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CBS Masters Reality

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)
December 15, 2003

So you stuck around even after hit show Survivor bent the rules by allowing two outcasts back into the game. You even got over the ouster of fan favorite Rupert last month. So, of course, as Sandra Diaz-Twine won the grueling reality television contest last night, you watched.

You're not alone. While the show concluded its seventh season last night, its popularity is holding strong. Along with the CSI franchise, Survivor has helped Viacom's (NYSE: VIA) CBS network claim the top of the hill in the ratings race.

That kind of audience will naturally attract sponsors, though Survivor has been criticized for wedging the ads into the show itself. On Thursday, General Motors (NYSE: GM) got into the act when it helped the show give away an Envoy SUV, with another going out last night.

The parched island setting has also given Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) a marketing angle as the provider of liquid rewards in past incarnations. Sure, everyone's worried about the TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) generation flying past the ads to the point where product placement is the only guarantee for visibility, but isn't it enough already?

Ultimately, it's all gravy on top of low-budget production. While General Electric (NYSE: GE) is fussing over which of its NBC sitcom stars deserves million-dollar paychecks -- per episode -- Survivor has never had a drought of contestants willing to milk their 15 minutes and a few immunity challenges for a shot at a relatively paltry prize of a million bucks.

Fans who are suffering already from Survivor withdrawal won't have to wait long, as CBS will begin airing the next installment in less than two months. With a group of castaways culled from past favorites, cynics may note that this "All Star Survivor" has the whiff of a fading band putting out a "Best Of" swan song.

Don't bet on it. Viacom has too much riding on the show and has avoided the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire fate of prime-time overexposure. The court of public opinion ultimately dictates when it's time for a show to go, but no one seems to be set on snuffing Survivor's torch any time soon.

The tribe of viewers has spoken.
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