Mark Burnett lied to me. Back in January, before Survivor: The Australian Outback boomeranged TV's biggest improv drama back into our lives, Burnett, producer of the show, was the star attraction at a CBS press conference in Los Angeles. Rumors surrounding this season's finale already had TV critics hopping like 'roos on hot asphalt.
The juiciest buzz was that Burnett had ended the last tribal council in the Outback without telling the players who won the million bucks. He was keeping the name a secret - even from the winner - until the night of the final two-hour episode (8 p.m., May 3, CBS). Then it would be announced live by host Jeff Probst in a final tally of the jury's votes.
Genius idea. Kills any chance of a security leak. Makes the revelation hugely suspenseful, with the bonus that the cast gets the news at the exact second viewers do.
So I was itching to ask Burnett if the rumors were true. At the press confab another critic asked if there was any aspect of the Outback edition that he'd altered from the island version. Or if he'd be changing anything about the game for Survivor 3.
“No one is changing the rules of baseball or football,” Burnett said. “It's a game with rules. [But] the game isn't the show. It's the people playing the game and what they do to each other. I haven't really thought about changing anything, apart from finding locations for Survivor 3 and starting casting and looking for great people.”
Then it was my turn.
“There is one change I want to find out if you made and that's how you reveal the winner,” I said. “I heard that you're keeping that a secret even from the cast until the very last night that it airs. Is that true and is it because you were worried about security?”
Burnett squirmed. “You know, we don't want to talk about the episode, if you don't mind. I don't want to talk about how we're going to do things.”
I tried again. “Does the winner yet know who won? Does the cast know who won Survivor 2 or are you keeping that a secret even from them until the night that we see it?”
And here's what Mark Burnett said: “Yes, they know who won.”
He said that in January, two months after the final episode was shot on Survivor: The Australian Outback.
Jumpcut to the other day when a CBS press release comes fluttering off the fax machine. “The sole Survivor will be revealed live during a special two-hour finale,” it said. “The votes cast during the final tribal council in the Outback were sealed and have been kept under lock and key so that the outcome can be unveiled LIVE during the final show.”
Hey! I may not always be the fastest wallaby up the gum tree, but I knew I'd caught Mr. Big Shot in a walloping whopper.
“Mark Burnett is always playing the game,” said CBS' Survivor spokesperson Michelle Hooper when I read her back the interview quotes. “Whether it's on Pulau Tiga, in the Outback, or in a press conference, he's always playing the game.”
“Playing the game” being Burnett-speak for “lying like a croc on a rock.”
Elaine Liner is The Blade's media editor. E-mail her at email@example.com. or call 1-419-724-6126.