Originally published on August 28, 2003
16 strategies for survival
Granddaddy of reality shows is still going strong
By DONNA PETROZZELLO
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Michelle Tesauro started sleeping on the floor and eating bland food as soon as she found out she'd been picked to be a contestant on the new "Survivor."
The 22-year-old from Pittstown, N.J. — a recent marketing graduate of Virginia Tech — had seen enough previous TV castaways, hungry and huddled for shelter, to know that being uncomfortable would become a way of life.
Jon Dalton, a 29-year-old art consultant from Los Angeles, came up with a different strategy for playing the game: have sex with other players.
"I know I'll have the girls on my side," he explained.
Darrah Johnson, a mortician and beauty pageant winner from Mississippi, also didn't rule out using her body, if necessary, to get extra food.
"I hope they don't make me out to be a bad girl," Johnson said. "My looks might not be a good thing for me around the other girls, but maybe that'll help the guys keep me around."
Welcome to the wacky, but always entertaining, world of "Survivor" — the granddaddy of all reality shows.
The 16 people chosen for CBS' "Survivor: Pearl Islands" were announced yesterday. They were sent this summer to a remote location off Panama, and the show begins airing Sept. 18 at 8 p.m.
The Daily News interviewed the contestants before production began.
They talked about how they planned to outwit their rivals for a shot at the $1 million jackpot in this seventh version of the reality show.
Although it doesn't generate the water-cooler buzz it did a few years ago, the show is still going strong, having drawn 20 million viewers a week last season while pitted against the NBC sitcom powerhouse "Friends."
No one, including the contestants themselves, will know the winner until the final episode airs by year's end.
But in their interviews with The News, everyone seemed to have a different strategy. Salesman Shawn Cohen, formerly of Smithtown, L.I., said he prepped for the mental and physical drain-game by sharpening his people skills.
"I've been getting focused on my objective, which is to gain people's trust and loyalty and then get them where I want them," he said. "The worst-case scenario is that I don't win the money, but at least I won't have to say I didn't try."
Rupert Boneham, 39, a of Indianapolis, a former gravedigger who now mentors troubled teen boys, revealed he spent months trying to figure out how to download a "Survivor" application from CBS' Web site.
When he did, he printed it on tie-dyed paper and had his wife, Laura, write answers in calligraphy.
"I always look like the guy who's going to stir the pot," Boneham said. "I think that'll help me, because they'll all want to know if I'm really as bad as I look." When it first launched, "Survivor" inspired a genre that has now become a staple of TV.
The idea is simple: Take so-called regular people and put them through unusual stunts — like living together in a jungle — and then dangle a pot of cash. The results can sometimes resemble real life, with contestants lying to one another, twisting facts and scheming right to the end.
But that's what has made the show a success, said Steve Sternberg of ad-buyer Magna Global.
"There's more drama in 'Survivor' than there is in 'The Bachelor,' " he said. "And 'Survivor' is less of a voyeuristic experience for viewers. You're not watching it to see people be humiliated. That's not its reason for being."
The show has also launched a cottage industry of people eager to get on the air. And for good reason. Besides the cash prizes, face time on "Survivor" can be parlayed into celebrity gigs like a slot on "Hollywood Squares" or a picture spread in Playboy.
"When I heard there was a show where people were eating rats and where you had to be athletic and mentally strong to win $1 million, I thought, I could do that," said contestant Trish Dunn from Annapolis, Md. "Life is too short to be a bystander."
The New Survivors:
Game strategy: Listen to others, and appear trustworthy.
Game strategy: Work hard; be a team player.
Game strategy: Listen to others, and pick up clues on how to outwit them.
Game strategy: Take one day at a time, and be able to change strategy quickly.
Game strategy: Make people feel comfortable, and stay flexible.
Game strategy: Make people laugh, and woo the women.
Game strategy: Fit in with the majority.
Game strategy: Feed my tribe, and take care of others.
Game strategy: Befriend a savvy player, and get to the final two.
Game strategy: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Game strategy: Get what I want out of others.
Game strategy: Take it day by day, and let the game happen.
Game strategy: Be charming and friendly.
Game strategy: Remain optimistic and focused.
Game strategy: Win people's trust; use good looks to get ahead.
Game strategy: Don't overanalyze; make others think they need me.