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CBS to debut Mark Burnett's new 'Pirate Master' reality series May 31


By Christopher Rocchio, 04/18/2007 

Avast, there! Batten down the hatches and prepare to set sail as CBS has announced that Pirate Master, a new swashbuckling reality series created by Mark Burnett, will premiere on Thursday, May 31 at 8PM ET/PT -- the seventh anniversary of the date that Survivor, Burnett's original CBS reality series, debuted.

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"This is high stakes, high seas, high adventure and the life of a pirate," Burnett recently told TV Guide.  "It's a huge -- and hard -- adventure, with jumping off waterfalls, swimming up canyon lakes and crossing mud-filled jungles."

Pirate Master, first announced last November and reportedly filmed last month, will follow "16 people who all agree that had they been born 250 years ago, they would have liked to be pirates," according to Burnett, as they travel around the Caribbean island nation of Dominica in search of hidden treasure that will total $1 million.  However because only a foolish pirate would bury all their treasure in one spot, different amounts of booty will be found at different locations.

"Of course there is a search for a buried treasure.  It maybe at the jungle river, at the mountaintop jungle, or it could be by the ocean," Burnett explained in a preview video released by CBS.  "Every week there's treasure, and it's worth a lot of money.  Most reality competitions finalize with somebody getting half-a-million or $1 million.  In this case, it's spread each week!  In the first week alone, they're competing for $40,000 U.S.-dollars worth of Spanish doubloons."

The series will begin with the 16 contestants dressed in period costumes to look like pirates and traveling in the black of night via longboats to a 179-foot, square-rigged barque that carries 12,500 square feet of sail, which will serve as their home for the 33-day duration of their high seas adventure.


Pirate Master's modern-day buccaneers paddle in their search for $1 million worth of hidden treasure (Photo credit Monty Brinton/CBS)
"It's like you've gone into Disney Land -- into Pirates of the Caribbean -- and you're doing that ride... but it's for real," Pirate Master host Cameron Daddo explained in the CBS-released preview video.  "They come onto this pirate ship and I'll introduce them to the Chest of Zanzibar, which is a chest from the late Captain Henry Steel -- who lived in the 1700s, a pirate -- and the journey begins."

According to Burnett, Steel -- a fictional character created by Burnett -- divided his treasure equally among his crew before burying it at different spots on Dominica.

"Each man returned to the ship with a set of maps and hid them in a chest with 14 compartments, and it was only a few weeks ago that the chest was recovered," Burnett told TV Guide.  "So the contestants are sailing to a different destination each week around the island looking for the treasure."

As the pirates decipher clues in search of the treasure, some will receive gold coins following each expedition.  While the contestants may take the gold coins -- which are real money -- with them once the journey is over, it can also be used to strike deals with fellow contestants in the competition.  Burnett said Pirate Master's motto is "Watch your back," a phrase that could definitely come into play in deciding how to use the booty advantageously.

"Pirates have their own rules, and while they need to work as a group on the expeditions, you never know who's going to stab you in the back," he told TV Guide.

The pirate crew consists of eight men and eight women, and while there doesn't appear to be any mention of them being divided into Survivor-like tribes, the contestants will "elect a captain amongst them," according to Daddo.

"What they don't realize is they've elected this captain, the captain takes the largest share of this treasure.  So that's going to be a, 'What!?'" Daddo explained.  "The captain will have to choose two officers to serve under him.  The remaining pirates -- who helped him find the treasure -- are splitting scraps that's left and going below deck to act as servants," added Burnett.

Needless to say, the hierarchy on the ship leads to some hostility.

"[The crew has] to cook and serve their captain.  So the two officers and the captain sleep in luxury and get all the food while the other guys are eating porridge and swabbing the decks," Daddo explained to TV Guide.

Each episode will conclude on the ship with Pirate's Court, a Tribal Council-like gathering where all of the remaining contestants will have their say.


Pirate Master host Cameron Daddo on the deck of the 179-foot, square-rigged barque that serves as the contestants' home (Photo credit Monty Brinton/CBS)
"Pirate's Court is a place where three pirates are marked with a black spot by the captain, and they have to defend themselves," Daddo explained.  "No one's ever safe... no one is ever safe.  There has to be a unanimous decision by the crew, but it could be the captain gets cut loose.  Anyone of them can be cut adrift from the ship.  There's no censorship.  It's 'You do what you want to do, and damn the consequences!'"

According to Burnett, being "cut adrift" translates into being put on a raft and sent out of the game. 

"If you can't run with the crew, if you can't swim or row or navigate, you're a liability," Burnett explained.  "On a pirate ship, every pirate had their say.  If the captain went too far, there could be a mutiny.  What really makes this series pop is the democracy element on the ship."

Pirate Master will conclude with one contestant being the first to find the largest amount of booty, which is worth $500,000.

"It's a lot of fun, a great summer yarn," Burnett told TV Guide.

And according to Burnett, the cast -- which includes "a very tough Nigerian who became an American and a former Navy rescue swimmer, who's currently a smoke jumper" -- was definitely up for the adventure. "Everybody's a good athlete, but what they've learned is that to be a great pirate, you have to be really smart," Burnett told TV Guide

Burnett says he first wrote the format for Pirate Master in 2003. 

"It's a big endeavor to pull off," he told TV Guide.  According to Daddo, it should be worth the wait for viewers.  "What's going to suck people in about this show is the romance, the sea, the adventure, piracy... the freedom of piracy," he told TV Guide.

Pirate Master is produced by Mark Burnett Productions.  Burnett and Lisa Hennessy are the executive producers.  Eden Gaha and Page Feldman are the co-executive producers.

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