While admittedly not every competitive reality venture devised by format innovator Mark Burnett could be categorized as a runaway success (e.g., On The Lot has yet to connect with audiences, and seems headed towards granting the guy who made the retarded-guy-in-Heaven movie a corner office on the DreamWorks lot), he nevertheless boasts an impressive batting average in the unpredictable genre. His latest effort, Pirate Master, premieres tonight on CBS, and seems a sure a thing as they come, pairing the Darwinism-for-dollars premise that made Survivor such a runaway hit with the public's enduring fascination with all things buccaneerish:
"It's high adventure that they're on this pirate ship, and there's actual money being discovered in the form of gold every week," as opposed to a single winner-take-all payout, Burnett says.
Using maps, 16 contestants compete in physical challenges in search of hidden coins around Dominica, the Caribbean island where the show was filmed. A "captain," elected by the group, takes half of each week's booty and lives large in a fancier cabin with better food and no deck-scrubbing. But "if he doesn't handle it right, if he (ticks) them off, there can be a mutiny."
In a reversal of Survivor's immunity idol, Pirate's captain marks three crewmembers as potential plank-walkers; one is voted off.
As with all new Burnett productions, the first few weeks always allow for some wiggle-room with regards to exact format: If audiences respond favorably to ritual elements of game play like deck-scrubbing and plank-walking, producers will likely choose to incorporate even more authentic pirate fun into the proceedings, pitting team against team in exciting events like the Chevy Blazer Torch n' Rape Challenge. Still, not enough emphasis can be put on the importance of choosing a suitably charismatic host, and so we'd still like to once again nominate the legendary real estate plunderer (and very available) Cap'n Donnie Trump—better known simply as the fearsome "Combforward"—who'll come outfitted in the classiest lacey shirts and solid gold peg-legs doubloons can buy.