Thursday, November 15, 2001

'Survivor' still thrives here

Although fever has begun to subside, loyal local viewers make Greater Cincinnati show's top market

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Steve and Kim Taylor refused to get in the car.

        Beth Tindall made hurried phone calls to a friend while commercials filled the airwaves.

        Courtney Talty quickly found her way to the nearest cocktail lounge and persuaded the bartender to change the channel on the elevated television.

        Even though ratings have begun to slip, these are the Thursday-night behaviors of dedicated fans of television's Survivor series here in its top city. Overwhelmingly, Greater Cincinnatians have signed on as the show's premier cheerleaders.

        What that takes is an excited and loyal following. People like the Taylors, of Fort Thomas, who have been known to extend Thursday visits at friends' and relatives' houses when they realized they couldn't get home before 8 p.m. And Ms. Tindall, of St. Bernard, who couldn't wait until the end of the prime-time hour to rehash the real-life action she had just seen. And Ms. Talty, of Mount Lookout, who confesses to a hint of pushiness when she realized at a restaurant that she had forgotten to program her video cassette recorder.

[photo] Cast members gather for a tribal council
(CBS photos)
| ZOOM |
        “There's something great and debatable about Survivor,” says Michael McCormick of Northside who regularly congregates with as many as 10 friends to watch the shows. “We debate what's going on and try to call what's going to happen next. The group thing helps.”

        At a local tool and die shop, “We talked about it every day at work,” Mr. Taylor says.

Thrill of competition

        Without doubt, some of the same Surviving habits have cropped up nationwide. But what makes the Queen City so devoted to the show that it turned in Nielsen ratings as high as 40.4 (percentage of houses with TVs tuned to the show)?

        “One theory is that Cincinnati is probably one of the top sports-minded cities in the country,” says Dr. Michael Porte, professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati. “And people who like sports are interested in triathlons and other feats of survival.

        “Part of it is the appeal . . . being challenged in some way,” he says. “Many people who like athletics like to partake in something active.”

    Top Survivor-watching cities and their Nielsen ratings from mid-October and last week:
Nov. 8
   1. Cincinnati 23.5
   2. Portland, Ore. 19.2
   3. Pittsburgh 18.7
   4. Las Vegas 17.0
   5. Jacksonville 16.9
   6. Philadelphia 16.8
   7. San Diego 16.8
   8. Nashville 16.7
   9. San Francisco 16.4
   10. Buffalo 16.3
Oct. 18
   1. Cincinnati 22.9
   2. Portland, Ore. 19.5
   3. Pittsburgh 18.5
   4. Philadelphia 18.1
   5. Nashville 17.5
   6. San Diego 17.2
   7. Seattle 17.2
   8. Louisville 16.3
   9. San Francisco 16.0
   10. Indianapolis 15.8
    What has Survivor competed against? Recent television network competition the CBS showat 8 and 8:30 p.m. Thursdays:
   Friends, NBC
   Inside Schwartz, NBC
   Whose Line Is It Anyway?, ABC
   Major League Baseball, Fox
   WWF Smackdown, UPN
   Islam: Empire of Faith,PBS
   Popstars 2, WB
   Antiques Roadshow, PBS
        Or not.

        “We want to watch; we want to judge; we want to feel superior,” says Ms. Tindall, a computer operations trainer. “We want to laugh at parts of it . . . and laugh at parts of ourselves. We just don't want to be obviously involved in it.”

        “Everybody's laid back here, but most of us would like to get out and try something,” Mr. Taylor offers.

        Whether we would actually do it, we have an itch to “let our hair down.”

        Terri Vaccari, research director at WKRC-TV, the local Survivor affiliate, credits Tristate audience loyalty and local promotion efforts.

        “WKRC has very loyal viewers,” she says. “When their favorite newscasters and weathermen are talking about the show, it does lend more to the excitement.

        “I would be remiss if didn't mention the newspapers. The articles and stories (about Survivor) . . . helped to bring the excitement to those who were not exposed,” she says.

        In a recent count, Enquirer reporters and columnists had written about Survivor and Survivor episodes at least 265 times.

        Uh . . . make that 266.

Unexpected appeal

        Few have been able to escape the program's appeal.

        But, “I've never seen that show,” says Deborah Spradley, president, Spradley & Associates marketing and communications.

        “I don't watch much TV, and my friends don't either.”

        Rebecca Vonderchek, a fourth-grader at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Over-the-Rhine, says her friends don't watch Survivor, “But they like me telling them what happened.”

        “I'm a huge TV watcher,” says Mr. McCormick, associate art director at Cincinnati magazine. “My videotape has become my greatest asset on Thursday night,” mainly because NBC's Friends airs opposite the first half hour of Survivor. He enjoys both.

        He nods in agreement with Dr. Porte's correlation between Survivor and sports programming because, “It has the same kind of feeling to it because you don't know what's going to happen. That's what makes it really fun.”

        Dr. Porte says the show was popular in its first series because of its novelty. “Everyone likes to tune in a new program.”

        Local interest ballooned in the second series (Australia) because Crittenden's Rodger Bingham was a contestant. “Anytime you have someone local on television, that helps. Absolutely.”

        So far, in the third (Africa) series, Cincinnati has held as the show's strongest market, although ratings locally and nationally have dropped. Experts say they believe terrorist attacks in the United States are to blame.

        Mr. Taylor began watching Survivor in the spring of 2000 “more or less out of curiosity,” he says. “I guess the reason I kept coming back was really to see, um, other than the back-stabbing, well, a lot of it was the back-stabbing.”

        “I've been watching since day one, Ms. Talty says. “It was so new, so different. I just thought the whole idea was really cool.

        “It was fun to watch . . . a beautiful location (an island in the South China Sea).”

        “When I first saw it, I was kind of freaked out,” says Rebecca, 9.

        “It was raining that day,” Mr. McCormick remembers. “There was no new summer programming. I started watching and got hooked on it.”

        “I'm going to a conference in Washington, D.C.,” Ms. Tindall says. “And we've already planned where we're watching Survivor and assigned everyone munchies to bring.”


- 'Survivor' still thrives here
Blackwell makes case for Borgman
KNIPPENBERG: Knip's Eye View
'Blast' will march into your heart
Dancing with . . . astrophysics?
Estonian composer has eclectic influences
The Early Word
Top 10s
Putin grants NPR exclusive interview
Get to it