Is Survivor Fixed?

I can’t believe that I haven’t seen a thread on this here yet (unless the Search somehow missed it). With all the Survivor fans around here, starting thread after thread after thread – and nobody has said anything about Dirk’s unsealed testimony about executive producer Mark Burnett influencing and manipulating the first Survivor?

Anyway, Dateline NBC hit this issue a couple weeks ago, before the testimony was unsealed (see this article for a summary) and then revisited it yesterday (I haven’t posted a summary yet because the show was shifted due to a basketball game and I need to get a copy of it). In case you stopped paying attention to Survivor news when the show ended, you can click here for my in-depth look at Dirk’s testimony.

I’ve got to say that I was (of course) skeptical of “fix” claims leading up to this, but now I’m really starting to be swayed…

Yeah, we discussed it throughly already. I know the search engine sucks, too. Did you try searching the other forums?

I think the topic was “Is Survivor Rigged?”

Survivor rigged??? CAUTION SPOILER INFO

Hmmmm. Interesting.

I haven’t seen any threads about it since Dirk’s testimony was unsealed, but here is a sampling of discussions that went on while the show was airing. You may have seen these discussions before, but I thought that someone might like to take a look at them.

Survivor rigged??? CAUTION SPOILER INFO

Survivor questions (non-spoilers)

It came up very briefly here. Post Here if You Think Colby is An IDIOT (spoiler)

A mention of Colby cheating here: Survivor 4/26/01 (Spoilers)

I’m sure that there were more. It seems like it got discussed a few times.

As for the OP, everyone else seemed to disagree with Dirk and Stacey. Sean said something along the lines of him having a conversation with Mark Burnett, but it didn’t influence his voting decision. Even the CBS camp thought that Dirk’s testimony was a triumph, since he specifically said that he was not manipulated, although he admitted to being influenced.

My opinion? I think that there was some influence going on, but not to the point of fixing the show. Suggestions, or pointing out of strategies, maybe. No more.

OK, I guess I should have been more specific – as lola indicated, I was talking about threads since Dirk’s testimony was unsealed.

lola said:

Why “no more”? Do you think Dirk is lying?

And, for that matter, even if it is just “suggestions” like that, is that acceptable?

I’ve noticed a general “don’t care” attitude on the part of most people, and I’m trying to figure out why. I mean, if it’s true, this harkens back to the “21” scandal of decades ago. From all accounts, people were incredibly upset about that, but are almost ignoring this one.

It is commercial TV, isn’t it. If its not fixed now it will be before it’s done.

I don’t know what to say, David B. The revelations of “influence” are interesting and revealing, to be sure. I didn’t, for example, know that Mark Burnett even visited the Survivors, either on Pulau Tiga or in the Outback. I’d always assumed the only non-tribemates the Survivors ever encountered were Jeff Probst and the cameramen. It never occurred to me that Mark Burnett was even in the locations where the shows took place.

The bit about the canoe is certainly disturbing. That Burnett spoke to Sean and Dirk and sought to “influence” them is also troubling.

What’s missing, and what I’d require to be truly outraged, is any evidence of a quid pro quo. That is, Burnett promising something tangible and real, like money or a guaranteed place in the final few contestants.

There’s no apparent evidence of that, an in its absence I’m just confused. I didn’t watch the first season of Survivor, but having watched the second it’s hard to see how Burnett’s “influence” made any difference to the game. If the final four had been Maralyn, Kel, Debb and Mitchell instead of Colby, Tina, Keith and Elisabeth, I would have found the show just as interesting. I don’t see how Burnett’s manipulation affected the watchability (thus ratings, thus profits) of the show, so I don’t understand why he bothered.

David B,

My take is this: People do not care because based on her TV persona, people hate Stacy Stillman. She may be Mother Teresa come again IRL, but on “Survivor” her image was presented as petulant, whiny and generally unflattering in every way.

Right or wrong, she is perceived as a sore loser, as a bitch. Selective editing can do that to anyone.

Had it been Elizabeth or Rodger filing suit, I think the American public would be flocking to their side.

Sir Rhosis

I read this thread and the link this morning and as I went about my day, I considered it.

So having given this the benefit of my brain power (rumored to be powerful enough to make toast,) here’s what I think.

  1. Seems like a Great Debate to me (not that I’m gonna argue.)

  2. If the boating incident is indeed true than the show is unfairly rigged. The evidence though for this is both shoddy and strictly circumstantial. Try designing a boat that will let one group of people float safely while the others sink. You need a huge weight difference to make this happen.

Both boats seemed somewhat overladen if I recall correctly. What made the difference was who kept there boat most level. Once one team’s boat tipped enough that water came in, swamping was almost inevitable.

I suppose it’s possible, though. But, we’d need better evidence.
3. I fully expect some “direction” to occur within the Survivor format. I understand that they’re encouraged to air their grievances and engage in hyperbole when the camera is rolling. And, I’m not surprised that suggestions and discussions occur.

For example, more rice was traded in Survivor II when they ran out, which was also strictly not within the rules.

I expect the game to be a fluid thing with broad powers of discretion among Burnett and crew.

  1. What would bother me would be if bribes were made or the contests were rigged. As far as I’m concerned Burnett can urge everybody to do something as strongly as he wants, and as long as they’re not being penalized for not complying, or provided bribes or other inducements for doing so, I’m willing to take it in stride.

Spavined said:

Um, yeah, but you see, there are laws against fixing a game show.

Fiver said:

I knew it, but didn’t know how often. I didn’t go into detail in my summary, but if you went ahead and read Dirk’s entire testimony (which most people probably did not – it was 205 pages, after all!), he says Burnett visited almost every day, and the cameras were always turned off during that time.

But he didn’t need a quid pro quo. If these allegations are true, he wasn’t doing it for them. He was doing it for himself – to have a TV show that would get better ratings. Now, it is also the case that he was pals with Rudy before the show (they knew each other from Burnett’s earlier show, Eco-Challenge), so he might have reason to help Rudy along because of that. But it might have had nothing to do with friendship – just that he knew that Rudy would have a lot of good quoteable material.

Well, if you didn’t watch the first then, yes, it would be difficult to judge. But for a quick summary – if what Dirk says is true and he and Sean really hadn’t planned to vote against Stacey 'til Burnett talked them into it, then they would have likely voted against Rudy. Without Rudy, there would not have been a Tagi alliance which therefore would not have dominated the game. Indeed, a later allegation is that Burnett talked a reluctant Rudy into joining said alliance, so he may have worked very hard at making sure it existed. The game would have been totally different if Rudy had been gone in Episode 3 instead of Stacey.

I don’t know that manipulation took place on Survivor II. There have been some allegations that he may have planted the pig that Mike killed, for example (allegations that gain credence, IMO, by his reported discussions about planting fish in fish traps during Survivor I), and that he might have allowed some rule changes in challenges that gave Colby an advantage, but so far nobody has alleged that he influenced votes the way he is alleged to have done for the first series. Indeed, I had heard that he did not have as much contact with the players this time.

Scylla said:

Yeah, I thought of putting it there. But most of the Survivor discussions had taken place in here or IMHO, so I figured this was where I’d put it.

You make good points, but there was a substantial weight difference between the tribes. Rich was the heaviest of anybody on the island, and Sue was definitely the heaviest woman (she probably outweighed several of the men in the other tribe). If this were the only piece of evidence, I would say that it doesn’t really prove anything. But this one piece gathered up with all the other pieces add up to something that is starting to convert me.

Suggestions and discussions from whom, though? Amongst themselves is one thing – with the producers is quite another. Can you imagine the producer of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire coming up to a contestant, off-camera, and suggesting that “A” looks like a good way to go?

Yes, but I think that is quite a different story. For one thing, they couldn’t just let 'em starve out there. For another, all of them were treated equally. It wasn’t as if, for example, one tribe were offered more food while another was not (of course, in this case there was only one merged tribe at the time, but you know what I mean).

I disagree. He is the executive producer of a game show with a million dollar prize – he should not be urging contestants to take a certain stance, especially if he uses apparent inside information, as he is alleged to have done with Dirk (he supposedly told Dirk that Rudy would be of more use to them in upcoming challenges – so, in a way, he did offer a bribe; he gave a hint that would help Dirk continue on in the game).

I’m addressing this other response in a separate message because it deals with another question I’d asked about why people don’t seem to care.

Sir Rhosis said:

I think you’re right as far as that goes. Back when this all started – when she initially filed suit – had two polls running one after the other. The first asked if people thought Stacey’s allegations were correct. The second asked if she should win.

The majority of people agreed that her allegations were probably true. But a larger majority thought that she should lose. Huh?! I also mentioned that near the end of my article on her filing of the suit and at other points. The ironic part is that by casting her as the evil bitch lawyer, Burnett may end up saving himself in a lawsuit because that is how so many people think of her.

Yeah, but what about Dirk’s testimony? I mean, he’s the Bible-toting nice Christian guy, and he’s the one who has testified, under oath, that these things occurred. Why does the public seem so unconcerned?

David B:

It’s a game show, but it’s kind of a unique game show in it’s format. It’s difficult for the crew not to have interactions with the contestants, and conceivably those might have bearing on the outcome. Burnett’s goal here is ratings so I understand his involvement and am willing to accept it to some degree. I also understand that a couple of events were reenacted after the fact because they occured when the camera wasn’t rolling.

Your point about the insider information though is clearly dead on. If true it’s crossing the line, and inexcusable.

I didn’t read Dirk’s testimony. 205 pages by Dirk? What kind of living hell would reading that be?

David B:

And, concerning your response to the boat:

Consider the difficulty in trying to figure out the weight difference without actually weighing them, calculating what kind of boat could hold one group, but not another, and then finding boats that fit the parameters necessary, on Borneo no less!

It’s possible that they just chose a light flimsy boat and hoped that one group would be at a disadvantage, but that would be pretty difficult to prove.

In Survivor II, when Colby was dominating it did seem that the challenges moved away from brute strength and more to luck or strategy, than would be expected.

WIthout publishing the challenges before the show, or otherwise having them fixed, it would seem that proving the playing field was level would be impossible.

That being the case (that the contests are not set beforehand,) than the show is open to both manipulation as well as extremely susceptible to claims of manipulation even where it doesn’t exist.

Scylla said:

Agreed. And in some cases, I understand this. But Burnett went out of his way to increase those interactions, including giving out information that the contestants should not have had (for example, telling the Tagi tribe about how the Pagong tribe was acting). The crew made some mistakes that they shouldn’t have (for example, wearing tags that describe the personality of other players – which were seen by a few of the contestants, or talking about those other players within earshot of some of the contestants). But it’s not the mistakes I’m so concerned about – it’s the stuff that was done on purpose, such as planting food for the contestants, influencing votes, possibly rigging challenges, etc.

Yeah, I never had much of a problem with the reenactments as long as they didn’t change anything.

Exactly. Right now, we have the word of a man who has apparently devoted much of his life to his religious beliefs and in whose best interests it would be to not make such allegations (Dirk) vs. the word of a man in whose interests it would be to have these allegations go away. I’m definitely leaning towards Dirk (as I noted in the article).

Eh, it wasn’t too bad. It was a transcript, which means it was double-spaced. And it was a lot of jabbering between the lawyers, too. But the only way to pick out the juicy details was to go through the whole thing, so I did.

Regarding your statements about the boat – I don’t disagree. Like I said, if it had been the only allegation, I’d have been highly skeptical. Maybe it is just coincidence.With everything else, though, I’m forced to wonder about it.

Actually, I’m not so suspicious about that. They do go back and forth, so it’s not susprising that some would be strength while others would be “outwitting.”

Not really – they have daily call sheets (some of which were leaked before the show started) that are set up days ahead of time. It would be expected that Burnett would keep copies of these. Thus, if allegations of manipulation through the choice of challenges came up, he could show that, in fact, they had been planned ahead of time. That’s another reason I’m less suspicious of those.

However, there have been some allegations of hanky-panky regarding contest rules in regard to how Colby was treated. When Colby won the challenge where he had to keep at least one clip on a rope maze at all times, a look at the videotape shows that he took both off to get around Amber, who he then beat by only a little bit. Later, when they were shooting slingshots at plates, they were clearly told at the beginning that the last person with an intact plate wins. But then, when it got down to Colby and Elisabeth, Colby had a plate that had been shot once and had a piece missing; Elisabeth’s was completely intact. They didn’t give it to Elisabeth, but had shooting continue until the last plate was knocked down – different from what they had originally said. Now, I’m willing to believe that’s what they meant all along, but why not include the host saying that instead of what he did say?

David B:

Twice you’ve mentioned Dirk’s strong religious tendencies as if they added weight to his testimony.

Now we all know that fundamentalists would never ever engage in disinformation like all those lying atheists do, but…

You see my point I’m sure.

Whether or not Dirk is religious has no bearing on his testimony’s veracity IMO.

Though it’s not a scientific oppinion, I recall Dirk being really weird and a bit of a flake. He also didn’t seem to have the most level head or a particularly strong personality. As such, I’d think he’s vulnerable to after the fact revisionism to justify bitter dregs.

I think it likely that Burnett and crew were more active in the game than they should have been.

On the other hand, I’d like to hear what some of the stronger, more level-headed personalities have to say before making up my mind as to whether the game was fixed.

WHat does that blond kid (the one that was boinking Colleen,) have to say about this?

What does Colleen say?


And, I remember that thing about the plate. My wife and I thought the same thing. Elisabeth was screwed.

Scylla said:

In this case, I have to disagree. This is not some guy trying to get creationism taught in school or violate church/state separation so his parish can get extra money. This is a young guy who has, from everything I can tell, dedicated his life to following his religion – from his volunteer work to his college studies to his jobs. I’m not saying that simply because he is a Christian that means his testimony is automatically true, but I do think it plays a role here because of his past actions. He has no motive to lie to begin with, and his belief system tends to add weight to it, IMO. But even ignoring it, I still think his testimony provides a strong case, and would think so no matter what his belief system might be.

Of course, remember that what you saw was what Burnett wanted us to see. Yes, Dirk was portrayed that way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

The problem is that they might not have been involved with any of this. Indeed, this is one thing CBS has done – they trotted out the other 6 Tagi tribe members (besides Dirk and Stacey) to swear that they weren’t influenced. One of these 6 is Sean, and I addressed his possible motives in my article. Rudy was one, but if Burnett really is his pal and kept Rudy around for a longer time by giving him advice, I wouldn’t expect him to rat Burnett out. As far as the rest, they may simply not have been party to it. Them not knowing about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – especially in the specific case of Burnett talking to Dirk about Stacey, which was done in private.

All three of them were in the other tribe, and definitely would not have known what Burnett was doing over at Tagi.

That said, I noted back in my review of The Stingray that Burnett even admits to having producer interference when he quotes from a talk between a different producer and Gervase in which just a few words from the producer caused Gervase to rethink his voting strategy.

David B:

I read your review, and applied some more brainpower to this conundrum. Doubtless there will be blackouts all over California tomorrow.

One point mentioned in your review is that Stacey is ironically at least partly the bitch she was portrayed as. Even with clever editing, it’s difficult to portray a person as something he’s not, especially over an extended period of time, like we saw in Survivor.

That being the case, if Dirk was portrayed as a little weak-minded, weird, and a flake, he would have to be showing those aspects of his personality for them to be captured on film and exploited. Doubtless he’s more than that, but Dirk seemd to be the least reliable and level-headed player with the exception of Sean.

I don’t find him to be as reliable a witness as you do, and I don’t give his testimony as much credence.

I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m suggesting that we would have to have more corroborative evidence. Otherwise, it’s Burnett’s word vs. Dirk’s.

We seem to agree that there is too much influence occuring from the production side of the game. Exactly what degree of influence was exerted and its effect will probably remain a matter for speculation only.

We also agree that there will inevitably be a greater degree of give and take between contestants and staff as a consequence of the fluid nature of reality shows. This is to be expected and accepted.

The soap opera “feel” of this kind of game show may explain the publics lackadaisical atittude toward tampering.

Based upon what you’ve read, what penalties if any do you feel should be forthcoming against CBS and Burnett?

I tend to think that due to the unique nature of the venture at the time that deliberate tampering with the outcome is unlikely and the crew’s influence was probably motivated by trying to get get footage. I don’t see any cause for penalties.

However, I do think that safeguards need to be put into place. Something akin to the insider trading rules which govern Wall Street should be appropriate.

Perhaps interactions between crew and contestants should be limited, and recorded whenever they occur.

On the other hand how would this effect the bombshells that the host tradittionally drops during tribal council?

Some of the best of the show is engendered from the host screwing with the contestant’s minds, dropping big hints, and engendering paranoia.

Clearly though, at the very least, production needs to be warned that any suggestions or information they pass on to contestants needs to pass the same test that Wall Street uses. Is it material? Is it nonpublic (unknown to the contestants?)

Finally, like Wall Street, there needs to be what’s known as a “Chinese Wall” as far as the conveyance of information goes. What this means is that material nonpublic information cannot be disclosed except in a public forum.

For example, if the host says during Tribal council “You guys have been running low on food. Tagi tribe seems to be eating well because they’re catching fish.” That would be an acceptable disclosure.

Having a producer take somebody aside from Pagong and showing them how Rich catches fish, and telling them how that’s increased Rich’s status, and suggesting that he do the same or he’ll get voted off would be an unacceptable disclosure.

One may argue that even the former of the two shouldn’t occur, but I think some laxity is allowable due to the nature of the show. The former is meant to stir things up and make things interesting. The outcome is not being planned or created. In the latter example the information is being delivered in a different fashion where manipulation is clearly the intent.

Flake or not, I don’t think he’s creative enough to make all this stuff up. Seriously, if he were lying about it all, he’d have to keep all of these stories straight – that would be quite a chore considering he has never (to my knowledge) screwed up or contradicted himself.

Oh, I agree. In a court of law, they need something more to determine the weight of evidence. But, hey, I’m not a court of law. :slight_smile:

Well, for one, I do think they should have to repay the debts incurred by Stacey. She makes a good case that she went into this with the understanding that it would be a fair game, and lost money because of it (such as time away from her job). If it wasn’t what they said it was, they should have to repay her for what she lost. (That said, I think her idea for a fund for viewers who had the wool pulled over their eyes is a fairly silly one.) They should also have to admit that they are influencing the game, and thus change how it is advertised, or, a better solution would be to just stop doing it.

As far as FCC penalties – my understanding is that those are aimed at stations, not the producers themselves. So I’m not really sure what should be done there, but perhaps at least a little notice to CBS would be nice so they wouldn’t just continue to ignore the rules.

Well, I think there was indeed deliberate tampering in Survivor I, with the Dirk/Stacey/Rudy stuff. There may have been in the second series, but we don’t know.

In my opinion, he never should have done that. I thought it was terrible when he started asking about alliances in the first show. These people were doing something in secret and he was informing the rest of the contestants. I don’t think that ever should have been done.

I disagree. I don’t think he should be saying anything like that about the other team. Why? Well, in Survivor II, the Ogakor were convinced that there were no fish in the water. If the host had told them that the other team had been getting plenty of fish, they might have reconsidered that opinion and tried harder. My feeling is that if they were stupid enough to take this position, the host should not give them additional information.

As I’m reading this thread I’m wondering more and more about the host, Jeff Probst’s, role in all this.

He’s presented to the viewers as the alternately benevolent or stern “King of All the Dingos” (as the Salon reviewer put it), from whom all blessings and punishments flow. He’s the boss, we’re led to believe, in such scenes as when he brought new rice to Barramundi in the food-for-tarps deal (“I’ve come out here today because I’m concerned…” (emphasis mine)).

I’ve always figured that was a false impression, that Probst was really just a tool of the producers, who view each day’s footage and then tell Probst what to do and say to the castaways the next day. I wouldn’t even be surprised to learn that he had a tiny mike in his ear so he could receive realtime instructions at challenges or tribal councils.

But if we accept that, then who judges the reward and immunity challenges? We’re led to believe Probst and the camera crew are the only people there to watch them. Should Jeff have noticed Colby taking both carabiners off the rope? Was it up to him to make the distinction between an “intact” and a “knocked-down” plate?

If it was, I don’t have any problem with Colby’s win of those two challenges. Probst then becomes like a baseball umpire: his strikeout call stands even if the replay shows the player was safe.

If it wasn’t…then I’m still not too bothered by it. If the producers watched the dailies each evening and decided the results needed to be remedied, after the reward has been awarded (how would you “take back” a helicopter flight to the Barrier Reef?) then you’d have a muddied game and, more importantly, bad television.

Sorry I have nothing to say about the Dirk/Stacey thing; I’d probably have more of an opinion if I’d watched the first season, but as previously noted I didn’t.