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Baltics to cash in on reality-based TV craze

Aug 31, 2000
Jaclyn M. Sindrich

Castaways play the survival game on deserted Estonian island

As the cultural phenomenon of voyeuristic TV sweeps Western Europe and America, an SOS wrote itself in the Baltic sand: "We want our own reality-based island castaway show!"

It's "Robinson" to the rescue.

Five Estonians, five Latvians and five Lithuanians spent all of August on the uninhabited Estonian island of Korgelaid, putting their survival skills to the test on the Robinson show, which will make its television debut this fall on TV3.

The show takes its name from the Daniel Defoe classic "Robinson Crusoe." Robinson's format was developed in England in 1996, long before the wildly successful series "Survivor" conquered TV in the United States this year. A year later, a Swedish TV station adapted the series, and from 1998 to 1999, a version of it aired in Denmark and Lithu-ania. But this is the first all-Baltic Robinson.

"It was a huge success in Scandinavia, and I do not see why it won't be a success here," said Toomas Talts, Internet product manager of Tele2, Estonia's number one dial-up networking provider and Robinson's main sponsor.

Something else will also make this series unique in the Baltics. In keeping with Estonia's reputation as a world leader in the Internet age, Robinson is being touted as a "cross-media" event. It will not only be presented as a reality-based TV survivor game, but equally as a Web site on the "everyday.com" portal. Tele2 will run the Web portion of the show, while TV3 will handle the filming.

"This is the first time in Estonia we will have two types of media joined," Talts said. "We are trying to give the audience an opportunity to take an active part."

Viewers will be able to log on to the site and chat about the show and take part in opinion polls immediately after each episode. There will be diaries and personal data of the show's 15 participants. People will also be able to watch and listen to video and audio clips. The audience will not be voting anyone off the island however, as the taping will already have taken place.

No falling coconuts

Unlike the American "Survivor" series' Malaysian paradise setting, on the northerly Baltic island, there will be no coconuts falling from lush palm trees, no balmy weather, no turquoise lagoons.

How the show's participants endure the chilly August nights and each other will be revealed to the public only as the series unfolds in weekly primetime installments.

Most details about "Robin-son" are being kept under wraps, so as not to spoil the fun.

"This is top secret information," said Talts, when asked how much the company is investing in the project and what the game's rules are. "I was on the island and even I was not showed everything."

He did say the investment is a large one, and that the challenges set forth by the show's producers to the contestants are more "intellectual" rather than physical. Each country will also have its own host for the show because of language differences.

Initially, the three teams will vie against each other, but as time wears on and contestants are gradually eliminated by an internal voting process, they will go head-to-head for the Robinson title, explained Liivi Ermas, TV3's marketing director. The grand prize will be a car, second prize a trip and third a TV/VCR.

The cast was chosen through a low-profile recruiting and interview process, Talts explained. One Estonian man even landed a spot on the show via an e-mail chain advertisement. Male contestants outnumber females three to one, and ages range from 20 to 51.

"They are all different kinds of people, with very different hobbies and habits," said Ermas.

"Robinson" will air at 9 p.m. on TV3 beginning Sept. 30, and will run every Saturday for 13 weeks.

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