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Tuned In: 'Survivor,' the sequel begins inauspiciously

Monday, January 29, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Debb Eaton is the new Sonja.

She didn't take a ukulele to the land Down Under, but she was the first contestant voted out of the tribe on "Survivor: The Australian Outback," which premiered last night on CBS after Super Bowl XXXV.

Like the first episode of the original "Survivor," the sequel began fairly inauspiciously with the 16 cast members flown into the Middle of Nowhere, Australia, where they spent 42 days last fall competing for the top prize of $1 million and the title of ultimate survivor. Last night, viewers only got hints at the new "characters," whose true traits are more likely to emerge in future episodes.

But even in the first hour of "Survivor 2," not everyone played nice.

Debb, a tattooed corrections officer from New Hampshire, tried to boss her fellow Kucha tribe members around as they got lost on the way to their camp.

"She's not someone in the outside world I'd talk to because she'd make me crazy," complained bartender Kimmi Kappenberg, who has a Long Island accent that annoyed Jeff Varner.

"Kimmi will not shut up," Jeff complained. "She cannot say a single thing without screaming it with that accent. I just want to grab her by the neck and shake the [expletive bleeped] out of her."

In a tale of two pigtail hairstyles, to the untrained eye Kimmi resembles Amber Brkich, the Ogakor tribe member from Brighton Township in Beaver County, who also wore her hair in pigtails in the premiere. Viewers got to see Amber hauling rice to the Ogakor camp and then helping a tribemate try to start a fire. Other than those brief scenes, she remains an enigma.

Because Kucha was the first tribe to lose an immunity challenge competition, forcing members to attend a tribal council and vote someone out of the tribe, they proved the most scheming. Debb got her comeuppance after trying to turn others against Jeff, who was feeling sick.

"He doesn't seem upset at the thought" of being voted off, Debb told Rodger Bingham.

But when word of this exchange got back to Jeff, he was mighty ticked and Debb got bounced. Too bad, with her New England accent and bossy personality, it would have been fun to jeer her for a few more episodes. After all, that's a large part of the fun of watching this show, right?

Just as executive producer Mark Burnett promised, "Survivor 2" has better production values than its predecessor. During introductions, Burnett showed each contestant in his or her home environment, including Amber standing in front of what is presumably her family home in Beaver County.

Scenes of the contestants flying into the Outback aboard an Australian military plane included a pretty spectacular shot of host Jeff Probst with his legs dangling off a ramp at the rear of the plane as it soared high above trees.

Despite these technical improvements, the first episode of "Survivor 2" felt a lot like watching a repeat of "Survivor 1." The tribes encountered the same early struggles -- building shelter, starting a fire, scavenging for food -- and to make matters worse, the first immunity challenge involved getting torches across bodies of water, just like the first competition last year.

But "Survivor" proved to be less about the challenges and more about the people on the show and how they behaved. As long as the new batch of contestants proves to be appreciably different than Rich, Sue and Rudy but intriguing in their own ways, "Survivor" should easily endure the competition on Thursday nights opposite NBC's "Friends."

To post comments about "Survivor" and other TV shows, visit the TV FORUM at http://www.post-gazette.com/tv/. Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com.

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