'Venom' — CBS's 'Survivor' is paired with a spicy Reebok ad

By Jeff Jensen
Updated August 11, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the Reebok commercial ”Venom,” a young man falls to his knees and performs a service on another man standing in front of him. A woman in Reebok cross-trainers jogs by, shooting them a glance that says Get a room. Suckee suddenly pushes sucker away, forgetting all about the viper venom in his leg that his friend was trying to extract. Though the innocence of the gag is clearly established, even leading purveyors of bad taste have been blown away by its suggestiveness. ”Everyone at The Man Show loved it,” says Adam Carolla, cohost of the cheeky Comedy Central program, ”But everyone was like, How are they getting away with that s—?

Because CBS is letting them. ”Venom” is part of Reebok’s Survivor-themed ad push airing exclusively during the Eye’s summertime sensation. The spot was shot with CBS’ full approval, though the network had two caveats: The bite had to be below the knee, and Reebok had to make clear what was really being sucked. ”We definitely wanted to be edgy,” says John Wardley, Reebok’s VP of brand communications, adding that the only concept CBS has vetoed so far was dumb-and-dumber survivalists Nate and Brian drinking their own urine. Now the pair are famished, and resort to eating worms. (Reebok shot the liquid version anyway, which can be viewed at http://www.reebok.com. It is billed, with the network’s blessing, as the ”ad CBS refused to air.”)

CBS says that complaints about ”Venom” have not lit up its switchboard. ”This is not an earthquake,” shrugs a spokesman. However, Wardley says the spot was intended for 16- to 24-year-olds with a Scary Movie sense of humor. So when Survivor started skewing more broadly than expected, Reebok opted to air it fewer times, and always later in the show. ”We are very respectful of people who are offended by it,” says Wardley, adding that letters of explanation are being written to those who complain. Which, presumably, are being mailed in plain brown wrappers.