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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Survivor: Just holding on
Media correspondent Nick Higham probes Survivor's poor showing in the reality TV ratings battle.

Last Sunday's red top tabloids said it all, really.

The Sunday Mirror had a double-page spread on "Sexy secrets of the Big Brother temptress", but not a paragraph that I could find on Survivor.

The News of the World (which had previously dubbed itself the "official Survivor newspaper") had a double-page spread on both programmes - but Survivor accounted for less than a quarter of a page.

The Sunday People devoted half the front page and a spread inside to Big Brother - and just two paragraphs on page 24 to Survivor.

Survivor
Survivor: Too exotic to be engaging?
ITV's summer ratings blockbuster has bombed, despite lashings of hype and widespread predictions (including one in this space two weeks ago) that it would prove as popular in the UK as it had done in America.

Channel 4's Big Brother 2, essentially unchanged from the original version, despite a few cosmetic improvements, has got away to the kind of start in the ratings that schedulers dream of.

Melodramatic

Just 4.4 million people watched Sarah Odell, a 33-year-old model, voted off the island in Survivor last Thursday.

That compared with the 9.7 million who watched Airport over on BBC 1, and the 6.5 million who watched Survivor's first outing.

And this from a programme confidently expected to get audiences of around 12 million.

Some episodes of Big Brother 2, by contrast, have approached four million viewers - and this on a minority channel.

There are numerous theories as to why Survivor should be doing so poorly.

Survivor
Sick of the poor ratings...
It is too melodramatic, according to some, over-produced, formulaic, and too exotic to be engaging.

None of these explanations seems wholly convincing - Who Wants to be a Millionaire and The Weakest Link are formulaic and melodramatic, and it does not seem to have damaged their popularity.

But (in the UK at least) we apparently prefer our reality TV to have a dash of the unpredictable and unscripted about it.

Lacklustre

Or perhaps it is that Big Brother offers us the chance to observe people in a situation not so very different from everyday life - though most of us would kill for a kitchen that big - whereas Survivor fails to attract viewers because the circumstances of the participants are so extraordinary and exotic that we have difficulty connecting with them.

Whatever the reasons, Survivor's lacklustre showing could have interesting consequences.

There is talk of reducing the number of outings to one a week, and possibly even moving the show out of prime time.

This would make the enormous sums spent on making it a rather sick joke, but might perversely help it to build an audience over the long term, and perhaps even become a cult.

In the longer term it is bad news for ITV, already struggling to maintain audience and revenue share.

The last thing the network needs is a massive hole in the middle of its primetime schedule.

But one thing is for sure - the whole episode has proved it is no easier to manufacture hit TV programmes than it ever was.

See also:

22 May 01 | TV and Radio
The end of reality TV?
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09 Mar 01 | Europe
Czech TV row goes to court
01 May 01 | Entertainment
Tabloids enjoy Lottery baiting
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