Us plugged-in media types heard the whispers weeks ago Gretchen, the survivalist soccer mom, was a sure thing to take home the million on "Survivor" when the show's two-hour finale airs August 23. It made sense, we told ourselves. We told our non-media friends.
We feel stupid.
This is not a press, or a nation, that likes to wait till Christmas. We get our election results from exit polls before the polls close. The Fed watch is a national obsession. (And what was TIME.com doing with Page 1 of the embargoed Harry Potter book?) So how is it we don't know who was the last castaway standing on "Survivor," a show that completed taping on April 20?
"This would not have worked without the help of the survivors and the production team," demurs CBS spokesperson Colleen Sullivan, Academy Award-style. With an assist from the CBS lawyers, of course castaways and cameramen alike all had to sign confidentiality agreements with the network. And for the final meeting of the tribal council, Sullivan says, the production crew was "skeletalized" from about 125 people to about 30, to minimize the number of tongues that could knowledgeably wag.
Not that CBS wasn't worried about their ratings-grabbing secret from getting out. They were encouraged, though, just a few days before "Survivor" hit the airwaves in May, when George Clooney pulled off a surprise appearance on "ER." "We thought, 'It can be done,'" Sullivan says.
So that's 39 people, plus invited reporters (who signed embargo agreements), plus some unknown quantity of CBS bigwigs, who are walking around RIGHT NOW with America's biggest TV secret since "Who Shot J.R.?" What's keeping them quiet?
"Nobody wants to spoil it," says Sullivan, who refrained from backing her winsome namesake, castaway Colleen. "Polls say viewers don't want to know. Newspapers are hearing from readers saying 'Don't blow it.'" And scoop-hungry reporters? (Yup, I asked. "I know nothing," Sullivan said.) "There's been no general embargo," she says. "But I think there's a feeling of not wanting to ruin the fun."
Please. There's always one...
"Absolutely, someone's going to blow it," scoffs New York Post senior writer Bill Hoffmann, who says the Post is "98, 99 percent sure" who wins but gives the CBS flacks credit for tossing out enough red herrings to keep the press guessing wrong that Gretchen rumor being a prime example. But it's only a matter of time. "Someone's going to have loose lips in a bar somewhere," says Hoffmann. "And I wouldn't hesitate to blast the guy's name into the headlines."
"We'll probably run it front page."
Note: Friday afternoon, I started to get emails from readers telling me the secret had indeed been blown. (Thanks, Daniel and Linda.) An article at Sunspot.net, a division of the Baltimore Sun, describes how an intrepid cybersleuth says he's found the secret by roaming the back alleys of CBS' "Survivor" site: It's Click here. (I've also been getting complaints about giving the secret away, so just don't click on any of these if you don't want to know.)
Try it yourself. Go to this behind-the-curtains link at the CBS site no red X. Sub in another name in the URL, you get the X. Slip-up or red herring? Your guess is as good as mine. (Especially if your guess is the same as mine: I say it's a red herring. I've also been getting equally plausible supposed tipoffs about Richard, Rudy and Colleen as winners, to name a few.)