NEW YORK -- Mark Burnett rips into his six-egg, eggwhite omelet (he's famished) and salves his throat with Earl Grey tea.
The creator-producer of "Survivor," Burnett is in Manhattan to talk up "Survivor: The Australian Outback," and his voice is tired.
Otherwise, he displays naught but exhilaration from a breathless year that witnessed last summer's smash, the original "Survivor," and the much-awaited sequel, which, after its Super Bowl Sunday premiere, settles in for a 13-week run at 7 p.m. CST Thursdays on CBS.
That, of course, puts it smack against "Friends" on NBC. Even so, Burnett -- a wiry, compact bloke in jeans and cableknit sweater -- isn't threatened by sitcom banter at the Central Perk, any more than by the second biggest question from "Survivor" fans: "Is 'Survivor II' gonna be as good as, or exceed, 'Survivor I'? I don't know," Burnett admits.
He does know this: "The first three episodes are better than 'Survivor I' in their execution. Better production values, better pacing.
"But I don't think me or anybody else will ever have something like 'Survivor I,"' he adds point-blank. "It was virgin and shockingly new. From now on, 'Survivor' is purely a matter of storytelling."
As everybody knows, the first series won huge ratings, critical acclaim and instant rootedness in the pop-culture landscape. For better or worse, the impact of "Survivor" sparked new dreams and schemes throughout the TV industry.
And, ironically enough, this all happened even as Burnett voiced a sharp distinction between what he does and the "reality" genre whose promise, in the networks' eyes, he grandly ratified.
As Burnett insisted from the start, "Survivor" isn't reality. On the contrary. "It's contrived," he says. "The outcome and the emotions and the storytelling are not contrived, but we put real people in a contrived situation and then watch their real emotions."
When he installed his crew and the so-called "castaways" on the tropical island of Pulau Tiga last March, he had a devilishly simple game plan: "16 people building a civilization, then ripping it apart by getting rid of each other."
To hear Burnett talk, the idea was sure-fire. But then he added a twist. "To produce it as a drama -- unscripted, nonfiction drama -- instead of as a game show: That was the scary part."
"Survivor" would seem to be a natural progression for the 40-year-old Burnett, a London-born adventurer, sportsman and impresario whose maiden TV effort, "Eco-Challenge," was just five years ago.
Created for MTV, that race-in-the-rough is now moving to cable's USA. Meanwhile, thanks to his success with "Survivor" (which CBS will bring back for at least two more editions), Burnett has several other projects in the pipeline.
But there's a common theme. "Everything I do relates to adventure and psychology," he says. "The group dynamic against nature." And Burnett dancing cheek-to-cheek with advertisers.
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