Television: This Plug's For You

Thanks to ever more stealthy product placements, ads are becoming the latest stars of the show

Mark Burnett, executive producer of CBS's Survivor, likes to talk about the reality game show's "17th character": the land. But as integral as the wilderness are the brands whose makers pay to put them into the game. Offered to the famished, isolated castaways, cheesy snack crisps and sugary soda become not just prizes but icons of civilization. "The premise is 16 Americans in a strange, deprivational world," says Burnett. "You want these modern things from home, be it Doritos, Mountain Dew, beer, gifts from Target." The goodies are to Survivor's cast as apple pie and baseball were to G.I.s: symbols of...

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