Forget Nasty Nick, all US viewers care about is the last 'Survivor'

For one night at least, Americans could not care less who makes it to the White House in November. As up to 40 million television sets were tuned into CBS last night, the only question on the country's mind was which of the four remaining contestants - Rudy, Susan, Kelly or Rich - would be the last standing on the runaway hit show
Survivor.

For one night at least, Americans could not care less who makes it to the White House in November. As up to 40 million television sets were tuned into CBS last night, the only question on the country's mind was which of the four remaining contestants - Rudy, Susan, Kelly or Rich - would be the last standing on the runaway hit show Survivor.

The programme, a desert-island version of the BBC's Castaway but with far more vicious politicking and a diet for contestants of maggots and rats, is a ratings phenomenon that threatens to transform prime-time television.

Unlike scripted dramas or sitcoms, its stars cost little or nothing, yet they have become as recognisable and sought after as any bona fide prime-time actor. There are no agents, managers, stylists or personal trainers to accommodate. The show requires no writing talent.And although the winning survivor walks off the island with$1m (£676,000), over 16 episodes that works out at a little more than one-tenth of the salary commanded by any one of the six principals on Friends.

Not only has Survivor rejuvenated the ailing CBS network, creating a ratings winner both for the show itself and for spin-offs and talkshows where the contestants appear, but it has also lodged a near-heretical question in the minds of all network executives - who needs writers and actors?

Survivor is called a "reality show" but its success does not solely lie in the voyeuristic pleasure of the maggot-eating or the endurance tests. What makes it so compelling is the sheer human drama of individuals scheming to stay on the island and the wonderful unpredictability of each episode.

Survivor doesn't just obviate the need for writers and actors, it might even be better than scripted drama. Who would have thought that Rich, the 39-year-old corporate trainer, would declare his homosexuality and spend large chunks of time roaming the island naked? Or that Greg would talk into sea-shells as though he were on the phone and run off into the woods with the sexy Colleen? Or that Ramona would not stop throwing up, even before she had to eat maggots? Executives would not dare show this at prime time if they knew that was coming.

The shifting sands of alliances and betrayals on the South China Sea island has been something of a cross between I, Claudius and Alex Garland's The Beach, only with shameless product placement and plentiful advertising breaks at $600,000 per 30-second spot.

The money and celebrity-milking have been blatant. Most participants now have agents, who have booked appearances on soaps and TV dramas and - for Colleen and Jenna - fielded offers to pose for Playboy. A sequel, this time in the Australian outback, will begin airing in January.

Together with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, the equally compulsive gameshow on ABC, the new television trend has got writers and actors worried. Both are expected to go on strike next April, for unrelated reasons. They will have to hope there are still television executives around who care enough to listen to their grievances.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reacts during a news conference in Zurich June 1, 2011
news
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
News
peopleKatie Hopkins criticises River Island's 'seize the day' bags for trying to normalise epilepsy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family
film'I survived it, but I’ll never be the same,' says Arash Amel
Life and Style
Retailers should make good any consumer goods problems that occur within two years
tech(and what to do if you receive it)
Life and Style
healthIf one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Trustee with Management, Communications and Fundraising

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission, Benefits, OTE £100k: SThree: ...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada