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Reality TV Gets Really Real
November 2

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!


We start this week with one of the most emotional moments in recent Survivor history.

Last week, Russell Swan was taken out of the game after passing out multiple times during a reward challenge for pizza. Medical teams at the scene examined Russell's heart rate and it had dropped to dangerously low levels. Both teams were suffering from cold and exhaustion from torrential rains over consecutive days. Host Jeff Probst had said that both teams would vote someone out at Tribal Council that night, but he pulled an audible and said that no one would be voted out.

Probst commented on the episode at his Entertainment Weekly Blog:

"When a Survivor appears to be in trouble, our first rule is to give them the chance to save themselves or see if one of their tribemates can help them before we make any decision about sending in medical, safety, or our water rescue team. We do this because it is their game, their adventure and whenever possible we want them to make the decisions about their fate. Let me be clear, we are watching them the entire time, they are never out of our sight, and our medical, safety and rescue teams are always on alert Ė but we would rather give the contestants every chance to handle it themselves before we move in to take over.

"Once medical informed me that Russell was going to require some major time-consuming attention I called off the challenge because it seemed the only decision that made sense. There was no way we were going to continue ó it was clear Russell was going to require too much time and because both tribes were going to tribal council either way, it didnít seem to matter enough to consider an alternative. So we sent the tribes back to their camp and told them to await word. For the next 45 minutes we monitored Russellís vital signs. We gave him water from his canteen. We gave him oxygen. We propped him up and gave him time to try to relax and get calm. During that time Russell and I talked about a lot of things. He was very worried that he would be pulled from the game. He was worried how he would be portrayed and what his family would think. He did not want to be seen as a quitter. "

"Nobody wanted Russell to go home. When Russell passed out for the third time, I got very worried. Then his heart rate dropped 30 beats in less than a second. I was watching the heart rate monitor and when I saw it move from 97 to 68, I was honestly concerned that we were losing him. Forever. Even writing this brings back the same emotion. Our doctors were not exaggerating or play acting when they started pounding on Russellís chest and repeating his name, asking him ďRussell, are you with us?Ē It seemed to go on forever, his eyes not moving, not responding to anything.  I have never been more proud of our medical team than I was in that moment. Heroic. Incredibly calm. Well practiced. They knew exactly what they needed to do and they didnít waste a moment. Telling Russell he was being pulled from the game was difficult. I understood that he didnít want to quit. He was in a great position in the game and there was such a fire in his belly. Many people have been pulled from the game that didnít want to go, for some reason this one really got to me. What you didnít see was that after Russell pulled off his oxygen mask in frustration, he experienced a lot of different emotions, all of them completely understandable. He was extremely frustrated at me, at medical, and at production in general for pulling him from the game. He yelled. Then, he got quiet. Then, he cried. Finally, he prayed. It was extremely emotional and simultaneously beautiful. He was in a very vulnerable state and to be a witness as he processed the situation and made peace with it was an honor. "

Now I watched this and I felt Russell's desire not to quit. Jeff Probst and the producers made the right call. This is the 2nd person to go out for medical reasons this year, following Mike Borassi's removal after injury during a reward/immunity challenge . I will call a little bit of shenanigans on Probst because this wasn't the most horrific medical incident in Survivor history. That has to go to Michael Skupin, who was the very first person to leave Survivor due to injury. During the "Australian Outback" Season he attempted to start a fire, breathed in smoke causing him to momentarily faint and fall into the fire. That caused him to suffer severe burns to his hands. After being cared for by medical personnel, a helicopter was brought in and Skupin was evacuated.

Even with that, this is what makes Survivor compelling television. If executed correctly, reality TV can make you feel as deeply as scripted television. Last week's episode of Survivor did just that.

The legal fallout from the "Megan Wants A Millionaire" murder/suicide has just started. This may get a bit complicated. According to Courthouse News, Collective Intelligence an investigative background agency based in California is suing Straight Line International for "breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligence, fraud, and tortious interference."

Here's what happened.  Collective Intelligence was doing background checks on all the contestants on "Megan Wants A Millionaire" That included Ryan Jenkins who murdered Jasmine Fiore and then killed himself. CI claims that they couldn't check Jenkins's background in Canada. They hired Straight Line International to do it. According to Collective, Straight Line said Jenkins had no criminal record. In the complaint filed in Cook County Illinois, Jenkins did have a conviction for domestic assault on a girlfriend.

CI claims in the complaint that a) its relationship with Viacom has been ended, because of the error on Straight Line's part, b) Straight Line did not request a background check on Jenkins from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as expected, but instead got its erroneous information from a court clerk in Alberta, c) Straight Line will not answer or return phone calls and will not provide it with more information about the background check it did on Jenkins, and d) Collective claims it has more than 90 clients in the entertainment industry and now its reputation is tarnished. It says that Viacom, ABC and NBC have since rejected it as a screener for their shows.

From a legal perspective this is a very smart tactic. Viacom was totally correct and within its right to distance itself from the agency.  But will CI's charges be proven in court? CI has to prove that a) they did EVERYTHING with their power to legally check the contestant's background, b) Straight Line did not put in a "good faith" effort on their end in Canada and c) because of a) and b) the company's reputation was permanently tarnished and irreparably damaged. This is going to be interesting to watch because the potential ripple effect on all of these types of shows could be devastating.

We continue with how the economic downturn has affected game shows in a positive manner. In a recent AP article, they reported on a 5 city Family Feud audition tour. Executive Producer Gaby Johnston reported that people were very open about how the economy has affected people.


"...families were candid about their need for help with mortgages, college and Christmas expenses and more, even in front of a crowd of other would-be contestants, she said.
"They weren't afraid to tell me. And everybody starting clapping when they said that," Johnston recalled, adding that the rooms were filled. In Phoenix, for example, more than 1,500 people were on hand.


This is not the first time where we have seen game shows getting a boost. It was recently reported that Wheel of Fortune's overall applications have gone up 20%. People are willing to do anything to win free cash and prizes to help their economic situation. And this wonít be the last. With the initial success of Let's Make A Deal, 10% unemployment and no immediate short term economic growth there is a potential for even more shows down the pike in 2010.


Finally a little bit of self-promotion. If you are a fan of game shows, you cannot miss Game Show Congress 7, which happens on November 14-15 at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in Hollywood. Honorees at the November 15th Luncheon will be Allen Ludden who will receive the Bill Cullen Career Achievement award. Betty White will accept the award in his memory. Geoff Edwards will be honored with the Ralph Edwards Career Community Service award.


For more information on the entire schedule of events go to


Block Party Quick Hits Time:


--SUN TV and Endemol partner to produce a game show for Southern India.


--Bob Barker continues to add to his animal rights legacy by donating $1M to Drury University to establish the Dorothy Jo Barker Endowed Professorship of Animal Rights.


--Cash Cab is being offered into syndication for a Fall 2010 release.


--Special themed weeks on "5th Grader" include NASCAR week and WWE Week. On the week of November 9th, we will have a Sesame Street Co-Host to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street.


--Top Chef gets it's 3rd Spinoff in Top Chef: Just Desserts. The series will consist of pastry chefs competing against one another in a series of challenges.


--Ivanka Trump is now married.


--Soupy Sales passed away.


--In yet another Millionaire boneheaded move, celebrities will ask questions to the contestants. This happens starting November 9th. Wait, this coincides with the Tournament of 10 and November Sweeps!

Jason Block keeps it real... Does anyone even use that phrase anymore? E-mail him at