Surviving the Book?by David Bloomberg -- 07/10/2002
The first Survivor series was the phenomenon of the summer. CBS and the show's executive producer, Mark Burnett, have been working to give it a much longer life. To that end, a second round of the hit show is currently being filmed in Australia, to be shown beginning immediately after the Super Bowl in January. The first series re-aired almost every night opposite the Olympics. Meanwhile, many of the contestants have shown up everywhere from Rosie O'Donnell's show to Hollywood Squares.
But it doesn't stop there. Burnett, with Martin Dugard, also wrote a book, Survivor: The Ultimate Game as "The Official Companion Book to the CBS Television Show." Coming out shortly after the series ended, the book was featured prominently at many stores and was the subject of discussion amongst the show's fans.
Unfortunately, even for those fans, the book does not live up to the fascination level generated by the show. Part of the reason for this may be that readers already know how the story ends. So while it may seem ironic that the first sentence of the first chapter begins, "Richard Hatch was destined to be the first castaway voted off," it just doesn't raise the same level of interest it is already known that he ended up winning the million dollars.
Another problem is that the book seems to have been put together in a hurry. There are misspellings, typos, and grammatical errors that should not appear in a major publication.
Furthermore, there are contradictions between the show and the book, and flat-out errors in the book. On the show, Gervase Peterson was shown as a YMCA basketball coach. In the book, he is listed as "unemployed." When Gretchen Cordy was voted off, it marked the first strike of a four-person alliance against members of the opposing team. Yet Burnett got it wrong, showing her receiving only three votes.
His discussion is further marred by attempts at psychoanalysis that Burnett is not qualified to make. He goes so far as to compare their island behavior to their real lives which he has no way to judge. Even worse, he moves into apparent feats of mind-reading at times, discussing thoughts of contestants that they had never revealed.
His mind-reading seems particularly flawed in several instances. For instance, Burnett discusses how Susan Hawk had planned to turn on Richard within the alliance at the end. When Susan described her plan to the TV camera, the viewer could tell she was enjoying the idea. But Burnett goes further than that, claiming that she "hated" Richard. "Hate" is an awfully strong word, and there seems to be no evidence either at the time or since that Susan "hated" Richard.
In another case, when Greg Buis was voted off, he made a big show of pretending to cry. Any viewer watching it could see that it was just Greg acting up again. But apparently Burnett wasn't that perceptive. He says, "Greg cried. No one could tell if it was real or he was just playing make-believe."
Even with these flaws, the book is not totally without merit for the show's fans. For example, it does expand the fan's view of the contestants. On the show, we only saw a few of Joel Klug's statements that the women in his group ascribed to his male chauvinism. Burnett's discussion, however, sheds further light on this, showing how Klug really brought about his own downfall by his attitude towards women.
His behind-the-scenes look at the Pagong tribe gives the reader a new view of them. On the show, they almost always seemed to get along well. But in the book, he describes them as "pretenders" who bickered and fought and generally annoyed each other. He also expands on their rather poor work ethic, which was indeed noticeable on the show. "They wandered about and sat about and lay about and complained. All their problems were someone else's doing, especially their lack of food."
But in providing additional information, Burnett also makes the reader wonder why some of that material wasn't shown to begin with. By all accounts, one of the most dramatic moments of the show came early, when retired Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch found out that Richard, the first friend he'd made on the island, was gay. Rudy had previously made some rather unflattering statements about homosexuals, but he then realized that he had befriended a gay man, and it wasn't such a bad thing. This incident wasn't shown, nor even mentioned. In fact, the editing of the show seems to contradict the story as related in the book!
All of these problems bring up an interesting question: In trying to milk more out of the show, might Burnett actually have turned some fans off?
Only time, and the Nielsen ratings, can answer that question for sure. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Be sure to check out our reviews of Rich Hatch’s book, 101 Survival Secrets and The Stingray, by investigative journalist Peter Lance!
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