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by Dale Connelly, 9/8/00

Dc: With the completion of the Survivor series and the upcoming sequel in Australia's outback scheduled for broadcast in January, the inevitable copycat rush has started in Hollywood. In fact, when I visited her office recently, Suzanne Perriwinkle, creative projects developer for Chutzpah Studios, told me she doesn't want to see anything cross her desk that doesn't have a "survivor" component.

Perriwinkle: We're doing Polka Survivor in Western Minnesota next summer. That's going to be Fantastic. It's got music, dancing, tradition, food. Wonderful. And I love the "couple" element. Betraying a stranger has been done to death! Selling out your dance partner who you've known for years and are maybe even married to … brings in a whole different dynamic.
Great conflict potential there.

Dc: And this show uses "real people?"

Perriwinkle: All the shows use REAL people. I don't want to see any actors.
We don't need actors. The real people are playing themselves!

Dc: But I've seen some of these "real people" try to do commercials, and they can't pull it off.

Perriwinkle: No, real people can't act. They can only be themselves.
That's why our programs are the most true thing on TV.

Dc: I thought the most true thing on TV was the news.

Perriwinkle: The news departments are there to promote our reality programs. And we've got some great ones coming up.

(sfx: moving around heavy papers)

Here's one I like. It's called "Get Off the Bus!"
There's a bus headed for Hollywood. It's got 20 people on it when it leaves New York. When it arrives on the west coast the one person left on board is the winner, and will get a movie contract.

Dc: A movie contract?

Perriwinkle: For a major motion picture!

Dc: So the people on the bus are actors?

Perriwinkle: No! No more actors! These are real people.

Dc: But you said real people can't act.

Perriwinkle: They don't have to. The movie will be based on our program, and they'll be playing themselves. If they manage to stay on the bus.

Dc: What happens on the bus?

Perriwinkle: The trip takes six days. Every day, three people are booted off … one at breakfast, one at lunch and one at dinner.

Dc: How does that work?

Perriwinkle: We stop for a meal and one of them is left behind. Maybe it will happen in a small town café, or in a greasy spoon in a troubled big city neighborhood, or at a picnic table in Death Valley or wherever!

Dc: You abandon them?

Perriwinkle: No! Not completely.

Dc: You fly them home?

Perriwinkle: NO. They are moved to another show!
It's called "Mercy of Strangers." The object - get back to their homes and their families relying on the Mercy of Strangers, people who may or may not help them, who may or may not have been sent by the network, who may or may not try to sabotage them or interfere in one way or another. Very tense. Quite Complex and Deeply Revealing.

Dc: So if they lose the first show they still have a chance to get home on the second.

Perriwinkle: Or they could wind up in the hospital, or prison. But not in a threatening way. Then after they've healed or served their time, we put them on a third show called "Comeback." They're grouped with people who have been on other reality shows but have lost.

Dc: And this is also a competition?

Perriwinkle: Yes, it's a contest between pathetic losers.
Can they defeat each other to overcome their embarassment in front of
their relatives, friends, and the great indifferent mass of heavy TV viewers?
I like this one because it's a show about redemption, about rising from the ashes!

Dc: And there's one winner? What happens to the other fifteen?

Perriwinkle: They become three time losers!

Dc: And then they move on to another show?

Perriwinkle: No, the viewing public gives up on you after three times.

Dc: Still, after this string of humiliations … the network must feel some responsibility.

Perriwinkle: Yes, … we will hire them here at the network as lackeys and underlings. That way, if our ratings tank, we've got people to shoulder that and take the fall.

Dc: Making them four time losers.

Perriwinkle: If something works for you, there's no shame in doing it over and over. As long as you get paid.

Dc: Suzanne Perriwinkle, creative projects director for Chutzpah Studios.


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