I have just crossed mighty seas, multiple time zones, and an inconceivable expanse of Australian nothingness only to discover that my destination — the remote 50,000-acre cattle ranch where CBS is filming Survivor: The Australian Outback — isn’t even on the map. Now, armed only with a CBS van driver’s sketchy diagram and some cryptic directions downloaded off a Survivor-spoiler website run by some Aussie called the Yowie Man, I’m sweating it out at a lonely fork in a red dirt road. That’s when the kangaroo appears. Furry and fat as Richard Hatch, it hops past a Volkswagen-size termite mound, glances at our van as if to say ”right this way, mates” (I half expect it to have a red and white Target logo on its back) and then boing-boing-boings past a previously unseen security gate. We’re here!
It turns out this is just the first of five gates standing between me and the most eagerly anticipated second act in television history. Apparently, CBS can’t be too careful with security on a project this important to civilization. In the sprawling bush country within these gates, stalwart men in eucalyptus-leaf camouflage troll the property’s 73 miles of entry points for uninvited paparazzi. Overhead, a helicopter sweeps the scorched river basin for kooks who might have canoed in. And every crew person and guest, including me, has been required to sign daunting confidentiality agreements so we won’t go blabbing before CBS feels the time is right. Well, fellow tribe members, that time has come.
As the last gates swing open and I spot those Smithsonian-worthy Survivor emblems — the immunity idol, the tribal torches, Jeff Probst’s sweaty safari shirt — I am suddenly filled with the dread that Survivor 2 (so self-assured it premieres directly after the Super Bowl before going head-to-well-coiffed-head against Friends) can’t possibly measure up. That dingoes and Vegemite won’t hold a candle to rats and tapioca; that Ogakor and Kucha, as the new tribes are lamely called, can’t possibly outwit Tagi and Pagong; and that even an astonishing pool of 50,000-plus new applicants won’t yield a single Susan Hawk. Then again, it’s tough being pessimistic when a bunch of gorgeous naked bodies are running around.
That’s right, it’s been roughly six minutes since the CBS Land Cruiser deposited me at Kucha beach, and I’m already getting a glimpse of the Survivor 2-Hot-4-TV footage. The members of team Kucha — which the CBS publicist informs me is ”a pseudo-Aboriginal thing that basically means ‘kangaroo”’ — have just finished swimming in the river in front of their makeshift hut; and apparently, team rules dictate you must strip off your bathing suits the minute you hit dry land. Behind their eucalyptus-wood shanty on the beach, three exceptionally healthy contestants — Kimmi, Alicia, and Nick — drop trou and I immediately forget about Colleen, Greg, and whatshername.
If the original Survivors were Everymen, consider these folks Everymodels. Nick Brown’s a 23-year-old Harvard Law student from Steilacoom, Wash., who looks like he just stepped down off a Calvin Klein bus ad. Alicia Calaway, 32, is a personal trainer and former Ms. Connecticut bodybuilder. ”Do I still have much muscle?” she asks the group as she flexes her rock-hard butt cheeks. Everybody hoots and hollers. ”Still got it,” she sighs. ”Good.” And just listen to Kimmi Kappenberg, 28, a fair-haired princess from Long Island: ”On my birthday,” says Kimmi, who lists having sex among her perfect day’s activities, ”we should all go naked. We’ll play coed nekkid duck-duck-goose [a variation on the children’s party game], then we’ll all get in the water, okay?” When I ask Survivor‘s executive producer Mark Burnett later whether there was a mandate to find better-looking contestants, he says, ”The primary focus was on interesting people, diverse alpha types who wouldn’t put you to sleep in an hour. But if you can have interesting and attractive people, why not? It’s a television show.”