U.K. “Survivor” debuts

The elements sound familiar: 16 strangers are sent to the South China Sea island of Pulau Tiga-split into two tribes-to compete in Immunity Challenges as one contestant is voted off every three days for 40 days.

It’s more than déjà vu. It’s the British version of Survivor, which debuted Monday on Britain’s ITV network to 6.6 million viewers-a 31 percent share of the viewing audience, according to BBC reports.

At first glance, the American and British versions seem identical. The rules are the same, as are the strategies. But those associated with the British series are declaring that their coverage of the competition is superior to the Yanks’, due to some newly added production features.

“We will have two exclusives which I don’t think you had in the States,” Duncan Eaton, marketing and strategy director at Carlton Interactive, the company which is broadcasting the British Survivor on ITV, told Hollywood.com.

These “exclusives,” Eaton said, involve more in-depth than CBS’s previous American offerings.

“After every show there is a studio show where the evicted Survivor will be interviewed live on TV,” he said. “After that show the contestant goes into a live Web chat. This will happen on all the episodes, including the live finale.”

Britain’s Planet 24 Productions, which is producing the show, will provide audiences with “exclusive footage of the show not available anywhere else on the Web or TV. This footage will include [contestants’] original auditions and the full exit interviews,” he said.

Surprisingly, castaway Nick, a 38-year-old pharmaceutical company manager and former Royal Navy soldier, was the first to be voted off the island. During his three-day stay on Pulau Tiga, he led his tribe with authority, teaching them how to make fire and single-handedly designing the A-frame shelter his teammates desperately needed. Unfortunately for Nick, he was deemed too bossy and got the axe. (The producers have not disclosed the contestants’ last names.)

The British Survivor, like its American predecessor, is attracting its share of promotional revenue. London’s Sunday Times speculated on Sunday that Carlton was receiving as much as £3 million (approximately $4.3 million) from Macleans toothpaste to become the official series sponsor. Carlton is in fact receiving a whopping £4 million (approximately $5.7 million) for the sponsorship, Eaton said.

While Eaton and Carlton Interactive are boastful of the new show, American TV networks are showing little interest in airing the British version of Survivor in the future. Chris Ender of CBS Publicity said that, as of yet, the network is not pursuing the rights to broadcast the U.K. series, as did Bob Meyer of NBC Publicity. Cable network TNT has not ruled out the prospect-if the timing is right.

“TNT is always reviewing programming options that best fit the network’s brand of dramatic entertainment,” said Walter Ward,
TNT’s director of public relations.

TNT “could not confirm plans to consider the British Survivor series for [TNT’s] current slate,” but hasn’t ruled out the possibility in the future, he said.

A move to TNT could work well: reality programming on similar cable stations, such as USA Network and Fox Family, is booming. Mark Burnett, the producer of the original Survivor, is bringing his new reality series, Combat Missions, to America this fall. The Exorcist star Linda Blair‘s new show, The Scariest Places on Earth, debuted this spring on Fox Family to warm ratings.

As for the success of Survivor in Britain, the BBC reported Monday that ITV is expecting a ratings increase in the coming weeks, even though the show will be going up against Channel 4’s Big Brother 2, beginning May 26.

The ratings for Tuesday night’s “exclusive” post-Council show, which was essentially an extended interview with castaway Nick, failed to maintain the momentum of the Survivor debut on Monday. According to the BBC, the follow-up show drew just 21 percent of the viewing audience — losing out to BBC1 overall on the night.

American audiences will need to wait until the fall for CBS’ Survivor 3. Set in Africa, Survivor 3 will air 8 p.m. Thursdays.