''Survivor'' 2 makes a gripping debut | EW.com

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''Survivor'' 2 makes a gripping debut

But, Ken Tucker asks, how long can it live up to its hype?

Alicia Calaway, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, ...

(Calaway and Filarski: Monty Brinton)

”Survivor” 2 makes a gripping debut

C’mon – you KNOW you wanted Kimmi to be the first one to be voted off Australia ASAP. The yappy bartender may have made the first cut of CBS’ ”Survivor: The Australian Outback,” but it’s only a matter of time. As it was, seeing corrections officer Debb Eaton get the initial boot felt like an editing cheat: EVERYBODY except Debb herself voted to eject her? Why? She didn’t seem THAT obnoxious; she was cranky and outspoken, but nowhere near as mouthy as ”Survivor” I’s Susan Hawk. (And if we’re making comparisons – and who isn’t? – I peg Jeff, the barfing ”internet projects manager,” as this crew’s Ramona: prone to the vapors; lacking the stomach to gut it out.)

So producer Mark Burnett has me hooked already: The Outback scenery is vibrantly spectacular, and I don’t mind being goosed by the repeated hokey shots of supposedly menacing spiders – heck, after a few weeks of ”Temptation Island”’s low rent host Mark L. Walberg, Jeff Probst suddenly seems as debonair and articulate as Alistair Cooke was on ”Masterpiece Theatre.”

True, the ”Immunity Idol” that Probst brandished looks like little more than a gaudy coffee Thermos, and I’ve already decided that anything that aspiring actress Jerri Manthey says is either blather or calculated bunk. But the first words out of my teen daughter’s mouth were, ”Colby’s cuuute!,” and I’m rooting for buff, bluff personal trainer Alicia Calaway to stick around for as many weeks as possible. (It’s too bad Alicia is stuck on the obviously loser team, Kucha – if she was an Ogakor member, I’d be making an early prediction that she has the stamina and the shrewdness to be the next Richard Hatchling.)

Where ”Survivor: The Australian Outback” may bog down – and permit NBC’s larded out ”super sized” ”Friends” plus ”SNL” sketches to overtake it – is if the weekly physical challenges are too repetitive of the first ”Survivor,” and if CBS overpromotes the show. If I’m already tired of seeing the coming attractions for this Thursday’s stunt – the players apparently jump into water from a great height – I’m guessing that the next day and night hype on CBS’ ”Early Show” and David Letterman is only going to numb a vast nation still on tenterhooks about Ytossie and Taheed getting booted off ”Temptation Island” this Wednesday at 9 p.m. There’s only so much suspense any given viewer can take. That, and how many more weeks we’re going to have to put up with Kimmi’s dithering whine.