CBS pressure leads RI paper to drop column by 'Survivor:Thailand's Helen Glover
By Wade Paulsen, 03/30/2004
Apparently Survivor itself wouldn't survive if future contestants learned information that is already widely known on the Internet. At least, that seems to be CBS's view, after pressure from CBS lawyers led to the termination of a newspaper column being written by a former Survivor castaway.
Helen Glover, a member of the Survivor: Thailand final four, became a columnist for the Providence (RI) Journal (locally known as the "ProJo") to cover the events of the current Survivor: All-Stars, based on the episodes and previews and on her perspective as a former contestant. As part of her weekly column, Helen, who is a resident of Middletown, RI, discussed some of "what you don't know" -- the behind-the-scenes details of Survivor production. That was too much for CBS.
After Helen's column of March 11, a CBS attorney named Ray White sent Helen an e-mail the next day alleging that her column had violated the confidentiality agreement that Helen signed prior to Survivor: Thailand -- specifically, by providing details on "the methods of production" of Survivor, which the agreement does not permit her to do for three years after her appearance. White wrote, "The information you describe in your article regarding how the Producers handle participants once they are voted off clearly falls under [that] category."
Although Helen was on vacation and did not read the e-mail before she wrote her next column, which ran on March 16, she talked to CBS officials immediately thereafter. As a result of her conversation, she submitted her March 23 column to CBS lawyers for pre-approval. However, the Providence Journal responded by cancelling her column because of this.
The executive editor of the ProJo, Joel Rawson, said, "We do not submit our articles for approval prior to publication to institutions outside the newspaper. What CBS wants is the right to edit the work of a person writing for The Journal. We find that arrangement unacceptable." Indeed, the ProJo found support for its position from a CBS News spokesperson, who said that it was absolutely against CBS standards to permit pre-approval of news stories by the subjects of those stories.
Apparently CBS's legal department would prefer for viewers and newspaper readers to forget about Survivor rather than read a "dangerous" column. We wonder what CBS's publicity department would say about that....
For his part, White, a low-level CBS attorney, claimed that he had merely suggested pre-approval for Helen's column and that it was "not a requirement." Helen, however, an ex-Navy swim instructor who certainly did not appear to have any problems understanding English while on Survivor, disagreed. In response to White, she told the ProJo: "[Pre-approval] was not a suggestion."
As devoted Survivor spoilers, we decided to look up all of the available Helen Glover columns to see what nuggets of valuable information we could ferret out of them, since CBS was so worried. The ProJo no longer has Helen's March 11 column on line, but here's what it had to say:
[NOTE: People who want to avoid spoilers can rest easy, as there is no spoiler information here.]
What You Don't Know:
When you are voted off, you go to a base camp, of sorts, behind the scenes and far away from the game. There is no TV, or telephones. No Internet. There is a VCR and a DVD player, but not much else. On a regular season of Survivor, with 16 contestants, the first seven are taken away for a very nice, all expenses paid vacation. Not a bad deal, but most would rather still be "in the game." The next seven voted off become the jury, leaving two finalists. As each person is voted off, they receive a meal, shower, room and a visit from the staff psychiatrist. They come to check on you, making sure you are all right. Some people leave the game angry, or depressed. Others leave ill, while still others leave with a sense of relief. The psychiatrist continues to call on you even after you return home, as many people have trouble adjusting to the normal routine of life again. I remember the doctor calling me several times just to "check up" and see how I was. After the third call, I told them to check on someone else: I'm just fine!
We hate to inform CBS's overzealous legal department about this, but EVERY PART of Helen's post is public knowledge. Mark Burnett himself has talked about the role of the psychologist, since the VERY FIRST contestant voted off the original Survivor show (Sweden's Expedition: Robinson) committed suicide upon returning home. The trips were originated during Survivor: The Australian Outback and were first revealed in Debb Eaton's post-boot chat, the very first of that season (which led to the famous "Debb's friends" spoiler that correctly identified all the pre-jury boots). Even the "no communications" policy has been known since then, when final four member Elisabeth Filarski was shown by CBS, upon her return to the States, asking her then-boyfriend (now husband), Washington Redskins quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, the score of the BC-Miami football game. Elisabeth subsequently explained the lack of contact with the outside world.
Although that Helen column was a bust for spoiler info, we didn't give up. Here's the March 17 one, Helen's last:
What You Don't Know:
Have you ever noticed how insightful host Jeff Probst's questions are at Tribal Council? He works very hard at his interrogations, studying videotapes of the previous days in camp, and consulting with the producers on a daily basis. He takes the game and his part in it very seriously. This past week was a great example of his skill as the Grand Inquisitor. Probst pointed out Shii Ann Huang's limited physical strength, while also emphasizing Donaldson's value as a strong member of the tribe. Does Probst affect the outcome of the votes? In my case, I know my vote was never affected by Probst's questions.
Oops, once again, no spoiler value; it's all common knowledge. Well, what about her March 4 column?
What You Don't Know
Watching one of the challenge events at home, you might wonder, "How can they possibly remember those directions?" Let me give you a behind-the-scenes look. Once you arrive at the challenge site, Jeff Probst explains the rules of the game. At times, he will walk you through the course and offer a question-and-answer period. It is of the utmost importance for you to pay close attention. Once the game begins, if you make a mistake, you're out of luck. There are no second chances or "do-overs." You are never allowed to practice a challenge, and many times the course remains a mystery, or partially out of sight.
STILL no spoiler value. In fact, after reviewing all of Helen's columns for Survivor: All-Stars, we were unable to identify even one piece of information that wasn't widely known among online Survivor spoilers. Thus, if Survivor would be damaged by Helen's column, it has already been damaged.
We wonder whether CBS has been contemplating laying off some of its law department, leading the lawyers to attempt to justify their existence by making more work for themselves. Why? Because we can find no other explanation for CBS's actions toward Helen. We might have expected legal antics focused on "locking the barn door after the horse is gone" from ABC, since it is part of the crumbling Disney empire --- but not from CBS, a unit of Viacom, which is run by illustrious Harvard Law School graduate Summer Redstone.