Empty8-9 p.m., Thursday, May 31
Mark Burnett is a producer who believes in planning ahead. Knowing that the "Survivor" season ends with the May sweep, he was prepared with a new series. So smooth was the transition from "Survivor" to "Pirate Master" on Thursday night that, were it not for a change in the show's title and a few minor details, you could hardly tell "Survivor" had gone off the air.
Sixteen players? Check. Two teams? Check. Vacuously pleasant host? Check. Reward challenge? Check. Tribal council? Check, but let's call it Pirate's Court. Vote one player off each week? Check and double check. Even the old production formulas are slavishly followed, right down to the careful and selective editing that infuses the ending with artificial suspense.
The premise here, explains host Cameron Daddo -- the summer replacement for Jeff Probst -- is to find the buried treasure left behind in 1726 by the legendary pirate Captain Henry Steel. He is so legendary that, to this day, his name can't be found in any reference book. Not even Wikipedia.
Casting for "Pirate" was done with a bias toward those who can best fill out swimsuits. Not all of the players, however, were equally comfortable with the constant motion of the pirate ship. For one of them, Joy, a receptionist, the expression "thar she blows" took on a whole new meaning.
Each week, the players search for treasure. In the premiere, two teams rowed down a stream, following maps to find the first of many treasure chests. The series was filmed on the Caribbean island of Dominica, but the stream looked suspiciously like the one in the Disneyland jungle cruise. I kept waiting to see three porters clinging a pole just out of reach of a threatening rhino horn.
To be fair, "Pirate" is different from "Survivor" in the way players are eliminated. In this instance, it is apparent that Burnett did not rip off "Survivor." He ripped off "Big Brother" instead. The players elect a captain (a sort of maritime Head of Household) who nominates three players to be "cast adrift." The other players choose one of the three or, if they are unanimous, they can get rid of the captain. (The closing credits list two psychologists and a rescue specialist. No doubt they have immunity.)
There also is the matter of prize money. There's no telling how much there is and whether it changes from week to week. In the premiere, players got unequal shares of gold coins. Given what is known about Captain Steel, it's surprising no one bit into them.
Mark Burnett Prods.
Executive producers: Mark Burnett, Lisa Hennessy
Co-executive producers: Eden Gaha, Page Feldman
Producers: David Dale Dryden, Kelly Garner, Jeff Ross, Steve Van Dis
Co-producers: Mark Thomas, Christopher Campbell
Director of photography: Mark Hryma
Casting director: Lynn Spiegel Spillman