Mark Burnett has come up with several twists to keep "Survivor" fresh as the CBS reality franchise prepares to start its 10th edition next month.
Eye today will announce a Feb. 17 start date for "Survivor: Palau," the latest winter premiere date for the unscripted island drama since 2002. Skein's eighth edition bowed Feb. 1, while in 2001, the show premiered on Feb. 13.
Delayed launch is designed to maximize the number of "Survivor" hours CBS can schedule during the all-important May sweeps, which this year could also determine the winner of the 2004-05 race for demo supremacy.
On the creative front, the first episode of "Survivor: Palau" will start with 20 contestants and end with only 17.
"They're given very little instruction about what to do, and some of them are genuinely lost," Burnett said. "Two people don't make it to the first challenge. That's how tough it is. It's very emotional."
Burnett said the two early casualties aren't flukes.
"It was all by design," he said. "You have this situation now where everyone thinks they know more about the rules and format than we do. I wanted to see what happens by completely revamping the way of starting (the show).
"My job as showrunner, like if I were on a drama, is to come up with plot twists," he added. Producer indicated other twists were in store, but declined to offer specifics.
Twenty contestants on "Survivor: Palau" are a young lot, with 14 players in the 18-34 demo (and 11 under 30). Oldest player is 55; most interesting occupation is a Las Vegas showgirl (her name is Janu).
Burnett, meanwhile, said the recent tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean has had an impact on "Survivor."
Just a few months ago, "We were scouting locations in Madagascar, southern India, Sri Lanka. We had a real focus on the Indian Ocean," he said. "Clearly, now, that won't be happening."
Burnett, as always, has a busy 2005 slate.
He's prepping for next week's third season bow of "The Apprentice" and next month's premiere of "The Contender," both on NBC.
Also in pre-production is his music-based competish for CBS, "Rock Star" (Daily Variety, June 8). Burnett will produce nearly 40 episodes of the show, which he said will air three times per week this summer.
Burnett is also planning for his syndie revamp of "Martha Stewart Living" (Daily Variety, May 14).