Survivor: Pearl Islands (2003) "I've made only one casting mistake ever," "Survivor" executive producer Mark Burnett told EW last week, "and that was Osten." To which we reply, Are… 2003-09-18 Reality TV Rupert Boneham Tijuana Bradley Shawn Cohen Jon Dalton Nicole Delma Sandra Diaz-Twine Trish Dunn Christa Hastie Darrah Johnson Lillian Morris Ryan Opray Burton Roberts Andrew Savage Ryan Shoulders Osten Taylor Michelle Tesauro CBS
TV Review

Survivor: Pearl Islands (2003)

EW's GRADE
A

Details Start Date: Sep 18, 2003; Genre: Reality TV; With: Rupert Boneham, Tijuana Bradley, Shawn Cohen, Jon Dalton and Nicole Delma...; Network: CBS

''I've made only one casting mistake ever,'' ''Survivor'' executive producer Mark Burnett told EW last week, ''and that was Osten.'' To which we reply, Are you insane? That was perhaps the best casting move EVER! Watching the cocky muscleman get slapped around by Mother Nature on Survivor: Pearl Islands made for nothing short of truly riveting television: This is a guy who dropped his drawers, suggested his female tribemates flash their boobs, mocked less physically imposing contestants, and then became the first player ever to quit the game (after embarrassing himself in every single challenge). It just goes to show that for all the tricks Burnett loves to pull out of his bag, nothing can match the pure drama of watching a bodybuilder run away from a lowly pelican.

Osten's drama also proves that on ''Survivor,'' a colorful cast of characters is still key. Take the one and only (at least we hope only) ''Johnny Fairplay''...please! Jon has the manners and maturity of a 3-year-old, and he's become a bit of a one-man show at tribal council -- getting wasted, flashing his unique brand of gang signs, and even offering up one of the franchise's most sweetly succinct send-offs: ''F--- you, Shawn.''

No question about it -- this guy is a jerk. But we can enjoy his antics because we have folks to root for as well. Like previous standout seasons ''The Amazon'' and ''Marquesas,'' ''Pearl Islands'' once again features a perfect mix of good and evil. Lillian might seem a tad kooky, decked out in her tattered Boy Scout uniform, but how can you not cheer on a kooky lady in a tattered Boy Scout uniform? Sandra is seemingly incapable of giving a one-on-one interview that isn't hilariously, unself-consciously blunt, and Rupert may be the most popular ''Survivor'' contestant to date -- not just because he runs around in a skirt looking like Captain Lou Albano on acid (although that certainly helps), but because he's genuine, caring, loyal, and plays every challenge as if his beard depended on it. He's the anti-Osten.

Certainly one could quibble with Burnett's biggest twist -- letting ousted Burton and Lil back into the contest. Without question the move weakens the integrity of the game (the Outcasts haven't outwitted, outplayed, or outlasted anyone), and it is somewhat humiliating for ''Survivor,'' the crown jewel of reality television, to be following in the creative footsteps of ''Big Brother,'' the tacky costume jewelry of reality television. Giving these players a second chance may be suspect, but their reappearance has added more intrigue and unpredictability to the proceedings. That's good TV, and unlike Osten, I won't be quitting this show anytime soon.

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Originally posted Nov 13, 2003 Published in issue #738 Nov 21, 2003 Order article reprints