Fox reality guru Mike Darnell feared his genre was dead after the scandal diggers at The Smoking Gun posted a report in 2000 exposing the unsavory past of ''Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?'''s Rick Rockwell. But the website that should have extinguished the genre only fanned its fires. A record 1.5 million people visited thesmokinggun.com recently to read how ''Joe Millionaire's'' Sarah Kozer had appeared in fetish films; meanwhile, Fox enjoyed its best-ever ratings on the show.
''You cringe whenever the site calls,'' says CBS rep Chris Ender -- who had a lot of 'splaining to do last year when The Smoking Gun revealed ''Survivor: Thailand'''s Brian Heidik was a porn star. However, ''they really serve as another PR vehicle.... It's not always publicity you want, but you get attention.'' As does the site, says editor William Bastone -- so it's only a matter of time before his staff takes on the ''Survivor: The Amazon'' crew. ''It's almost like we have to now,'' says a resigned Bastone. ''Everybody has something dirty in their background.'' (Additional reporting by Dan Snierson)