Why celebrity Survivor is a great idea

During a conference call with reporters last week, Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett answered a question about a possible celebrity Survivor by saying he’d consider it. He should, because it’s a fantastic idea, and a way to stop having to bring back previous contestants once a year or otherwise manufacture a twist.

Here’s what Burnett said, according to Zap2it: “Has it ever come up in meetings? Sure. But the game really works and certainly we have our own ‘Survivor’ celebrities … are there celebrities who we know personally who have been ‘Survivor’ fans and half-jokingly say they want to do that? Yes. Would I think about an all-celebrity version? For charity, if CBS wanted to, a shortened version, I would think about it.”

He and CBS should do more than think about it, they should try to do it for season 24. The show would work so well that I don’t think charity or an abbreviated season are necessary. And if you’re not convinced, you only need to look at The Celebrity Apprentice, an example of what happens when you subject semi-famous people to the rigors of a familiar competition format.

Mark Burnett may lie, but he and his team have done exceptionally well with The Apprentice spin-off, which has now exceeded the original in terms of ratings and entertainment.

The reason it works is because the show treats the celebrities like it does its unknown contestants (though with a few minor caveats; more on that in a second). That ends up showing and telling us more about their real selves than we learn in other contexts. There’s something awesome about watching celebrities struggle with the challenges presented by a format we’re familiar with, and I think Survivor would be the same way.

How amazing would it be to watch them participate in John Kirhoffer and Dan Munday’s challenges? Or spar with Jeff Probst at Tribal Council? And conspire against one another at camp? Just imagine some of The Celebrity Apprentice cast, who of the caliber the show would need to attract to make it work, doing those things: Trade Adkins, Lennox Lewis, Gene Simmons, Joan Rivers, Annie Duke, Jesse James, Clint Black, Tom Green—heck, even Omarosa. Who wouldn’t love to see them dirty, emaciated, and strategizing against one another?

Of course, it will only work if those kinds of celebrities go to a remote location for 39 days and play the exact same game that non-celebrities do. That joke of a show I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here shows what happens when celebrities get coddled on a badly executed show.

The only difference should be that their prize goes to charity, although Celebrity Mole did just fine letting the celebs keep their winnings, so a charity component isn’t necessary (but may be necessary to draw the right caliber of celebrity). Offering the privacy and retreat of hotel rooms might be one of the ways that Celebrity Apprentice draws celebrities, hence the reason they dropped the suite living component, but any celebrity cast would have to commit to the reality of the experience, which means sleeping on the ground outside for weeks.

Since Survivor now uses the same location for both annual seasons, CBS should just make each spring season a celebrity edition, one that in no way involves former contestants. Undoubtedly, getting celebs to agree to the game’s brutal reality is the single most challenging part of a celebrity season. Doing a slightly abbreviated version would be okay only if no one will agree to six weeks of production. But beyond that, it’d be extremely easy—and, I think, extremely rewarding for us.

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