Burnett's Book of Love

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Burnett's Book of Love

I'm not really sure what I did to be so lucky as to get my hands on an advance copy of Survivor: The Ultimate Game, by Mark Burnett with Martin Dugard (New York: TV Books, 2000), so I'll just ascribe it to clean living. The less said about the exact circumstances of my acquiring it -- on September 8, fully four days before its official release date -- the better, I think. Plus, you don't care how I got it: What you want to know is what's in it. To lend veracity to my claim that I really did get the book, really did read it, and really am reviewing it, I will provide page number citations in parentheses.

The reader's best clue as to the tone and content of the book actually comes at the end, in Mark Burnett's brief biography: "He has given motivational, leadership, and team-building speeches for such clients as IBM, Citibank, Sony, USA Networks, Discovery Channel, and AdWeek Asia" (237). This line on Burnett's résumé hasn't been hyped quite as much as his more adventuresome involvement producing the Eco-Challenge for the Discovery Channel; in an odd way -- as much as I loved and was completely seduced by Survivor -- it disappointed me to learn that fact about Burnett, since it lent the whole show the air of a particularly intricate corporate retreat. Did the corporate lecturer in Burnett somehow craft the show in such a way as to favour Richard the Corporate Trainer?

The book suggests that the project's team-building elements were, predictably enough, concentrated around the time when there were still two teams -- and Burnett's management-speak occasionally creeps into the pre-Rattana chapters (or "Evolution"s, as they're mysteriously titled). "'Survivor' is about how you can manipulate complicated team dynamics under pressure," he writes (12). Burnett repeatedly gives Gretchen props for her management skills, quite apart from her traditional survival skills, noting that her work with children, as a pre-school teacher, provided her with "the greatest learning ground anywhere" (27), and crediting her with calming a weary B.B. when he'd apparently decided to throw the bug-eating challenge: "She wouldn't let him give into his weakness. Instead, she encouraged him with eye-contact and spoken communication to perform to the best of his ability" (48). Good call not trying to convince him using semaphore, girlfriend. In the midst of apparently neutral descriptions of vulnerable players Stacey and Dirk, Burnett slips into pat explanations for their problems; he implies that Stacey found firmer footing when "[s]he smiled more" (46), and suggests that the mere fact of Dirk's religious faith, regardless of the particular way Dirk may have chosen to express it (which, if you'll recall, was not shown much in the episodes as they were edited), alienated his tribemates: "There seems to be something threatening about a devout person of faith to non-believers....[T]hat person is quietly scorned as a reminder of imperfection" (59).

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