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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living