As we approach Super Bowl Sunday, analysts, bookies and Monday-morning quarterbacks are busy speculating on the outcome of the contest: Who will win this year's drama-filled confrontation, a much-ballyhooed match based on cunning strategy, guts and determination? Of course, we're talking not about the football game, but of Survivor's upcoming second season, which is set to premiere after the gridiron showdown on Jan. 28.
Although CBS is keeping a tight lid on Survivor: The Australian Outback (the network plans to release information on the 16 contestants in early January), this much is known: Production recently wrapped at a remote cattle ranch near Blencoe Falls in Queensland; the series will feature 14 episodes (as opposed to last summer's 13), highlighting a competition that lasted 42 days (three more than the first season); and the show's final episode which should air April 26 will feature just three contestants. As expected, the network's strict security measures have prompted a hailstorm of Internet rumors and watercooler conjecture on everything from possible players to the ultimate winner. At the center of the tempest once again is survivorsucks.com, the infamous "spoiler site" that claims to have the inside track on all things Survivor-related.
The site recently "outed" 12 of the 16 participants, including Rodger Bingham, a high-school shop teacher from Kentucky; Jeff Varner, a web page designer from Greensboro, N.C.; and Maralyn Hershey, a 51-year-old former police officer from Washington, D.C. They describe Bingham as a cross between the The Simpsons's Principal Skinner and Dick Cheney, Varner as being "hunky" and "dreamy," and Hershey as a "champion equestrian." (According to the site, the two men are "media-whorish.") Other highlights from the reported contestant pool: Amber Brkich, a 22-year-old former cheerleader; Elisabeth Filarski, the 25-year-old girlfriend of Boston College quarterback Tim Hasselbeck; and Jerri Manthey, a 30-year-old actress who played Vincent D'Onofrio's wife in the 1999 Showtime movie That Championship Season. How accurate is the info? It depends on whom you ask, but the site is rumored to be nothing more than a publicity front for Survivor producer Mark Burnett.
Meanwhile, the New York Post reports that in order to protect the winner's secret identity, final votes were placed in a "lockbox" that will be opened and counted during the final episode. Additionally, Linda Grasso of E! describes the Aussie site is "unbelievably huge" and suggests that two or three of the players "could be Playboy centerfolds." (We're guessing Amber and Elisabeth.)
In an interview with USA Today, Burnett claimed the new season will be quite different from the first, using more aerial footage and featuring completely different personality types. According to the producer, the fact that the new contestants had seen the first season and realized the importance of scheming and strategizing, the show became more political and interesting during its early episodes.
Another big difference between Survivor I and II will be its timeslot. Earlier this week, CBS announced that Survivor II will air opposite NBC's Friends the top-rated sitcom among young adults on Thursday nights at 8 pm/ET beginning February 1. (The show will air twice on Wednesday night on March 14 and March 21 due to the NCAA basketball tournament.) "In laying out all the options, ultimately it came down to what could most benefit our schedule overall," said Kelly Kahl, senior VP of program planning and scheduling at CBS. "We needed a series to help bring some people to our network on that night."
Is the Peacock network afraid of being eaten alive? Hardly. "We are confident that Friends and our other Must-See TV Thursday series will rise to the challenge of facing increased competition," an NBC statement said.
NBC should take note, however, that if the amount of early press coverage devoted to Survivor II is any indication of its success, the CBS reality game show could very well top its predecessor. That would mean mind-boggling numbers for the network, especially considering the ratings of Survivor's dramatic August climax, an episode that drew almost 52 million viewers alone. In terms of most-watched shows, it was second only to ironically enough the Super Bowl.
Let the games begin...