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`Survivor' strategy: Divide and conquer

Splitting competitors along racial and ethnic lines has caused a flap but it's a `rebirth' of the concept, its host says.

September 08, 2006|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst on Thursday aggressively defended this season's twist of initially dividing teams along racial and ethnic lines, denying that controversy over the concept had caused several prominent sponsors, including General Motors, to drop out of the series.

In a media conference call promoting the Sept. 14 season launch of "Survivor" on CBS, Probst said he understood the initial discomfort by politicians and others who have criticized this season's format. But he said that much of the opposition had come from those unfamiliar with the show's "outwit, outplay, outlast" competitive formula. And many of the critics were furthering their own agendas, he said.

Several New York City Council members and others have protested "Survivor: Cook Islands," saying the premise is rooted in "racial segregation" and calling on CBS to pull the plug on the show. The four teams initially are separated by race and ethnicity: white, black, Asian and Latino.

"If people give this a chance, they will be surprised at the results," said Probst, adding that he hoped those who loudly lashed out would be just as vocal at the season's conclusion if they approved of the outcome.

He called this season a "rebirth" of the "Survivor" concept, saying that many of the participants had never seen previous installments, and were not as calculating or savvy as previous contestants who had studied the series to map out possible strategies.

"I think you'll see a freshness," he said, adding that "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett felt that the twist had "re-energized" the series.

With the exception of the finale, this season's "Survivor" has already been filmed, and the network is moving forward with plans to broadcast it.

Probst also said that reports that several prominent "Survivor" sponsors -- including GM, Home Depot and Campbell's Soup -- had pulled out because of the racial premise were wrong. He said those sponsors had withdrawn before the format was known or fully formulated.

Unlike previous seasons, CBS is not releasing an edited version of the show's opening episode to critics. "You're just going to have to watch," Probst said.

greg.braxton@latimes.com

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