Survivor Lawsuit II: The Empire Strikes Backby David Bloomberg -- 07/10/2002
Then there was The Stingray, a book by investigative journalist Peter Lance about Survivor winner Rich Hatch and allegations of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the producers of the show. Among the accusations was one claiming executive producer Mark Burnett had engineered Stacey's defeat by convincing players Sean Kenniff and Dirk Been to change their votes, which they had planned to cast against ex-Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch, and instead target the eye-rolling lawyer. These accusations mostly stemmed from Stacey, herself, who at first seemed to be much nicer than she had been portrayed on the show, but soon turned into the nasty threatening lawyer when she realized Lance would be using the material she gave to him in his book – even though she had apparently known about this all along.
This was followed by the lawsuit. Stacey sued the Survivor producers, CBS, and others related to the show, alleging that Burnett engineered her tribal demise, broke FCC laws related to game show fairness, etc. These accusations were immediately ridiculed by Burnett and CBS, although a careful look at what they said shows it doesn't stand up to scrutiny (see my previous article on this topic). Sean came out and said that the accusations were untrue. Dirk, however, has not done the same. He has dropped hints and said he would testify under oath, but he has not publicly supported either side. It should be noted that if he did speak out, he would be violating his contract with the show, which mandates secrecy. However, Stacey claims he has told her privately that Burnett suggested he change his vote to her, and that Dirk even sent a long letter to Burnett complaining about this manipulation.
Now comes the inevitable countersuit. Survivor Entertainment Group (SEG) has filed their own lawsuit in California to accuse Stacey of breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, defamation, and product disparagement. They are asking for over $5,000,000 and an injunction against Stacey to make her stop spouting accusations.
In looking over the legal document they filed, we find a number of interesting statements, some of which weigh on Survivor's side, others which may tend to support Stacey.
SEG begins by noting that Stacey, as a lawyer, was fully aware of the meaning of the contracts she signed telling her to keep her mouth shut. Indeed, they characterize her several times as "eagerly" signing such documents so she could be in one of the "highly coveted" spots on the show.
Next they explain that she got a lot of money from her participation on the show – not just from being a contestant, but also by being hired by a San Francisco TV station (owned by CBS) to do news analysis and Survivor commentary, by doing a commercial for Reebok (a Survivor sponsor), etc. Part of this looks like they are trying to say she already got plenty, so the court shouldn't side with her. To this, I say, "So what?" If there was, indeed, manipulation going on, then it doesn't matter what else she got. If there wasn't, it definitely isn't an issue.
In giving this information, they seem to be laying down a groundwork for claiming that she is basically a publicity hound. For example, they say: "she received the wide-spread attention and publicity she craved…" and "This paid position…gave Defendant even more of the exposure and publicity she sought in her own home town." In the next part, they continue this thread, by claiming Stacey has leaked information, granted interviews to misrepresent the situation, etc. All of this "generated enormous publicity focused on Defendant herself."
Following the laying of this foundation, SEG really nails Stacey by pointing to "extortionate threats and demands" from her. They talk about the e-mail she sent to other players regarding the reunion show, asking, "What are you thinking in terms of how much to extort?" They then point to her further efforts to get money from them or get on to another reality show. She says it was an attempt to settle without having to go to court; they say it was extortion. That one is kind of up in the air. But the e-mail, where she specifically mentions "extortion," is not a good sign for her. She claimed in interviews that she was joking. Yeah, maybe. But you're a lawyer. You should know better. You don't make jokes about bombs in an airport, and you don't make jokes about extortion when you're going to be facing those people in court!
Later in the filing, SEG details some of the alleged examples of Stacey's contract violations, specifically including her talks and e-mails to Peter Lance as he prepared to write The Stingray. The lawsuit charges she made such false statements knowing Lance wanted to print them in his book. For his part, when Lance was asked about being mentioned in the suit, he said, "I stand by the reporting and the findings in my book. Everything that I reported about Stacey Stillman was 100% accurate and I invite people who are interested to read 'The Stingray' and see for themselves."
They also mention her appearance on the February 7, 2001, edition of Good Morning America, in which she repeated her charges and claimed that Sean had confirmed her accusations. Unfortunately for Stacey, SEG correctly notes that "Mr. Kenniff has flatly and repeatedly contradicted Defendant's falsehoods and disparagement and has consistently denied that his decision to vote Defendant off the Program was manipulated, coerced, or otherwise influenced by the Program's producers." They even call her claims "fanciful," just to add to the effect.
Of course, they don't mention Dirk anywhere. Wonder why? It could have to do with Dirk's silence, except to imply that the show wasn't quite as "real" as we might think. In other words, he has not been nearly as supportive of the show as Sean has been. So why hasn't he come out to support Stacey? Probably because he fears exactly what is happening to her now – a $5,000,000 lawsuit! But he has stated that he would testify under oath. Indeed, that may be the only way we ever find out what he really thinks.
Back in the lawsuit, SEG claims they have suffered and will continue to suffer damage from loss of revenue and interest in the show. I'm not sure how they measure such a thing – especially since I figure the whole brouhaha has only increased interest, not decreased it. I know I certainly haven't encountered anybody who said, "Hmph. That lawyer woman says the show is rigged. I ain't watching it!"
The final line of the lawsuit requests a jury trial. This is quite a smart move on SEG's part, because a jury is more apt to be swayed by emotion. And most of them will know Stacey only through Survivor's portrayal of her – as a bitch. So their own editing actually gives them a bonus here. She wasn't just a "bad guy" on the show – not they can make her out to be a "bad guy" in real life, as well. As we've seen in this document, they've already started the process, labeling her as seeking publicity at every turn and trying to extort money from them.
This is going to be a tough case for Stacey to continue to fight. Her only possible source of aid, Dirk, is sticking by his silence. CBS has the power to go all out in a publicity campaign against her. And she's already thought of as a witch by many of the show's fans. At this point, the most likely outcome seems to be a settlement where she shuts up and neither side gets any money – and the public never really learns the truth.
For updated information on the lawsuit, check out Stacey Files Motion to Strike Survivor Countersuit. And check back frequently for updates!