Originally created 05/06/04

'Survivor: All-Stars' final four unveiled tonight



NEW YORK -- Our free-and-easy standards for what qualifies as truth were mocked on a recent episode of the HBO comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

A rabbi invited to Larry David's house for dinner asks if he might bring along a friend, someone he identifies as "a survivor," who would love to meet Larry. After agreeing, Larry decides to try to make the guest feel comfortable by inviting a fellow Nazi camp survivor, his father's chum Solly.

But the rabbi's "survivor" turns out to be young, handsome Colby Donaldson from "Survivor: Outback," who during dinner recounts the hardships he endured for his 42 days on the show: no snacks; no bathrooms; no footwear by the end but flip-flops.

"Did you see OUR show?" Solly sputters. "It's called 'The Holocaust'!"

Soon they're yelling at each other across the table:

"I'm a survivor!"

"No! I'm a survivor!"

The episode's sardonic message: One survivor is as valid as another (although in some quarters Colby might get extra points for being a celebrity survivor).

Meanwhile, new survivors are always being minted. The latest "sole survivor" will emerge from Sunday's finale of "Survivor: All-Stars," airing on CBS (WRDW-TV, Channel 12) at 8 p.m. . It will be followed at 10 p.m. by a live reunion featuring all 18 of the original competitors (including Colby).

Who will make up the Final Four battling it out for the $1 million prize? That is, who will be picked off on the "Survivor" episode airing Thursday (8 p.m.)? Will it be too-good-to-be-true Amber Brkich? Oversized Teddy bear Rupert Boneham? Cornpone "Big Tom" Buchanan? Chipper mother of twins Jenna Lewis? Or swaggering Rob Mariano?

But that's not the only thing we'll find out Thursday. We'll also learn the destiny of the "Friends" sextet, thanks to that show's much-anticipated finale (9 p.m.). Will Monica and Chandler get the baby they're longing to adopt? What about the romance between Rachel and Ross? And how will they, Joey and Phoebe cope with their imminent disbandment?

Huge questions. Burning issues. Not that they weren't all settled long ago.

"Friends" wrapped production in March.

Similarly, the "Survivor: All-Stars" contest took place on an island off the Panama coast last November and December. That game was pretty much over for viewers before it began.

Makes no difference. With the unscripted, nonfiction drama series "Survivor," no less than with the scripted sitcom "Friends," the truth, already history, will be revealed to us under the pretense of immediacy. For us, the outcome won't exist until the show goes on the air. The truth won't exactly set us free. But it will get us to tune in.

A just-published novel by David Freeman has a provocative title: "It's All True." How true! Today, "truth" is a malleable, all-purpose label, like "brand-new" or "organic." It coexists too comfortably with lies, while the barrier between them gets more flimsy and porous. Truth is just another pretense at a time when, by one reckoning, "our culture has become a show."

Which puts so-called reality TV right in the thick of things.

Including the news. Ever since the original "Survivor," for instance, CBS News' "Early Show" has showcased the ousted castaway from that week's episode as if it were breaking news instead of an unveiling.

Message: Any survivor is newsworthy, especially if the network profits from the hype.

Likewise, with NBC's recent hit "The Apprentice," NBC News served as a promotional arm of the network's entertainment division. Among other news "coverage": "Dateline NBC" plumped for the series with "Apprentice"-themed editions both the night before and the night after its live finale.

Certainly the finale was big news. On that occasion, months after the taped competition had narrowed the field from 16 to two, Donald Trump went through the motions of choosing Bill Rancic, a 32-year-old Internet entrepreneur, to oversee construction of a 90-story building project in Chicago. And we were all meant to believe it.

This week, "Dateline" is hawking another NBC series. Its two-hour preview of the "Friends" finale (a "Dateline" exclusive) was scheduled to air Wednesday, with a follow-up on Friday's "Dateline."

Why not? The news is just another part of the show, and it's all true. For all us survivors, seeing is believing.

On the Net:

www.cbs.com