MEDIA: SURVIVOR - AN EXPERT'S VIEW. Survivor's foray into reality TV was oddly compelling and will prove a big hit, Ian Darby says

It could have been a real test of endurance. Sit in front of a TV

screen for an hour on a warm evening and watch a bunch of former RAF

personnel and members of the police force construct wooden huts and find

water on a remote desert island. But somehow Survivor made for oddly

compelling viewing.



"Oddly" because certain parts of the programme, ITV's big budget

challenge to Big Brother, were distinctly bizarre. The island setting,

in the South China Sea, made for some weird and exotic scenes of

contestants engaging in firelighting ceremonies and bowing in front of

fire gods.



It all started mundanely enough. Survivor finally found a sponsor in

Macleans Complete Care (which paid, if reports are to be believed,

around pounds 3 million for the privilege). The hastily constructed

idents established Macleans as the ultimate survival tool that helps you

"stay protected in your (urban) jungle".



The show itself started with some lavishly shot scenes of the two groups

of contestants who are competing to be the last "survivor" on the island

and the winner of pounds 1 million. The stunning setting of Pulau Tiga

gives Survivor an instant edge on Big Brother.



The production values and editing are also a vast improvement on any

other reality show that I have seen. This is, perhaps, inevitable given

the fact that it is shot in advance, but the producers deserve a slap on

the back nonetheless for not simply tossing out a Big Brother

imitation.



But let's not get too carried away. This is, after all, highly

unoriginal programming. Bought in from the US, where the final episode

generated more than 50 million viewers, Survivor cynically combines

elements of cheesy It's A Knockout-style shows with the voyeurism of Big

Brother.



At times the first episode bordered on parody. The sweating host, Mark

Austin (a veteran ITV news hound), attempted to inject a note of

seriousness into proceedings as contestants ran around in tight vests

lighting tributes to the fire god in the first challenge between the two

groups.



There were a couple of moments of brilliance. One contestant admitted

smuggling in four sausages wrapped in clingfilm down his pants. When it

came to extracting them he could only find three. And the climax of the

first voting out of a competitor, which took place at a laughable

"tribal council", led to the ejection of "Nasty Nick 2", a highly

unpleasant character.



With Big Brother starting again this weekend, reality TV is taking

over.



Survivor is going to be huge. It may be a cynical exercise in

undemanding television, but ITV can't be blamed for making hay while the

sun shines.



Channel: ITV

Launch programme: 21 May

Frequency: Four times a week

Overnight audience figures: 6.6 million

Advertisers included: Expedia.co.uk, McDonald's, Sure Deo Wipes, John

Smiths and Autotrader.co.uk.



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