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August 24, 2000

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Love Him or Hate Him, Hatch Outsmarted Them All

       Love him, merely dislike him, or outright hate him----and judging from viewer responses on a number of CBS affiliates' late newscasts Wednesday night, he may have been the most booed man in America---Richard Hatch played Survivor the way one must to win---and did.
       The finish of Survivor was as much of a parallel of old-time pro wrestling as I've ever seen, only without a distinct good guy-bad guy conflict. Frankly, Rudy Boesch had become the favorite almost by default.
       Viewers tuned in Wednesday night in record or near-record summer numbers more to root against Hatch---whom they had grown to detest, if the surveys are correct, more than anyone on television since The Great Malenko and Johnny Valentine retired from wrestling. Remember our contention Survivor would have laid a huge egg with 16 nice people? Hatch was arguably TV's most arrogant archvillain since J.R. Ewing, only without the charm, and knew how to play right to the cameras for video perfection.
       Kelly Wiglesworth was hardly a gushing favorite, except for those who admired her come-from-behind prowess by winning late Immunity Challenge after Immunity Challenge. However, if the moral conflicts she claimed to be struggling with are for real, let's find out if she will make amends on that pending credit card theft charge in North Carolina or the accusations of spouse abuse which were uncovered by media other than CBS during the 13 weeks. Plus, she wasn't morally challenged enough to not change her ouster vote from Rich to Sue in the key tiebreaker which may well have saved Hatch.
       However, Sue Hawk----the truck driver from the upper Midwest who was abrasive from day one----may actually have succeeded in outnastying Hatch with her district attorney tirade at the end of the final Tribal Council. She may emerge from Survivor with the most remembered lines and an offer of a soap opera contract or two, because if she was not egged on by the producers, her vitriol was the kind usually reserved for soap meanies. Can you imagine putting a blue-collar villainess in the middle of Pine Valley? Hawk would be ideal.
       Survivor has much in common with wrestling. What happens at the end of one week may leave you angry and irritated or have you on a high----usually centered around those you love to hate. With the exception of perhaps four, none of these would have been folks I'd rush around the block to invite over for supper.
       Survivor is also not a game in which the best, most athletic, or most gifted participant wins. Not a doubt in my mind had that been the pre-eminent requirement, Gretchen Cordy would have $1 million today. Sadly, she appears to be lagging in the endorsement department behind the other 15, which is another sad commentary on this game.
       In a well-remembered episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy Taylor says of crusty curmudgeon department store owner Ben Weaver: "Some people just die. Ol' Ben's just gonna nasty away." Richard Hatch exploited the game and outnastied everybody. He couldn't care less what anybody thinks. He has his million and his Pontiac Aztec (wasn't that a rather anachronistic finish with all the hate and tension at the end when Probst added the winner would get a Pontiac Aztec? Quite a stretch from "turn the key and good luck" with the Pontiacs on Split Second) and to heck with everybody.
       This is not going to be a game where you will likely see a favorite ever win, if Hatch's strategy is followed. Which may be the ironic secret to Survivor's success.
       I've been asked by countless people if Survivor II will do as well. That's hard to say. Unlike Millionaire, which was able to extend its phenomenon status into genuine regular season hit, this is a show which will do well in its second incarnation but viewers will find difficult not to compare the sequel with the original. You'll find contrasts being drawn to the first 16 no matter how many times this concept is repeated. It's much the same as how while individual stars have emerged, the many succeeding casts of Saturday Night Live are still rated below the ensemble which started the show in 1975.
       I'm not so sure it isn't a good idea for CBS to let Rudy play again in Survivor II. It won't happen....but having a continuing character might offer an interesting thread.
       Nonetheless, CBS is to be congratulated for creating a monster of summer. The network hasn't had one since Hee Haw in 1969. Survivor is anything but a family show and should well air later in the evening than 7 o'clock in the Central and Mountain time zones. Yet, Wednesday nights have drawn people to CBS in a fashion which hasn't happened in years. The biggest question now is the one we raised a few weeks ago----where will Survivor II be slotted and who ducks and covers from the onslaught?

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