Two reality-show producers are racing to be the first in space

By Lynette Rice
Updated December 07, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Mark Burnett
Credit: Mark Burnett: Monty Brinton

Maybe CBS should air this amazing race on Wednesdays: Two reality-show producers are clamoring for the opportunity to send the first American contestant into space next year. Both Phil Gurin, executive producer of NBC’s ”Weakest Link,” and ”Survivor” king Mark Burnett want to do it via Russia’s space program — but only Gurin’s project has secured exclusive rights to the country’s training camp and the Soyuz 212 shuttle flight in October, according to his producing partner, David Krieff.

In fact, Gurin’s also picked up the rights to a similar show in Denmark that will send a civilian on a suborbital flight from Russia. ”We’re ready to rock,” says Krieff, who claims at least two broadcast nets are interested. ”This will come together in the next couple of weeks and we should have 10 shows completed by February. By the time it begins airing, we will have it timed perfectly to the [live] liftoff in October.”

Not so fast, says a source close to Burnett, who signed a $35 million to $40 million deal with NBC last fall to send a civilian into space; he planned to pay the Russians $20 million for use of their space camp and shuttle. ”Dealing with the Russians is not so easy,” says the source, as evidenced by the absence of a start date for Burnett’s project. Frankly, we’ll be surprised if either project ever achieves liftoff.