NEW YORK -- "Survivor" executive producer Mark Burnett has admitted to re-enacting some portions of the CBS series, at one point using body doubles to re-create a scene.
Burnett, who has always maintained that the show is completely real, made his confession -- which he said he was telling for the first time -- at a Museum of Television & Radio panel Monday titled "What is Reality on Television?" Burnett and several documentary filmmakers were discussing what the standards are when filming TV shows that purport to be nonfiction.
After viewing an NBC News clip in which producers of another CBS show, "Big Brother," staged and rehearsed a supposedly spontaneous meeting between two contestants, Burnett criticized such actions. "I would never do what we just saw on 'Big Brother,' " he said. "I would never re-enact (scenes)." In fact, Burnett joked about how the "Big Brother" episode looked silly because the contestants "can't act."
Burnett went on to say, however, that he had re-enacted "Survivor" scenes, using "stand-ins" after the real encounters took place in order to get certain perspectives without viewers seeing any "Survivor" cameras. The only example he cited was filming overhead shots of a swim race, which was re-enacted using body doubles dressed in the same bathing suits and swimming "exactly at the same speed" as the real contestants.
"I'm not embarrassed about it," he said, noting that it "didn't change the outcome of the race." Burnett added, "I don't know what the line is" in determining what kind of manipulation is acceptable, stating earlier that unlike some of the other panelists who produce documentaries, "I'm just making entertainment."
Through a spokesman, CBS issued a statement saying, "What Mark is talking about is nothing more than window dressing. It doesn't involve the contestants and doesn't in any way influence the outcome of any challenge, tribal council, or change the view of reality as it occurred. The series is exactly what it appears to be -- 16 people battling the elements and each other."
Burnett's comments come amid continued legal wrangling over a lawsuit filed in February by Stacey Stillman, a contestant on "Survivor's" first edition. The suit against Survivor Entertainment Group claims the outcome was rigged. SEG, an association of Burnett's Survivor Productions and CBS, has denied the allegation and counter-sued for breach of contract.
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