By Tom Comi
Stunt casting is something usually found on sitcoms and dramas to drum up ratings, but no show on television has mastered this better than Survivor. And that is once again the case in tonight’s season premiere as two former contestants are thrown together with 16 newbies for the chance to win the million-dollar prize.
Survivor: South Pacific marks the 23rd season of the still-popular reality program, and tonight’s first episode (8pm ET on CBS) features the return of one of the show’s most popular players (Ozzy Lusth, pictured center) and one of its most reviled competitors (Benjamin “Coach” Wade, pictured left).
Coincidentally, both men have hurt their own chances to walk away with the top prize by standing out. Coach destroyed his opportunities with his holier-than-thou attitude, something he said he has learned from going into this season.
“I’ve played this game twice, I haven’t been successful,” he said. “This time I’m trying to control my sense of self righteousness and judgment of the others. I’m back because this is one more shot for me to prove to anybody that I can win this game and that it can be done with honor and integrity.”
Ozzy, meanwhile, has been a fan favorite, but he made himself a marked man by being so dominant in the immunity challenges. Although it will be nearly impossible to fly under the radar, he’s hoping to show that his strength can be an asset to players on his team.
“I’ve been the guy who knows how to climb coconut trees and hunt fish,” he said. “I’ve also been really strong in challenges, but I don’t think I’ve had the best strategy. This time I think I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
As we learned last season, returning players can either be marked from the jump (Russell), or they can use their experience to win it all (Boston Rob). That ends up being determined by the mindset of the new players, and CBS has certainly put together an eclectic group of first-timers ranging in age from 19 to 51 to make things interesting.
Among those are a teacher, dance team manager, anesthesiologist, oil tanker crewman, medical marijuana dispenser, rancher, retired NYPD detective and lingerie football player.
Although Survivor will never reach the phenomenal ratings it drew in its first several years, it really is remarkable that it is still going strong 11 years after Richard Hatch won the first season. Much of that has to do with new twists (Redemption Island returns again) and three-time, Emmy-winning host Jeff Probst.
But ultimately it comes down down to the lure of watching 18 competitors being dropped on an island together to see who can be the last person standing. The one who can find a way to outwit, outlast and outplay everybody else will be a millionaire in a few months.
© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Credit: Monty Brinton