Nudity, tattoos, and a meat bikini -- David Hochman's exclusive report from the ''Survivor'' tryouts

By David Hochman
Updated February 07, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

A sneak peek at this summer’s hottest TV show

It’s amazing what you have to contend with to be considered a survivor these days. Of the 6,100 lunatics who completed the 16-page application and submitted wacky videotapes for the new CBS adventure-reality show, ”Survivor,” only a hearty 800 were picked as semifinalists. The show’s producers then took a two-week trip around the U.S. to interview each potential ”Survival”ista in person, in an effort to narrow the field to a measly 16.

I recently joined up with 50 ”Survivor” wannabes, who all seemed beyond desperate to say goodbye to their daily lives and say hello to seven long weeks on a remote island off Borneo, where, under the heat of the tropical sun and CBS’ cameras, the ”Survivor” contestants will try to out-endure each other for a prize of $1 million. If the interviews, which took place at a hotel in Pasadena, and to which I had exclusive access, are any indication, we’re in for some of the most compelling TV viewing in recent memory when ”Survivor” kicks off its 13-episode season this summer.

Consider that contestant No. 5., Patrick Brady, an avid nudist and pet cemetery director, had his organ donor card tattooed on his right arm. In fact, he had tattoos everywhere. Religious tattoos, sexual tattoos, Patrick tattoos. To help his interviewers get a closer look, he carried a Ken doll upon which he had re-created his tattoos in miniature. The producers had picked Patrick largely because his application video featured him talking about life, love, and God — completely in the nude.

”I wanted to come here naked today,” he said at the interview. ”But the doormen at the hotel didn’t look like they’d appreciate it.” Instead, he showed up in his hemp shorts and love beads and sat for the unusually probing questions the producers asked: Have you ever been in a threesome? (He took the fifth.) Do you believe in Jesus Christ? (Yes! Strongly.) What would you do if you saw another contestant stealing a mango from the community stash? (”Turn him in, dude.”) All the frisky questions seemed to be taking their toll on Patrick, who did his best to pick up the attractive female interrogator. (Uh, bad move, dude.)

Then there was Ashley Rogers, contestant No. 6, a blond, blue-eyed Southern belle working as a Hollywood assistant, who said she’d applied because a psychic told her she’d be taking a trip in March, ”over water,” and that ”things would be picking up financially” by the end of April, exactly when the ”Survivor” shoot is scheduled to wrap. Although Ashley didn’t really strike me as a woman who likes to get her nails dirty (she described herself as a ”Southern princess”), she did say she had once gone spear fishing in the Bahamas and that she can make a tasty dish out of nettles. Whatever they are. What I liked about her, though, was her sense of humor. When they asked what she liked least about herself, she jumped up and said, ”My ass!” And when asked what her worst island nightmare would be, she said, ”If that whiny girl from ‘The Blair Witch Project’ showed up on the island, I’d have to kill her.”

Ashley should probably preserve her energy. ”Survivor” is expected to feature 24-hour-a-day camera coverage of every move contestants make. The Survivors have to find their own food, build their own shelter, ward off the island’s pythons and six-foot-long monitor lizards, and somehow remain in a good mood (lest the island tribal council, made up of contestants expelled from previous weeks, vote them off the island).

With contestants like Ashley and Patrick, and others I didn’t meet (like the Florida woman whose videotape showed her frying up a meat bikini, which she ended up wearing), ”Survivor” is bound to be a hip and sexy update of ”Gilligan’s Island.” Still, for a million dollars, I’d rather have Regis lob me some softball questions.