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The Week Ahead

Mapping a reality TV quest

May 28, 2007|From Tribune Media Services

Reality guru Mark Burnett is sort of a waste-not-want-not kind of guy. Fans of his previous shows may recognize some of the elements of his latest endeavor, "Pirate Master," premiering Thursday on CBS.

Hosted by Cameron Daddo and shot on the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, near Venezuela, the show features 16 contestants who agree to live as if they're 18th century pirates in search of a legendary buried treasure. To find it, they must battle nature, one another and a baffling set of pirate-map clues.

Devotees of Burnett's first big reality project, the "Eco-Challenge" adventure race, will recognize wilderness expeditions and harrowing physical feats.

"There are a lot of waterfalls," Burnett says, "and swimming down white-water rivers and diving. Some of the clues were at bottoms of rivers, weighted down. You had to dive under the rapids to retrieve them. Great stuff."

Fans of "Survivor" may find something familiar in the pirate theme, which was used on an earlier edition of that show -- although Burnett says he came up with this concept long before that.

And fans of the most recent cycles of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" will not be surprised to find the would-be buccaneers forced to live in a haves-versus-have-nots situation, with an elected captain and his or her officers living large while the "crew" gobbles porridge and swabs decks.

"It sets up," Burnett says, "what would happen next? Are you going to listen to the captain, or will there be a mutiny? And there are rules for mutiny."

And like in all reality shows, there's a weekly elimination -- in this case, as a result of a "Pirate's Court."

But Burnett expects his "Pirate Master" competitors, unlike the people in all his previous shows, to take on different personas, based on a colorful legend of his creation.

"These people all fully bought into it," Burnett says, "and lived the pirate life. Even the way they spoke to each other, the hierarchy on the ship -- literally, it was unbelievable."

Among the contestants are a marina owner, a dive master, a music producer, a district attorney, a "scientist/Chippendale dancer," an automotive parts salesman, a smoke jumper, a glassblower and a fashion publicist. Probably the most recognizable "pirate" is 45-year-old former NFL player Christian Okoye, a two-time Pro Bowl running back who played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992.

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