, says Burnett, is made up of eight men and eight women. Among them: "a very tough Nigerian who became an American and a former Navy rescue swimmer, who's currently a smoke jumper. Everybody's a good athlete, but what they've learned is that to be a great pirate, you have to be really smart."

In one twist, about half the money — gold coins — will be distributed to the players as they locate parts of the hidden treasure. "It's a lot of fun, a great summer yarn. It's fantasy meets reality," says Burnett, who wrote the show back in 2003, adding "It's a big endeavor to pull off."

Watch the TV Guide Channel's exclusive coverage of Pirate Master on The 411, airing Thursday, April 19, at 9 pm/ET. Then tune in to Sunday, May 27, at 9 pm/ET for an exclusive, in-depth Pirate Master preview.

Pick up the April 23 issue of TV Guide for more scoop about Pirate Master. Try four risk-free issues of the magazine now!

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