Playa Galeon is just one of the 12 beaches on Contadora Island
Survivor locale gets ready to host another show
by Joe Taylor --- A. M. Costa Rica
Filming begins Tuesday in the Pearl Islands of Panama for a new "Survivor." Once again the 354-room Hotel Contadora Resort on Contadora Island is serving as the command center for the upcoming $275 million production of this mega-hit television show.
Mark Burnett, the show’s creator, is clearly attracted to the rugged beauty, the remoteness, and the rich pirate history of the Pearl Islands, an archipelago of nearly 200 islands 20 minutes by air from Panama City. This will be the third time that he has filmed the show there. The area was the location for "Survivor 7" in 2003 and "Survivor All-Stars" in 2004.
The security around the Hotel Contadora is significant. Most of Playa Larga, the largest beach on the island, has been roped off. Only the 350 crew members staying in the hotel and the locals with an official ID are allowed to enter. The guards tell everyone else that “the hotel is undergoing renovations” and not to proceed another step.
The security in the waters around Contadora Island is even more formidable. Several dozen Panamanian soldiers in boats are patrolling the area between Contadora Island and the islands of Chapera and Mogo Mogo where most of the filming will take place. If curiosity seekers get too close to either of these islands, they will be immediately intercepted and told to leave.
Crew members and locals hired by "Survivor" do not provide any information about the upcoming season because they have signed a five-year confidentiality agreement not to discuss the show with anyone. The usual rumors of enormous bribes paid to "Survivor" employees by tabloids have begun.
The curtain of secrecy on the island is so thick that only those fans who are willing to outplay, outwit, and outlast the competition will ever have a chance of finding out what is going on behind the scenes on Contadora Island.
For the many "Survivor" enthusiasts who have been flocking to the Pearl Islands since 2003, they do not mind being told to leave. It is all part of the excitement. Tony Ayala, manager of the Contadora Island Inn, has met many of these fans whom he calls "Survivor" trekkies.
They come to the island all the time, he said, adding that they want to see where Rupert Boneham won the immunity challenges, or where Colby Donaldson took his shirt off, or where Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich fell in love.
These travelers are easy to identify with their "Survivor" buffs, hats, and T-shirts. Their vocabulary is filled with references to previous "Survivor" sites such as Palau, Vanuatu, and Borneo, and they talk about Jeff Probst, the host of the show, as if he were a dear family friend.
Ayala enjoys telling about the time when he was asked by Mark Burnett to work full-time for "Survivor." “I told him that it was a great show, but that the main concept of the show ‘sucked'. These guys work together to become a tight group and then they are encouraged to stab each other in the back. What is that all about?” he asked.
Some on the island suspect, however, that Ayala is a closet fan of "Survivor." He enjoys telling about the cameo appearance he made on "Survivor" in 2003 when he served a beer to Boneham that the star had won in a reward challenge.
Until the filming stops and all the clean-up work is completed in mid-December, the island will lack some of its tranquillo ambiance. The locals do not seem to mind at all. The business generated by "Survivor" is enormous.
The owner of the Sagittarius, the small restaurant where many locals eat on Contadora Island, loves feeding the dozen or more soldiers who come in on a regular basis at mealtime. She says that until the arrival of the "Survivor" crew in early October, business had been extremely slow for several months.
She doesn’t have to even give the soldiers a check. She just writes down the number of meals served each day and then submits the figure to "Survivor" for payment.
Small boat owners and local guides also busily shuttle crewman back and forth from Hotel Contadora to Mogo Mogo and Chapera to prepare the sites for the 18 new "Survivor" contestants, each of whom hopes to leave the Pearl Islands with a million dollars in prize money.
CBS "Survivor 12" airs Feb. 6 right after the Super Bowl.