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Even celebrities are carried away with castaways

Saturday, July 29, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Pagong, Tagi. Tribal Council. Voted off the island. They've become part of our country's pop culture conversation, popping up in office talk Thursday mornings and as monologue jokes on late night talk shows.

Voyeuristic competition depicts 'decaying society'


But this obsession of the masses even reaches the usually unreachable realm of celebrities. Judging by her enthusiasm, "Will & Grace" star Debra Messing may be elected president of the Hollywood chapter of the "Survivor" fan club.

She's a longtime viewer of Discovery Channel's "EcoChallenge" (moving to USA Network next April), which was created by the producer of "Survivor."

"It's not really whether or not they survive or what they're doing. It's really about the dynamics between them and what it sort of elicits when you're put in extreme circumstances," Messing said.

She was as surprised as other viewers about the ejection of Gretchen.

"I was shocked," Messing loudly exclaimed, sounding very Grace-like. "Shocked. Who would get rid of Gretchen? She's the best. She did absolutely nothing wrong. They were scared of her."

Nestor Carbonell (Luis on "Suddenly Susan") and his fiancee, Shannon Kenny ("Invisible Man"), are regular "Survivor" viewers. They also wanted to see Gretchen win.

"My favorites have been kicked off," Carbonell said. "It's almost like evil has been prevailing here with the alliance."

"It's a sad indictment of human nature," Kenny said.

"The crafty Machiavellian ones are winning here, and the good ones like Greg and Gretchen have been voted off," Carbonell said. "Gretchen was my favorite, and it really is a testament to her character that she was kicked off by that group because she was a threat."

"Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz watches "Survivor," too.

"I think it's really cool," he said. "I felt sorry for the Greg guy who just got knocked off, only because he started doing that fake crying thing. I thought it was real at first."

Muniz wants to see Gervase win, "only because he's lazy."

Tom Everett Scott ("That Thing You Do!"), who stars in Fox's fall Wall Street drama "The $treet," also favors Gervase.

"I was rooting for Greg, and then he got kicked off, so now I think I'm rooting for Gervase," Scott said as a publicist shook her head, not wanting Scott to align with the lazy guy. "It seems like he's being honest, and in the last immunity challenge he busted his [butt]. If you can win a million dollars through just being charming and playing card games, go for it. That's the American Dream."

Scott got hooked on "Survivor" when he was in the hospital with his wife, who was in labor. Now he's making travel plans around watching the show.

"When I flew out here on Wednesday, I arranged the flight so I could be here in time to watch it at 8 p.m.," Scott said. "I watched it alone in my hotel room, and the other ['$treet'] cast members were calling me a loser."

Jorja Fox, who played Maggie Doyle on "ER" and the Secret Service agent assigned to the president's daughter on "West Wing," said she has watched every episode of "Survivor."

"I really love Gervase and I love Richard," she said at a CBS "Survivor"-themed party. Fox was there to promote her new CBS crime drama "C.S.I." "I was really hoping some of the cast would be here."

Although some "Survivor" cast members attended a CBS press conference, a publicist for the show made it clear they wouldn't be at the party, saying, "Are you crazy? I'm not letting them anywhere near alcohol." Some, if not all, of the "Survivor" castaways know who won the $1 million prize.

Not everyone in Hollywood is a fan. Yasmine Bleeth, who stars in this fall's NBC prime-time soap "Titans," blasted the show's alleged reality.

"Do 12 people ever really get marooned on a desert island? This isn't really reality we're watching," Bleeth said. "It's pumped-up fantasy. You know, it's like what would happen 'if.' Our types of shows are what would happen if you just happen to be a family that is a trillionaire family and you had the kind of people who sleep with everybody. ... Our show is more real than that show."

Most actors in Hollywood haven't seen the show, which isn't all that unusual. Most people who work in TV don't actually watch television. Rob Lowe ("The West Wing") said he hasn't watched any of the new reality shows, but he's a huge fan of Fox's "Cops."

"When 'Cops' first came on, I said to my wife, 'This is the future of television.' That said, I don't know why I haven't been drawn into the other shows," Lowe said. "I'm sure it's not true, but I just sort of feel like if they're walking on top of the volcano to get the bananas and they slip and they fall, it's like, 'Cut! We didn't really get that.' I get the sense they're going back up and doing it again. I don't get that when I watch 'Cops.'"

Lowe's "West Wing" co-star, Bradley Whitford, hasn't watched the new shows either.

"We don't need no shows with no stinking actors," Whitford said.

Delta Burke, who stars in NBC's fall comedy "DAG," said she would have no interest appearing on a celebrity version of "Survivor."

"No makeup, having to wear a swimsuit, forget it," Burke said.

Her husband, actor Gerald McRaney, had his own reason for tuning out "Survivor."

"People in show business have enough to do with survival anyway," he said. "We don't need to watch it on TV."

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