On the Thursday episode of "Survivor II: The Australian Outback," 38-year-old software publisher Michael Skupin was airlifted off the island in what was the first major accident on the popular reality TV show, dashing his chance at winning the $1 million prize and driving home a Pontiac Aztek.
Although the camera was not honed on Skupin at the time, it appeared as though the White Lake, Mich., resident--who gained affection from hungry "Kucha" tribe mates for killing a wild pig--had been sitting downwind from a fire. After possibly inhaling too much smoke, Skupin fell into the fire, screamed, and leapt into a nearby stream to cool off. As a camera lingered on the singed flesh of his hands and arms, a chopper whisked him to medical attention.
Although the show's producers clearly prized Skupin's misfortune as a high-drama, high-viewership moment, fans of popular Web site SurvivorSucks.com knew the incident was coming all along.
Long before the show began airing Thursday night, the sarcastic site--which loves to hate the popular "Survivor" series--featured a photo of Skupin with bandaged arms. Skupin was smiling and on the road to recovery, but clearly scathed.
Before the show aired, content producers at SurvivorSucks.com predicted he would be the next one to leave the island--a heads-up for nearly 33,000 people who log into the site to play "Fantasy Survivor," where players amass points for picking when contestants will drop off the set. By Thursday afternoon, the photo had also made the rounds of "Survivor" chat groups elsewhere on the Web.
SurvivorSucks.com has developed a knack for choosing which contestants get picked off each week. But site organizers admitted that the fire and Skupin's chopper-aided departure even took them by surprise.
"First off, we've got to come clean. We were sure it was a bluff," the site, part of the PlanetSucks Network, reads. "Something unthinkable...tragedy...an accident at Kucha...blah, blah, blah. But my oh my, are we glad we were wrong. (Not that we were happy to see charred flesh dripping off of Mike's hands. We kid Mike because we know he's OK. You ARE OK, right Mike?)"
But not all fans were so impressed with the site's prognostication. The Web has developed into something of a surprise spoiler, where cybersleuths announce news in real time and give away secrets to viewers in different time zones. The controversy heated up during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where NBC banned online journalists and blocked online video coverage of the events.
Unofficial "Survivor" sites are particularly brazen, offering photos and video of castaway contestants, tips from anonymous "Survivor" crew members, and other scoops.
It's not known how many fans look at unofficial "Survivor" sites. CBS' official "Survivor" site has done well, blowing away internal traffic expectations. During the first week that "Survivor II" aired, the accompanying Web site soared to 2.14 million unique visitors that week.
David Eckstein, a 30-year-old San Francisco resident and ardent "Survivor" fan, said he plans to avoid categorically the suspense-sapping site.
"SurvivorSucks has gotten pretty good at guessing the winner, so I intentionally don't look at the site because I don't want to know," Eckstein said. "I give them all the credit for guessing, but a little suspense on TV here and there is a good thing."