The new "Survivor: Cook Islands," which pit teams segregated by race, was just a tick lower in ratings--at 6.5 rating/20 share among adults 18-49--versus the opening-night numbers for "Survivor: Guatemala" of a year ago. It easily won its time period with strong and consistent viewer numbers--as it always has.
What does this say? That people who have always watched "Survivor" continue to watch it--no matter how the teams are divvied up.
Marketing-wise, it also means the rash of stories we, in the press, stirred up about the controversial nature of Mark Burnett's new effort didn't really amount to much difference. New viewers apparently weren't interested enough to come to "Survivor" in droves to see Caucasian -Americans versus African-Americans versus Latin-Americans versus Asian-Americans.
Are we are all too jaded, blasé, or sophisticated to be manipulated by this entertainment trap? This is TV, after all. Not a pure academic social experiment, as perhaps Burnett counted on. Perhaps it might be a real-world social experiment, if the cameras were not on.
To be sure, the numbers for the show will grow throughout the season somewhat--just like all good established reality shows do, just like earlier "Survivor" editions. At the end of the season, someone will no doubt cry out "Success!"
Restless "Survivor"-watchers might look at it another way: Had Burnett not created this new format, the ratings might have been lower. But Friday morning quarterbacking isn't allowed.
Advertisers? Yes, CBS had advertisers, and will presumably have them for the rest of the season. Of course, maybe some advertisers will walk during the season. But you really won't know how and who--no matter which TV pressure group takes credit.
Maybe there'll be some crazy Jets versus Sharks, out of control, behind-the-scene battles that Burnett may or may not elect to air. What exactly is the real drama to look for in "Survivor"? There better be some. Because if this format results in little theater, what are we to think? That everyone is on his or her best behavior?
There isn't a lot to tell about other network viewers watching shows against "Survivor." Fox's new comedies in the 8 o'clock hour, "'Til Death" and "Happy Hour," dropped in ratings versus the week before. Other networks were in reruns.
Maybe what the ratings are really saying is that viewers might not be looking at "Survivor" like a horrific traffic accident to gawk at--just some car overheating by the side of the road.