Diane Ogden: Monty Brinton/CBS
Ken Tucker
October 16, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Why ”Survivor” is tough to watch

President George W. Bush’s 8:00 p.m. press conference on Oct. 11 was both stirring and rattling, and if I hadn’t agreed to write about the first episode of ”Survivor” (CBS, Thursdays, 8:00 p.m.), I would have tuned in to ”Friends” for a laugh release. As it was, I had to grant ”Survivor: Africa” this: We live in a country so great and rich that we can make a game out of deprivation, while others around the world suffer from it.

That’s not an observation I’d have thought to include in a TV review before Sept. 11 — before a ”Survivor” phrase last night such as ”This can be a harsh and unfriendly land” took on irony — yes, irony, when you placed it within the context of food drops in Afghanistan, and the terrorists existing within its borders, and the FBI warnings of further possible attacks within our own.

But the 39 days the 16 contestants endured for money and TV fame were filmed before last night’s Presidential press conference. So I try to look at the show on its own terms and come to this conclusion: Hoo-boy, are we in for a boring couple of months, if week one is any indication. Divided into the Samburu and Boran tribes, there was the usual desperate attempt to start a fire (Samburu’s side thought to use a telescope lens to focus the sun on twigs to spark the tiny, essential conflagration), the usual competition for immunity (something about lighting a succession of torches).

My mind kept wandering back to Bush’s great line, when asked if America needed to sacrifice anything, that ”there’s a certain sacrifice when you lose a piece of your soul.” There was the usual Jeff Probst in pressed khakis, telling the losing group, Boran, to ”do some mending as a tribe.” Or was that a line from the President, too?

By now, we look at the latest ”Survivor” crew and just compare them to the two previous ones — militaristic Frank is the Rudy of this bunch; flight attendant Teresa, with her twang and her wide smile, is its Tina. And Diane, who weakened during the first immunity challenge, and was the first player voted out, recalls Sonja.

But I couldn’t muster much outrage when a hungry Clarence, from Boran, ate more than his share of a can of cherries and scarfed down a few extra beans: I understood the Boran tribe’s resentment of such poor sportsmanship, but all I could think of were starving Afghani people hoping to scarf down some dry, dusty food packet an American plane had dropped earlier yesterday. And will again today.

The new ”Survivor” slogan is, ”It’s a jungle out there.” Yeah, right, producer Mark Burnett — tell us about it. Have a safe weekend, man.

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