The Post-Game Show: Only Rudy Was the Same

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So they sat down, the men and women who played B.B., Colleen, Dirk, Gervase, Greg, Gretchen, Jenna, Joel, Kelly, Ramona, Richard, Rudy, Sean, Sonja, Stacey and Susan on Wednesday nights all summer, and talked to Bryant Gumbel. And when he turned to the camera and spoke low and lugubrious — "We think you'll be interested in what they have to say," or some such — it suddenly seemed like the hour of "Survivor" nobody needed.

Americans watched the show like they watched the Super Bowl, 16 million and up every single week, and more than that talked about it the morning after. Rooting for Rudy, Kelly, Colleen, talking about Richard. But the reality of the thing, this "Star Wars" of "reality TV," had been decided months ago. The suspense was artificial. Nobody cared. They didn't want to know. They kept watching.

It was a TV show, and they liked the characters.

So here were the actors. Live. Richard, the winner. Shaven, shorn and slimmed down, wan in the studio lights — and clothed — Richard was something of a disappointment. Not sure anybody knows who I really am. Think I played fair. I brought Rudy a gift. Here was a guy who got the biggest applause of the night — for losing 130 pounds and keeping it off. It was like an AA meeting in there.

Not sure anybody knows who I really am. Just an actor, the kind who's a lot more captivating on screen.

Sonja looked like Glenn Close. Colleen could have used a good nature-ing up, and Kelly looked like she was wearing somebody else's hair, as did Gretchen. Sean looked like a desperate actor trying to get famous somehow — which of course he is now. And Dirk.... Was that dude actually on the show?

There were satisfying moments. At times, if Gumbel would let them, the 16 would laugh amongst themselves, with teasing and clapping on backs. With the exception of Susan and Kelly, who had to have faked that handshake, the group seemed to really like each other. It must have been fun.

Oh — and Colleen didn't really sleep with Greg. It was a cover, or a big joke or something. They're just friends, and she's definitely through with him. She didn't sleep with Greg.

I think she likes Sean now.

Too many of them all together, all cleaned up and genial and mugging for the cameras. No opportunity for editing. Like a "Beverly Hills 90210" farewell episode, only maybe not quite so cheesy. Just vaguely disillusioning. You expect one of them to mention script troubles.

Only fan favorite Rudy was neither more nor less than he had been. Unrepentant to guffaws about his Rudyisms, talking about honor and his Navy SEAL "buddies," nailing some pretty good punch lines. Rudy has applied for "Survivor II" in Australia. "I'm going to keep trying till I win," he says.

There will now be a lot of furious trying from a lot of them. B.B.'s doing Reebok. Ramona's doing entertainment journalism. Sean's on "Guiding Light" and "Extra"; Gervase is doing "The Hughleys" and trying out for John Travolta movies. Susan will be doing Metamucil from a truck cab within the month, if that venomous speech didn't take her out of the endorsement game. (It was scary.) Richard — who probably was, as the Internet gossips were saying, putting an addition on his house this summer, the old dog — seems relaxed about it, but he's also pitching Bette Midler for CBS and did more post-speech interviews than Colin Powell. And you can bet Bryant Gumbel isn't letting these people get too far away.

Colleen didn't sleep with Greg.

The show led a "special edition" of CBS' New York news, then migrated to Letterman, where Richard got naked — which, as pre-taped Dave noted, sort of gave it away. And don't say good-bye — "Survivor" will be back for prime-time reruns on Sept. 14, complete with interviews and never-before-seen footage. That should almost last us to halftime of the Super Bowl in January, when "Survivor II" kicks off.

You could feel the fatigue kicking in during the two-hour episode, which played like David and Maddy getting together — a few payoffs, but deflating. But Richard got what he deserved, and the ending will sit well with viewers as they put the lens cap back on their collective telescope and get on with their realistic, unedited lives. "Survivor" may survive this winter, maybe on 10 million viewers — it's still a fun idea, and season two will be an occasion for reminiscing. But maybe we didn't have to meet the players. Once you start juxtaposing reality with "reality," only minutes after the illusion is completed, you demystify too soon. Which is the quickest way to a quick phenomenon's death.