It really IS a jungle out there. The strange new CBS game show ”Survivor” premieres tonight, marooning 16 regular folks on a deserted jungle isle in the South Seas near Malaysian Borneo. What does it take to outwit, outsmart, and outlast the other contestants — while cameras watch 24/7 –and walk away with the $1 million grand prize? Entertainment Weekly senior writer David Hochman, who visited the tiny island of Palau Tiga during filming, talked with a few ”Survivor” experts to get the inside scoop.
JENNA A 22 year old single mother of twins from Franklin, N.H., offers up a few grisly details of surviving on an isle full of snakes and rats. (CBS only released the first names of contestants.)
DR. GENE ONDRUSEK A San Diego psychologist who helped screen and counsel the castaways gives insight into the Survivor mind set.
BOB DENVER The guru to survivors everywhere, Denver played Gilligan on ”Gilligan?s Island” and now oversees his own website. Although not connected with ”Survivor,” he offers a few castaway secrets of his own. Here are their EW Online-only interviews.
EW ONLINE How much of a factor was the million dollars?
JENNA I actually never thought about it. I know that sounds really stupid and strange, but I really went there for the adventure of it. I would pay to do this whole experience again, including the hunger and the rats.
Lots of ’em. That was probably the hardest thing. The first night, I got a rat stuck in my hair, and it was like ”Welcome to Borneo.”
We ate them, too. I?m very proud of that. In fact, I was the only woman to gut a rat, I think.
Congratulations. What about other wildlife?
Big monitor lizards walked through our camp daily. We saw snakes. We saw this huge venomous sea crate, with a big frog stuck in its mouth. Somebody almost stepped on him. I’d be picking up firewood and there’d be scorpions all over the wood. Lots of monkeys, too, and this weird chicken-bird that sounded like a cat.
Was being on camera all the time difficult?
You kind of got used to it. We were told not to talk to the cameramen at first, but then they kind of loosened up on that because the producers realized we were together so much, it would just be strange otherwise. We tried to keep it strictly interview-style questions and stuff like that. Nothing more personal.
What was your first reaction to the other castaways?
Can I be honest? It was disappointment that a certain guy I’d seen [at tryouts] in L.A. wasn’t there. (laughs) My second reaction was, What a diverse group. I didn’t realize age wasn’t going to matter [At 22, Jenna is the youngest; Rudy, the 72 year old ex-Navy Seal, is the oldest]. I also didn’t think there would be as many women as there were, which made me really happy.
You were all allowed one luxury item. What did you bring?
My journal. I really didn’t have much time, but I used the journal to write letters to my daughters. I wrote at least five to each of them. But I wouldn’t read them for the cameras, no matter how much they asked, because I wanted that to be just theirs.
How hard was your absence on your daughters?
When I got back, they really wouldn’t let me go for a couple weeks. If I said, ”I’m just going to the store — I’ll be back in 10 minutes,” they would cry at the window the full 10 minutes.
Not at all. It was amazing, and I survived to tell the story.
?DR. GENE ONDRUSEK
EW ONLINE You were the first person the contestants saw after getting voted off. They must have been distraught, right?
DR. ONDRUSEK Actually, nobody was too upset. The emotions ranged from ”Hey, I knew this was coming, so I was prepared for it” to ”I’m really glad I’m out of there. Now, Where’s my shower?”
What did you look for in potential Survivors?
There wasn’t one thing specifically. We were looking for a blend of people who could each bring something interesting to the party in terms of personality, background, and behavior.
Were you surprised when [cast member] Richard Hatch returned home and turned himself in on child abuse charges?
Our job was to find people who could do well in the stressful environment of the island and emerge without giving up or getting in trouble emotionally. As for the child abuse charges, I don’t know what the truth really is. There are too many variables. I’m certain it didn’t have anything to do with ”Survivor,” though. He could have gone to Club Med for a month and returned to the same situation.
What was the contestant debriefing like?
We tried to find special foods and other treats that each of them liked. One of the guys liked Gummy Bears, someone else had a favorite shampoo. As people were coming off the island, we’d get tips from other contestants. They’d say, ”Oh he loves pizza” or ”that’s his favorite cereal.” We’d try to accommodate them.”
Were you surprised by the winner?
If I’d made predictions at the outset, I would have been wrong. But as I debriefed the contestants, I began to understand how things were happening and ultimately, it made sense.
Were there certain characteristics that helped people survive?
Initially, we thought it might be the physical survival skills that got them through. Later, we thought it might be the emotional psychology — getting along with people and being an emotional consensus builder. But what we ultimately realized was that ”Survivor” is a game. Albeit, it’s the ultimate game, but whoever figured out how to play was the one who ended up prevailing.
And how do you spell the winner’s name again?
EW ONLINE CBS allowed the Survivors to bring one luxury item. What would you have brought to Gilligan’s Island?
BOB DENVER I’d bring my big screen TV and maybe a satellite receiver if they’d let me.
Any general tips on getting along with other people on an island?
Find a cave. You’ve gotta have a cave you can go into and get away from them. That’s how Gilligan coped. Every time he got in trouble, he went in a cave.
Why in the world did the Howells bring so much stuff for a measly three hour tour?
You and a million other people would like to know that! Actually, near the end of the first year we discussed writing a scene where a freighter sunk off the island, so we could dive down and get stuff. And we all looked at each other and went, ”Noooo, no way. Let them wonder.”
Is it my imagination or were the people on ”Gilligan’s Island” capable of making anything with a little twine, coconut shells, and bamboo?
Absolutely. The Professor could make anything he wanted — a radio, huts, tables. Everything except a boat, of course.
How would Gilligan have done among the CBS Survivors?
They would have killed Gilligan — voted him off first. He wasn’t particularly good in an emergency situation, and he’d just drive everybody crazy. That, and he’s worn the same red shirt and white hat every day for 30 years now.