Five ways to improve ''Survivor'' -- Just when you thought it was safe to watch ''Friends'' again, that old reality competitor is back -- and in need of a facelift, says Bruce Fretts
Gina Crews, Hunter Ellis, ...
Credit: Survivor Marquesas: David M. Russell/CBS

Five ways to improve ”Survivor”

The debut of ”Survivor: Marquesas” (CBS, Thursday, 8 p.m.) is almost upon us. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Me neither. Everybody’s talking about ”Friends,” Greta Van Susteren’s eye surgery, and (oh, yeah!) the end of the Olympics, leaving a serious buzz deficit for the fourth go-round of CBS’ reality-a-go-go. How can evil genius Mark Burnett whip up a tsunami of enthusiam for his fading fad? Just follow these five steps:

Change the name When it was first announced, the series had the much sexier title of ”Survivor: Tahiti.” Well, someone apparently checked a map and found out that the show was actually shooting on Nuku Hiva, part of the Marquesas islands, an archipelago about 935 miles east of Tahiti in the South Pacific. But what’s a thousand miles or so when it comes to ratings? The name Tahiti conjures up images of half-naked natives in Paul Gaugin paintings and ”Mutiny on the Bounty.” Marquesas conjures up images of… nothing. True, it’s more geographically accurate, but this ain’t ”Jeopardy!,” people.

Change the challenges We’ve seen contestants standing on poles for hours on end and every possible variation on an obstacle course. Let’s try something fresher, shall we? Perhaps some of the players’ special skills can be exploited. For example, Gina Crews, a 28-year-old nature guide from Gainesville, Fla., was crowned the National Watermelon Queen in 1997 and a year later won the annual seed-spitting contest, achieving a distance of 37 feet, 11 inches. Can any of the other castaways beat that? Now that’d be spittin’ good TV!

Change the time slot Throw in the towel against ”Friends.” You beat them for a while, but they’re back and bigger than they’ve been in the last five years. Why bang your head up against Central Perk’s walls? Shift to a less crowded spot — like, say, Fridays at 9 p.m. Surely ”Survivor” could draw a larger, younger audience than CBS’ arthritic Supreme Court drama ”First Monday” and demolish such pathetic non-competition as ABC’s bloopers/commercials specials, The WB’s ”Maybe it’s Me,” and Stone Phillips’ dull-as-a-rock ”Dateline NBC.”

Change the editing By now, we’re so used to the old switcheroo, where the player we think is going to get voted off actually survives, it’s no longer a surprise. What would be really shocking would be to do an episode where it looks like somebody’s going to get voted off for the entire hour — then they actually get voted off!

Change the channel Oh, wait, that’s what I’m planning to do. At least until after ”Friends” is over, and the deeply painful new NBC sitcom ”Leap of Faith” comes on. Everybody knows nothing all that interesting ever happens until the tribal council anyway.

How do you think ”Survivor” could be improved?

Survivor: Marquesas
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