Flirtation grows on 'Survivor'
Amazon version stirs up attraction between the sexes
By Dave Mason, firstname.lastname@example.org
February 9, 2003
Separate the men from the women in a jungle and you end up with more attraction, more flirtation, more interest -- not less.
That's the lesson of "Survivor: Amazon," according to host Jeff Probst. Set in the jungle by the Brazilian river, the reality series premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday on CBS, Channel 2.
For a new twist for the sixth incarnation, executive producer Mark Burnett decided to put all the men in the tribe called Tambaqui (named after a fish) and the women in the tribe called Jaburua (after a bird). And while that means men vs. women in competition, Probst saw another story happening: attraction.
"It was like having an all-boys school and an all-girls school, and they would swim across the water at night," Probst said in a phone interview.
The tribes actually were too far away from each other in the jungle for any secret rendezvous, but the interest between men and women was shown during the immunity challenges. Those are the games in which the winning tribe doesn't have to vote a contestant off the show on that day.
For one immunity challenge, the men and women asked each other questions.
And that led to flirting.
Men would compliment women on their bikinis, and they would thank them for the compliments.
"I became (game show host) Jim Lange for a moment, and it was 'The Dating Game,' " Probst said. "At the next tribal council, I would ask, 'What do you think of this guy?' The women would say, 'This guy is cute.' The guys would disagree over who the hottest chick was."
Being careful not to say too much, Probst declined to reveal whether the two tribes merged as in past shows.
As for men vs. women, a preview tape of an immunity challenge showed the female tribe doing better than the male tribe on an obstacle course involving a fairly wide balance beam. Two of the men couldn't cross it successfully on the first few tries. But the men were faster at solving a puzzle that was part of the course.
"Starting in Thailand (the location of the last 'Survivor,') we made a conscious effort to make the games more balanced and less physical. Mark (Burnett) is really into puzzle-solving," Probst said. "It requires a different part of your brain."
The wild Amazon was the most unusual of all the "Survivor" locales, Probst said. "In Africa, you had lions, zebras and gazelles. In the Amazon, you have the weirdest things you don't see anywhere else. There are a lot of snakes, sloths ..."
The immunity challenges included using piranhas in the Amazon River.
"They're a big part of the landscape; we wanted to use them," he said. "You find a way that's safe for something that's inherently dangerous."
When the series began, the 16 contestants weren't told where they were going until they arrived on a small, wooden fishing boat.
"They realized, 'We're not on a Hollywood sound stage,' " Probst said. "They realized, 'I'm going to be living in a jungle with sloths and jaguars.'
"How real is it? We take people and drop them in the middle of the jungle. We show them how to build a shelter, and they get only one chance to do it right. If it rains and it leaks, they're cold.
"The first four to seven days are the toughest for them. I worry that somebody will want to quit."
So far that hasn't happened on the six "Survivor" shows.
If contestants can survive the first week, they can get through the rest of the 39 days, Probst said.
The "Survivor" crew stayed healthier in the Amazon than they did in Thailand, but Probst said he got sick for the first time on the show, suffering from an upset stomach. It didn't interfere with his hosting duties.
Dehydration was a problem, he said.
"It's really humid. You have a hard time keeping stuff down," he said. "You're not getting cooler. You have to run a challenge and be friendly and be in a good mood."
Burnett said contestants were provided with manioc, a carbohydrate form eaten by Amazonian Indians. The contestants couldn't, of course, hunt endangered species in the Amazon.
But the fishing was good, as long as the contestants avoided the piranhas.
Contestants on "Survivor" can feel positive about doing things they've never done before, Probst said.
One contestant in last spring's "Survivor: Marquesas," Los Angeles resident Sean Rector, couldn't dive down and pick up a clam shell from the South Pacific bottom during an immunity challenge. After the cameras stopped rolling, Probst egged him on to do so just for his own sense of accomplishment.
"He had never been in the ocean," Probst said. "I said, 'You're never coming back here.' Sean tried and tried. On the fourth time, he went down and got the shell. The look on his face was like he had climbed Mount Everest."