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"Survivor" community thrives on the Net

The weekly TV program spawns a new generation of junkies on the Web to match the show's second edition.

David Buckley is turning the national obsession with reality TV show "Survivor" into an office challenge via the Web.

Nineteen-year-old Nigel Barham deferred his fall semester of college to operate his own "Survivor" Web page.

Conrad Walton runs Survivor.com--owned by a software company that has no connection to the cult-status series on CBS--and morphed it into a fan page after it was deluged by traffic during the last season. It still has continual outages.

These projects are traces of the fanatical, and growing, online community of sites surrounding the show "Survivor," which kicked off its second season--set in the Australian outback--following the Super Bowl. The weekly program--which first hypnotized the nation by charting the weird and desperate measures taken by 16 castaways trying to survive a series of island challenges in pursuit of $1 million--has spawned a new generation of junkies on the Web to match the show's second edition.

The hype generated by the first show drew far fewer fans to Web sites than to the TV program. Nevertheless, the numbers triggered an abundance of new "Survivor"-related sites for the second season. Traffic to the CBS-sanctioned "Survivor" site jumped to 254,000 visitors the night of the first season's final episode. On television, that finale drew an average of 51.7 million viewers.

Aside from the program's official page, a spate of Web sites such as Survivornews.net, Survivorsucks.com, the Survivorist and Survivor Fever have emerged to dish the dirt on everything from the attractiveness of each cast member to who's going to get booted off the beach.

SurvivorOutback hosts a poll on who are the "hottest" female survivors under 30 and over 30. SurvivorBlows.com's tagline reads: "Love it or hate it--it's the show everyone is talking about."

Buckley's Web site, Survivor2OfficePool.com, sells a downloadable game sheet for $11 so offices can run their own pool and compete weekly by answering detailed questions such as "Which tribe will win the immunity challenge?" A Web designer, Buckley and his buddies thought of the idea after turning the whole office on to the show last season.

"If we can do it in our office and make it cool for us, then why wouldn't someone else want to take advantage and use our materials?" he said. The site's traffic is mushrooming and is listed in the unofficial Survivor Top50 Web sites.

Stupid American TV shows
Barham, who runs SurvivorFire.com, said the show inspires such an online following because it's not like "other, stupid American shows."

"None of the other reality shows have million-dollar suspense like this one," said Barham. "A lot of (fan sites) are cropping up because of it. They're all amateurs setting up a fan site, but none of them are quitting their jobs or hiring professionals."

Survivorfire.com had roughly 11,500 people visiting Monday, said Barham, who's hoping to profit from the out-of-school project by selling ads and products related to the show. Through his site, Barham plans to find out who will be the season's champion.

An online fan last season saw an early clip of the show's final five survivors and released the information to online chat rooms, Barham said. He thinks this is likely to happen again this year. "We'll try to find out who the winner is. Lots of people are already posting messages of things they heard."

Online portal Yahoo has set up a page with links to the latest news and a game to pick the show's winner, who will be named April 26. Almost 30 Web sites are dedicated to the show and its stars within a subcategory of Yahoo.

Web sites devoted to the show are even turning celebrity. Buckley said he received a call from the CBS Morning Show to appear on television.

"I listened to that message five times to figure out if it was for real," he said. "You get on a show like that, you'll get 10,000 hits easy. It's been pretty crazy."

Traffic to such sites is growing exponentially as the "Survivor" TV program gets underway. Survivor.com, owned by a software company in El Segundo, Calif., has been repeatedly shut down because of too much traffic.

"It's killing me," said Walton, who hosts and manages the site. "It doesn't have a lot of bandwidth, and we got 54,000 people visiting (on the show's first day). It's been booked solid all day today."

Walton caved to the pressure of popularity this season by linking to other fan sites and posting news about the show. He has also started to sell advertising.

"Our goal was to become the portal for 'Survivor' because everybody comes to our site first. Last time, we got a nickel from their hits and they never came back. This time, we hope they come back," he said.