After taping just one episode, the CBS television network has ceased production of a planned "Survivor Trimaris" edition of its popular reality TV program, citing "personality conflicts" with the cast.
Todalay Cirius, a spokesman for Survivor producer Mark Burnett, says the creative team thought a season featuring medieval reenactors from the Society for Creative Anachronism would be a great novelty, but that in practice it just didn't work out. The show, set in the swamps of modern-world Florida (USA), pitted sixteen SCA members against the environment and one another. Cirius says the production team spent over US$3.5 million setting up three camps (one for the crew, and one for each of the two "baronies" into which the cast were divided). Cast members had been carefully selected from audition tapes and interviews, but CBS says that process failed to predict the interpersonal crises that eventually caused executives to cut their losses and cancel the season.
According to Cirius, the cast members — apparently acting en masse — refused to accept the original division into two "baronies" (Survivor usually calls these "tribes", but adapted the terminology to this season's SCA theme). "Things only got worse from there," he complained, though he stopped short of blaming the entire failure on the SCA. "It wasn't really anyone's fault. The whole thing jumped the shark because of the culture clash between cast and crew and because we didn't [adequately screen] the contestants." Cirius says CBS has "learned a lesson here" and that recruitment processes for future seasons may be modified.
Rather than attempting to explain verbally what happened, Mr. Cirius very kindly allowed SCAtoday.net and other press representatives to screen a rough-edited version of that first (and, sadly, last) episode. Due to legal issues, we were not permitted to retain a copy of the unreleased show, but we were not restricted in what we could quote or say from the screening.
The show began in a fairly conventional (for reality TV) way, with the sixteen contestants being carried into the swamps of central Florida (in the SCA, Trimaris) on airboats, a special watercraft that uses a large rear-facing fan to provide propulsion without needing an underwater propeller, which would become entangled in swamp foliage. Host Jeff Probst introduced the scenario in the usual way, saying contestants would find a pre-built (but primitive) camp on each of two small islands in the swamp. He used a giant "coin", red on one side and white on the other, to divide contestants one-by-one into two "baronies". In a variation from previous seasons, the "coin" toss resulted in two teams of unequal size, with the "Barony of Giyontee" having nine members and the "Barony of Reptilia" having only seven.
Probst wasted no time in revealing the show's second of several rapid-fire plot twists. The teams each received the same amount of food, thus making the difference in team size partially a disadvantage. There was a some grumbling, but most of the contestants took it in stride. Then Probst looked them over, complimented them somewhat mockingly on their choice of garb, and ordered, "Okay, Survivors, over the side! Giyontee, head east. Reptilia, head west. I'll see you tomorrow at the first challenge. Get moving!"
That's when the trouble began. Two fighters in armor jumped right into the muck, and promptly sank up to their waists. One fell over and couldn't get to his feet, and his face kept going under the muddy water. A lady in a cotehardie tried to jump off the boat to help him, but she tripped on the gunwale. Trying to get her balance, she stepped her full weight on the gunwale, tilting the boat badly. An airboat is a wide-bottomed boat, and it's doubtful a person could tip it over, but standing on the side was enough to briefly dunk that side under the water. The hull partially-filled with muck and water, and a panic started as the other contestants struggled to keep their garb and gear dry. It was a lost cause from the beginning, and a shoving match broke out between two contestants in silk gowns.
One lady in a low-cut gown had an...ahem...cleavage-related incident that male contestants found entirely more distracting than was safe under the circumstances. Two of them, already off balance, fell backward into the water, soaking garb, gear, and selves. An expensive-looking camera rig, which apparently was supposed to have been behind the main camera and out of view, toppled forward into the shot of the main camera, eliciting a stream of profanity from an unseen crewman. (CBS says that would have been bleeped out if the show had been released, but they hadn't bothered in this now-throwaway tape. We were asked not to quote the crewman, as he hadn't signed a release form.)
Eventually, all the contestants are in the hip-deep water, a lady and a lord help the struggling fighter to pull his face out of the water and regain balance, and the two teams are seen wading off in opposite directions. The episode then cuts to Reptilia camp, which consists of a single large pavilion that looked as if it had been made by Panther Primitives, a well-known SCA tent merchant. The pavilion looked brand-new, but by the time Reptilia's seven "tribe mates" had settled in, it was spattered with mud in a pattern that would make most SCA folk hang their heads and cry.
Things weren't much better at Giyontee camp, where an equally-muddy pavilion served as home for nine contestants. There was some posturing and bluster over who would sleep where in the tent, because the pavilion was plenty large for Reptilia's seven but just slightly too small for Giyontee's nine teammates. Eventually someone named Master Hillius volunteered to sleep outside, saying he was a hard-core camper in mundania and a former Navy Seal. That seemed to quiet things down.
The tape then cuts abruptly to the first reward challenge, in which the teams were to run an obstacle course to win nothing less than the other team's pavilion, an unprecedentedly brutal game twist. When Reptilia handily defeated Giyontee, a scuffle broke out between Lord Gilus Hesperidius of Giyontee and Lord Philemon of Reptilia, the former accusing the latter of pushing past him in the obstacle maze. Probst quickly stepped in, separating the men and pointing out that pushing and shoving weren't against the rules. A lady from Reptilia, who may have been a Herald, called an "Oyez!" and ordered her team to figure out how to get Giyontee's pavilion back to their camp (Probst had already told them this was their problem, not his).
A gentleman in surprisingly nice garb (considering the venue) identified himself as "Seneschal of Reptilia" and vied with the Herald lady to take charge. Things got even uglier when Mistress Vascan, from Giyontee, turned out to be a tentmaking Laurel and insisted that Jeff Probst reverse the outcome of the challenge, on grounds that she and only she was qualified to care for the two pavilions. Two Knights, one from each team, volunteered to settle the matter with a re-match by single combat, and surprisingly enough Probst agreed after stepping off-camera for a few minutes (probably to consult the show's producers).
The two Knights borrowed muddy armor from the two fighters who had first jumped into the swamp water, and fashioned "weapons" from cypress staves. A lady from Giyontee said she was a Marshal, and both Knights chivalrously agreed to accept her judgment of the bout, which was to be fought best-three-of-five. The "lay on" was called, and a closely-fought tourney left Giyontee the winner this time, three to two. In a remarkably calm display, the Knights shook hands and then got out of armor.
What happened next was amazing to anyone not in the SCA, and an utter shock to the show's production team. During the fight, there had been a fair amount of sidebar-conversation among the spectating team members. Shortly after the bout's conclusion, and apparently with support of all assembled, the Herald and the tentmaking Laurel stood facing Jeff Probst, and the Herald shouted, "Be it known to all assembled that we, the populace of Reptilia, freely acknowledge the superior skill in combat of Giyontee." Then the Laurel shouted, "Be it known that we, the populace of Giyontee, freely accede to the greater prowess of Reptilia in the gentle art of obstacle courses." The self-proclaimed Seneschal stood forth then, and said, "Noble gentles, is it then your wish to declare a truce, and to unite in one barony to defeat the common enemy?" The two teams shouted "AYE!" in a loud voice, and then converged on the bewildered Jeff Probst, arguing and shouting at him.
Probst beat a hasty retreat. The camera is jolted several times, and burly men wearing t-shirts with "SECURITY" on the back are seen rushing into the scene between Probst and the SCA folk. No one seems to have gotten hurt, but it is clear from the chaos on the tape that things had gone far differently than the show's producers planned. There is one last sight of the "ECU" on a security guard's shirt, backed up against the camera, and then the tape ends abruptly.
The reaction of the reporters in the room was mixed, ranging from stunned silence to laughter. Todalay Cirius, after silencing the room once again, explained, "As you can see, this isn't something we can air. The game was basically over after just one episode. Nobody would watch the rest."
One reporter asked Cirius what the producers would do about their lost season and the lost revenue, but to his credit Mr. Cirius didn't seem angry. He said, "Well, three million dollars sounds like a lot of money to most of us, but it's not a big loss in the entertainment industry. And you may not realize this, but we tape many months in advance of the scheduled air date for the show. So this season would have aired in March 2008. It's not a big secret, though not widely known, that we also make plans for at least two different Survivor productions each season. The second production plan is a backup in case of something terrible, such as if a cast member were to be seriously injured or killed. Remember that in spite of our precautions and safety teams, living in the wilderness is still dangerous. In this case, it turns out that the backup planning was fortunate."
Mr. Cirius says that CBS is unlikely to try another Survivor season with reenactors, SCA or otherwise, though he didn't definitely rule out another attempt with a different group. He would not disclose the theme of the backup-plan season, the one that will actually air in spring 2008, but hinted that it involved a tropical climate and people of widely-divergent personalities, all of whom look good in swimwear.
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