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By SHARON FINK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 14, 2003

THE ONLY THING TO FEAR: It's the one fear that bubbles under every Survivor saga, the one niggling insecurity in the seemingly implacable self-confidence with which creator Mark Burnett powers his monolith through the TV landscape:

You will hate the winner.

As in no-holds-barred, feed-him-or-her-to-the-animals, better-to-give-the-$1-million-top-prize-to- Michael-Jackson's-defense-fund hate.

Take the Survivor saga that aired last spring. Whiny, snotty Jenna Morasca was "headed toward being one of the most disliked winners ever," said show host Jeff Probst in a conference call before the current Pearl Islands saga began. But she "pulled it together at the end," he said, with some contriteness and by winning immunity challenges.

"Some of these people are despicable the entire season," Probst said. "And (last season) we were sitting there going, "Oh, man, they're going to hate our winner again, and there's nothing we can do about it."'

Which brings us to the final four going into tonight's Survivor: Pearl Islands finale: Sandra Diaz-Twine, Jon Dalton, Darrah Johnson and Lill Morris. The hate factor is alive and well for all of them. However, if you hate the winner but respect how he or she played the game, that's allowed.

Here's how the four head into the finale on the hate and respect scales, with 10 being, for the former, irredeemably heinous and, for the latter, worthy of a spot in the sainthood line, albeit a good distance behind Mother Teresa.

JON DALTON: The self-proclaimed Jonny Fairplay has been anointed in many quarters as the lyingest, scummiest, rottenest, rattiest, (insert your favorite pejorative) contestant in the series' history. That's mainly because he engineered what Probst has called the biggest lie in Survivor history: After earning a visit from his best friend, he told a story about his grandmother dying while he was on the islands. Some admire Dalton for doing whatever it takes to win, and being upfront about it, from Day 1. But the dead grandmother story appears to have crossed a line with a majority of fans. HATE FACTOR: 10. RESPECT FACTOR: 1.

LILL MORRIS: She's one of two players allowed back into the game after being deservedly voted out. She whines. A lot. Until Thursday's episode, she appeared incapable of understanding that people were lying to her and manipulating her. She's a Boy Scout leader who has been allowed to wear her Scout uniform, and her inability to cope with even the smallest difficulty in the wild has made her a Scouting public relations nightmare. HATE FACTOR: 7. RESPECT FACTOR: 2.

DARRAH JOHNSON: Until she started winning immunity challenges three shows ago, the Mississippi mortician was a lazy, uninteresting, coattail-riding nonentity. At least that's the way the editing of the shows have portrayed her, a fact of reality-show life always worth keeping in mind. For example, Burton Roberts, voted out Thursday, said on his CBS Early Show interview Friday that the producers never showed Johnson approaching him and Dalton and telling them that Morris, whom they thought was their voting puppet, had talked to her about an all-female alliance against the males. True or not, it got Johnson on their good side and Morris in their very big doghouse. HATE FACTOR: 5. RESPECT FACTOR: 0.

SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE: She flew under the radar, except for her occasional profane shouting matches with Dalton, until viewer favorite Rupert Boneham was voted out. Since then, she has slowly and (mostly) skillfully worked a strategy to stay in the game. She has been with Dalton since Day 1, doesn't trust him and can't stand him. And she was the one who engineered the all-female voting bloc that blindsided the loathed Roberts on Thursday. HATE FACTOR: 3. RESPECT FACTOR: 8.

PREVIEW

The two-hour finale of Survivor: Pearl Islands is at 8 tonight on WTSP-Ch. 10. It will be followed by a live one-hour reunion show.

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