Stacey Sues Survivor: Can She Win?by David Bloomberg -- 07/10/2002
These accusations are not new. Indeed, they formed part of the basis of Peter Lance's book, The Stingray. But until the suit, they were mostly rumor and innuendo, with nobody willing to open up and risk CBS's wrath. Stillman's 14-page suit filed in California puts the specific allegations on display.
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that "The producers of Survivor engaged in a scheme for the purpose of prearranging or predetermining its outcome, by influencing, persuading, or intimidating contestants to cast votes for certain of the contestants. This unlawful scheme resulted in the premature expulsion of the plaintiff-contestant, defrauded her and the viewing public, and altered the ultimate outcome of Survivor."
Stillman describes, briefly, what happened on the island from the time they were "stranded" until she was voted off. She explains the immunity challenges, the way she says she tried to work well with the rest of her group, etc. She notes, "The Tagi tribe won the second ‘immunity challenge' as a direct result of Plaintiff's individual effort." This refers, of course, to when she beat Gervase Peterson in a race to eat beetle larvae, something she also mentioned to the camera at the time she was voted off.
In discussing what would happen if they lost the third immunity challenge, she notes that four members, including herself, told the cameras they planned to vote against Rudy. Then, after they did, indeed, lose, she says the co-author of Burnett's book took her aside while Burnett went off and talked one-on-one to Kenniff and Been. She says this is when Burnett convinced them to vote against her instead of Rudy, because he would be more useful in upcoming challenges. She says that Burnett's motivation was to avoid the criticism and loss of older viewers if all three of the oldest contestants were voted off immediately (the other two had already gone). Plus, she said Burnett knew that Rudy would play well for audiences – something that definitely turned out to be true.
Stillman says this interference directly changed the outcome of the game, and led to her being removed before she should have been.
But what is Stillman's evidence? How can she hope to win in court?
According to her suit, both Been and Kenniff later admitted to her that they had been persuaded by Burnett to vote against her. Since that time, she says Been has repeatedly affirmed the circumstances and even wrote a two-page letter to Burnett, expressing his disappointment at being manipulated.
But one of her witnesses is contradicting her publicly. Kenniff was asked by various media if his vote had been changed. He said that Burnett only told him to "vote your conscience" and never tried to coerce him. Been has refused to comment so far.
Burnett, meanwhile, was quoted in USA Today as saying, "Clearly, if there was anything to this stuff, it would've come out well before this." Really? Well, in fact, it had come out well before this – in Peter Lance's The Stingray. The problem has been that all the contestants are locked into contracts that forbid them from discussing the show, under extreme monetary penalties. So what else, exactly, did he expect else to come out? His response is illogical on its face. Either Stillman's claims are true or they are not; the timing has nothing to do with it.
But are her claims true? Can she prove it?
There are definitely instances of Burnett and other producers interfering with the play of the game. Burnett admitted to one of these in his own book. Producer Jay Bienstock talked to Gervase Peterson about who he would vote against in an upcoming Tribal Council, causing Peterson to change the way he was playing the game and voting.
In another case discussed in The Stingray and then verified by Kenniff on Rivera Live, the two tribes had originally picked ambassadors to discuss the merger into a single group. But the producers overruled that decision and went with Kenniff and Jenna Lewis instead. Kenniff proceeded to get drunk at their meeting and give away crucial information about the Tagi alliance that could have completely changed the game.
This type of information does not prove that Burnett influenced the votes against Stillman, but it does show a pattern. It shows that the producers were not above becoming involved when it suited them. It is a small step to believe that Stillman's accusations are true.
Public opinion of Survivor fans already seems to be against Stillman. Ironically, one of Burnett's general descriptions of the game that Stillman quoted in her suit said, "if you treat people badly and act like a jerk, you will be kicked off." Stillman was certainly portrayed as acting like a jerk (or, as she was more often described, a b*tch), and this seemed to be why she was voted off the island. That perception of her has been enhanced by the filing of this lawsuit, if various message boards across the Web are any indication. Many seem to see it as the last shot of a sore loser.
But this loses sight of the real question here: Are her accusations true? She might be a bitch. She might not be. However, her personality should not be at issue. If Been is willing to testify under oath, in a court of law, to back up Stillman's claims, then Burnett and CBS could be in trouble. The only person who can vote Stillman off now is a judge.
For updated information on the lawsuit, check out Survivor Lawsuit II: The Empire Strikes Back and Stacey Files Motion to Strike Survivor Countersuit. Check back frequently for updates!