Now a former Survivor is trying to add her own element to the hit reality television show.
Stacey Stillman, the third contestant booted off the island in the original Survivor, is suing CBS and show mastermind Mark Burnett, claiming he arranged her exit and "orchestrated" the show's outcome.
Stillman, an attorney who is representing herself, alleges in her 14-page lawsuit filed Monday in San Francisco County Superior Court that Burnett persuaded her fellow Tagi tribesman Sean Kenniff and Dirk Been to vote her off, instead of irascible homophobe 72-year-old Rudy Boesch.
Stillman says Burnett "improperly abused his relationships with the contestants," and claims in her suit that Boesch, a former Navy SEAL, was going to be the third person voted off the island. But, she says, Burnett intervened and convinced Kenniff and Been to switch their votes from Boesch to Stillman. The alleged motive: Burnett didn't want the first three castoffs to be the show's three senior citizens (ukulele-playing Sonja Christopher, 63, and grumpy old contractor man B.B. Anderson, 64, were the first to go). According to the suit, Burnett feared the show would lose older viewers--one of CBS' key demographics--if Boesch was snuffed out.
? Check out E! Online's complete Survivor Handbook
Boesch went on to become one of four finalists for the $1 million prize, which Richard Hatch won.
Stillman--best known for munching a live beetle larva during an immunity challenge and for being one of the first Survivors to cash in by shooting a self-parodying Reebok commercial--says the "unlawful scheme resulted in the premature expulsion of the plaintiff-contestant, defrauding her and the viewing public, and altered the ultimate outcome of Survivor."
Such a claim would be in direct violation of federal laws enacted after the quiz show scandal of the '50s and could jeopardize the phenomenally successful Survivor franchise, which CBS has already booked for two more installments.
Stillman wants restitution for lost prize money, plus $75,000 representing out-of-pocket expenses and punitive damages.
CBS and Burnett call the suit "frivolous and groundless."
This isn't the first time the Survivor rigging charges have come up--they were first publicized in The Stingray (www.thestingray.net), a book written by investigative journalist Peter Lance last year.
Says CBS in a statement: "We heard about Stacey Stillman's allegations several months ago. They had no merit then; they have no merit now that she has packaged them into a frivolous and groundless lawsuit. Survivor has received more press and public scrutiny than any show in recent television history, and its creative integrity has remained intact throughout."
Meanwhile, a CBS source says Stillman threatened to sue network as far back as last September unless she was put on another reality show. When the network denied her request, she allegedly asked for a $5 million settlement. That, too, was rejected.
Stillman downplays those allegations. "I'm not surprised they're starting a smear campaign against me," she tells the New York Times.
For his part, Kenniff tells USA Today that Burnett didn't influence his vote on the Darwinistic game show. "He did say, 'Vote your conscience,' but I didn't feel that was coercion."
The God-fearing Been, meanwhile, is a bit more coy. Portrayed in Stillman's suit as having regrets about his voting (and purportedly writing Mark Burnett a letter saying as much), Been has refused to confirm or deny Stillman's accusations. Instead, he tells the New York Times, "Burnett himself doesn't call it reality TV. He calls it reality drama. You can take what you want from that."