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Everything's a game of numbers...

Today is

The Tale of the Tape - February 2

Tonight is the biggest showdown in game shows since Rutter made KenJen his biznotch last May (and thanks to the wonder that is DVD, we get to see it over and over again, but I digress). In this corner, from Panama... "Survivor Panama: Exile Island!" And in the other corner, from ABC Television Center in Los Angeles... "Dancing with the Stars!" We both know that these two powerhouses will be stopping at nothing to attract their respective audiences, but who'll win out in the end?

Answer: we don't know.

The only thing we can do right now is go to the tale of the tape...

Round 1: Aesthetics
Survivor: invented for Swedish television by a former British soldier DWTS: invented for British television by a BBC controller
Advantage: SURVIVOR
Survivor: takes place in exotic, Discovery Channel-worthy locales riddled with esoteric creatures and beautiful vistas DWTS: takes place on a dance floor riddled with bad lounge singers and beautiful dancers
Advantage: DRAW
Survivor: hosted by Alex Trebek's heir apparent DWTS: hosted by Peter Marshall's heir apparent, co-hosted by a cold automaton of a co-host
Advantage: DRAW
Round 2: The Numbers
Survivor: premiered in summer 2000 to blockbuster ratings, helped CBS to #1 spot on Thursdays five years running, much to the ire of "Friends" fans DWTS: premiered in summer 2005 to blockbuster ratings, helped ABC to #1 Wednesdays, much to the ire of no one
Survivor: last season's finale, 21.18 million viewers saw Danni Boatwright win $1 million at the end of May sweeps DWTS: last season's finale, 21.84 million viewers saw Kelly Monaco and Alec Mazo win a shiny disco ball trophy mid-summer
Survivor: always wins its time slot save for Sundays opposite "Desperate Housewives" DWTS: always wins its timeslot
Survivor: hour long, leads into "CSI", about 15 minutes too long DWTS: 90 minutes long, leads into "Crumbs", 60 minute result show leads into crap, is 57 minutes too long
Advantage: SURVIVOR
Round 3: These Foolish Things...
Survivor: scandals include a tax fraud, a vote rig, a burning, and Sue Hawk DWTS: scandals include two judging faux-pas, a dance-off that no one cared about, a voting system with its share of flaws, and Master P
Advantage: SURVIVOR
Survivor: brought to the US via compatriot Mark Burnett DWTS: brought to us by ABC executive
Advantage: SURVIVOR
Survivor: brushes with fame... Gary Hogeboom DWTS: brushes with fame... everyone

The winner... well... US. In a clash between two titans known for solid product, you can be sure that the viewers will win out every time.

But who'll cast its shadow over all of 8pm Thursday? That, we'll find out tomorrow when the numbers come in.

Meanwhile, in Syndication Land...

Yesterday, we reported that the three top game shows in syndication stayed on top... But we didn't expect that all of them would reach new season zenith to contend with. To review: Wheel of Fortune was up to a 9.3. In previous weeks, the highest it got was an 8.9. That represents a 9 percent increase from year to year and a 104 percent retention from week to week. Jeopardy!'s highest before this week was a 7.2. This week, a 7.5, 1 percent from year to year, 104 percent retention from week to week. Millionaire was known for five weeks tying its best at 3.3. This week, it's up to 3.6. That's 3 percent from the year before and 110 percent out of last week.

Even "Family Feud", whose ratings are a Dickens to find in the news, had some good news, as they too crept to a season high of 2.3, up 10 percent from the year before.

File this one under "Uh oh, the kids love it!"

We all remember at the 'net incredibly savaging "Skating with Celebrities" for the ripoff wannabe it didn't even hide itself to be. Apart from that, it seems to be drawing numbers for itself on its Monday night home.

The premiere three weeks ago scored thusly out of "American Idol": a 7.2/17 in the Adults 18-49 demographic, a 11.2/16 in households, and average 18.7 million viewers. Good numbers for second place, especially given the fact that it was up against ratings behemoth "Lost".

The following week, some skidding off the treads, but not enough to discount it. Up against stiff opposition from CBS, episode 2 scored a 3.7/9 in Adults 18-49, a 7.0/10 in households, and averaged 10.9 million viewers at 8p, again, all good for second. And all better than the Arrested Development/Kitchen Confidential hour that we'll just file under "Brilliant, but Cancelled" for now.

This past week, the duality of the Numbers Game set in. Skating scored first with 10 million viewers, but it was on a night where the show faced CBS reruns.

Next week, CBS is back into full swing for sweeps. Will Fox keep up or will ratings continue downward? While it remains one of Fox's consistent performers from January, it remains to be seen whether it should be carried long-term.

But in the meantime, ABC would be wise to try and cash in on that action... After all, lawsuits are where the real money is made.

The Weekly Rant, or Survivor Panama: Exile Island. Of all the seasons that ever were, this... is the most recent.

I've been getting e-mails about why people don't win on game shows. Why aren't people getting the bonus puzzles? Why aren't people getting above the $50,000? Why aren't people winning a new car?

The fact of the matter is: a game show is competition. There has to be a winner and a loser. Sometimes the house favors competition. Sometimes the player. And as much as I want to post the mathematical odds of a person crapping out on Magic Number, I am too busy just enjoying the natural interplay of man vs. man, man vs. house, or in the case of many primetime competitions, good vs. evil.

But I will concede one thing, though. There's a saying in Vegas that applies when you're dealing not with game shows themselves, but with the people behind them: "We win, you lose." And it seems like they're adhering to that phrase. How? The same reason by which contestants on "American Idol" or "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" are chosen... Good television comes first.

If you have been an avid reader of this site, you know that I had passed an audition test for "Millionaire", yet I was not called back for a spot on the show. Meanwhile the rest of the players we see have yet to score the big prize. While I am not stupid enough to promise that I will deliver one million, I have to question the fairness of the selection process that we
have come to adopt. My colleague Jason Block has said on more than one occasion: bring back the phone game.

If only good television and good players could go together that easily. Actually they could never go together that easily. If you have the best of the best going at it without any catalysts to create a spectrum of ability, you have a very boring show. And no one likes a boring show. At the same time, if you have a situation such as next week's "Walk-in and Win" on Millionaire every day, you're going to attract more lamers than logisticians. And no one likes that, either. You are all a very hard to please bunch, you are.

So is there a middle ground? Perhaps. But what, if anything, will come of it? All we can do is look at the players who have come and gone... and then draw your own conclusions from that. QED.

Bottom line: You want to do something about the skid? Become a contestant yourself if you think you're so good, or vanish in a cloud of logic... if you'd rather not.

Chico Alexander is not in the least bit bitter. In fact, he's a darn nice guy if you take him out to lunch. E-mail him at


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