Ty Burr
July 19, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Who really loses if ”Survivor”’s winner is revealed?

So the CBS website has been hacked, and the possible survivor of ”Survivor” has been revealed. Whether or not you want to know who the winner is — provided you even care — probably says more about you than you realize. (Yes, I understand that this is the umpteenth EW.com Hot Topic on the reality TV subject. We’re obsessed. So sue us.)

For those coming in late, the sardonic, ridiculously readable, and (possibly) spoiler filled SurvivorSucks.com recently posted the findings of a diligent snoop named CAPLOCK who discovered that if you replace part of a CBS.com URL with the different first names of the contestants, you’ll find a series of photos with red Xs through them — except for the photo of one contestant, who, CAPLOCK argues, is the one who takes home the before-tax million dollars. I won’t divulge who that contestant is (as much as I was trying to avoid the person’s name, it’s impossible to do so if you’re following the media coverage in any depth). Suffice to say that, if the leak at Survivor Sucks.com is true, it’s the mediocre who will inherit the earth. Either that, or someone is a MUCH better actor than he or she has heretofore been given credit. But IS it true? Here are the possible scenarios:

1. Yes, it’s true, and both CBS and its website should be spanked with a burnt manta ray for leaving the cookie crumbs around where anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of server file structure could follow the trail.

2. No, it’s not true — it’s an intentional red herring built into the site by the ”Survivor” producers or the webmasters. Granted, that’s giving CBS credit for actual forethought, but how’d those ”Gretchen is the winner” rumors get started, anyway? The thinking here is that even a network suit isn’t stupid enough to put online materials for upcoming ”Survivor” episodes on a shared server rather than a closed machine with no pipes in or out.

3. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not; What’s on the site is just a testing glitch left up by the Web design team. Proponents of this theory argue that CBS wouldn’t tell the webmasters what’s going to happen six weeks from now but would parcel out the details on a need-to-know basis, the better to keep the winner’s identity from leaking out.

Me, I lean toward No. 3, but I wouldn’t rule out No. 1 or No. 2, and if that sounds wishy-washy, well, the truth is that I really don’t WANT to know. As cheesy and manipulated as it is, I watch ”Survivor” for the blissful melodrama of its shifting power struggles — for the way it captures the backstabbings and naivete of any bunch of humans, whether they’re in families or dorm rooms or corporations. I love trying to figure out whether Richard’s ”Art of War” strategems will blow up in his face, when Kelly is going to be sacrificed to her ”friends” in the evil Tagi alliance, whether Greg is completely insane or crazy like a fox. If I knew how it all ends, I’d stop watching in a minute. Well, no, I’d keep tuning in — but out of a sense of duty and completion rather than from any real enjoyment.

Which leaves the question: Why do some people want to know? Are these the folks who skipped straight to dessert when they were kids? Are they on a mission to expose the horrible, soul-destroying charade that CBS has perpetrated on the culture? (Sorry, we already know ”Survivor” is a joke, and we still like it.) Or is it merely the challenge of finding out something you’re NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW — especially when the people keeping it from you are faceless network executives?

I guess it’s just that we live in a nation of spoilers, from critics who give away the endings to movies (none of those at EW, nosirree Bob…) to the stunt-revealing Masked Magician on Fox to the websites that ferret out every factoid about the next ”Star Wars” installment. I guess these people, and the people who follow them, feel that knowledge is power. And it is — everywhere but in popular culture, where entertainment is predicated on surprise, and surprise depends on a LACK of knowledge. In other words: Wouldja please keep it to yourself?

Find out more: All about ”Survivor”

Important Note: Please do not post rumors below about the show’s winner. Spoiler posts will be deleted.

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