Mark Burnett: My Ex-Wife Did Not Invent 'Survivor'

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In a no-holds-barred memoir, Dianne Burnett claims she came up with key elements of the long-running CBS reality competition, including helping select the name and host Jeff Probst.

This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Survivor producer Mark Burnett needs a real-life tribal council to deal with his former wife.

Dianne Burnett, whose marriage to the U.K.-born reality mogul ended in 2002, is set to publish Sept. 18 a no-holds-barred memoir, The Road to Reality: My Journey as a Real-Life Survivor (Hay House). What’s got the producer really peeved is her claim that she’s responsible in part for the success of his television enterprises.

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In the book, an advance copy of which was obtained by THR, Dianne claims that despite never receiving producing credits on the long-running CBS hit, she came up with key elements, including naming the show Survivor, helping select Jeff Probst as host and advising on casting for the debut 2000 season, which has served as a template for all 24 cycles. (First-season winner Richard Hatch wrote the book’s foreword, noting that readers will “discover how she survived being voted off the island she’d helped to establish.”)

“I was often the Horatio to his Alger in our rags- to-riches story,” writes Dianne, who married Mark, 52, in 1992, long before his Hollywood rise. “I was the behind-the-scenes kingmaker, and the muse.”

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Mark, however, strongly rejects her claim, insisting instead that credit for the show’s success should go to him and his colleagues, many of whom -- including Probst and Survivor director Mike Sears -- contacted THR on his behalf.

Dianne’s claim, says Sears, is “like saying, ‘I was standing next to someone who was doing great things; ergo, I did great things.’ ”

Probst says he barely remembers Dianne (“I saw [her] over three seasons maybe five times -- always in catering”).

Dianne, who received a substantial (and confidential) settlement when the divorce was finalized in 2006, says she’s coming forward now so she and Mark’s two children would be aware of the truth, not because she wants more money (Survivor is the centerpiece of Mark’s estimated $400 million empire).

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But Mark chalks up the claims to a desperate desire for book sales.

“Every now and then, when something is just plain wrong, you’ve got to speak out,” says Mark, who has since married actress Roma Downey. “If she did so much, so long ago, where are all her new shows?”

Retorts Dianne, “No one knows what happened behind closed doors.”