May 29, 2001
Interview With Peter Lance
by Claire E. White
New testimony has now come to light in former Survivor Stacey Spillman's lawsuit against CBS and the program's producer, Mark Burnett. Contestant Dirk Been wrote a letter to Burnett, expressing his dissatisfaction with Burnett's conduct during the filming. In his deposition, Been admits that Burnett improperly attempted to influence his vote, but stops short of saying that he was actually coerced into voting Ms. Spillman off the island. The testimony lends support to Spillman's lawsuit, which raises some very serious issues about how much control Burnett exerted over the outcome of the popular reality show. Initially, the letter was witheld by CBS and by Been, and CBS' attorneys asserted that Been's deposition testimony was sealed. A lawsuit filed by Lance insists that the testimony be made public. Lance spoke with us about the lawsuit he filed, whether Burnett's conduct constitutes fraud, and why the public has a right to know how much "reality" is really involved in television reality shows.
Tell us about your lawsuit to have the deposition of a Survivor contestant Dirk Been unsealed. Why does the public have right to know about his testimony?
Yesterday (the Friday of Memorial Day weekend) CBS "leaked" the Dirk
An L.A. Superior Court Judge ruled on May 17th that the deposition and accompanying exhibits (Dirk's "smoking gun" letter) had not been properly sealed with the court. This paved the way for us to get the depo and documents from the Court Reporter.
Anticipating they would become public without their control, it's my guess that CBS and SEG Inc. (Survivor Entertainment Group) leaked them in order to put the best spin on the story. But if you look at the 206 page deposition (available as a pdf file download from our website and if you look at Dirk's letter also on the website, I think you'll see that there is probative evidence that Stacey Stillman's allegations of rigging on Survivor have strong validity.
With regard to the public's right to know, I would refer you to three documents:
1) our Motion to Unseal, authored by attorneys Jeff Feldman and Ruth Botstein;
2) my Declaration in the Motion to Unseal; and
3) The Reporter's Committee For Freedom of The Press's Amicus Curiae brief (friend of the court brief) in support thereof.
Examine these and I think you'll understand the importance of the public being able to see litigation documents involving an FCC regulated game show with the enormous popularity of Survivor.
Dateline NBC recently did a feature on the Survivor scandal. Was there anything that was cut from your interview that you feel was important?
I thought Dateline did a very good job of laying out the issues, though I wish they had used the medium of television better (showing clips for Survivor and Survivor II) to illustrate the allegations of rigging.
Survivor producer Mark Burnett has admitted that he used stand-ins and re-shot key scenes for dramatic effect. In your opinion, does that constitute fraud?
The use of stand-ins is another example of how what the viewing public saw on
Your book (which prompted this investigation), The Stingray: Lethal Tactics of the Sole Survivor has hit the bestseller list on Amazon.com, as did your last fiction novel, First Degree Burn (Berkley). Both books became bestsellers without major publisher support. What is your advice to authors who feel that they have insufficient marketing support from their publishing house?
I would say that you just described 98% of authors. Very few writers below the level of Grisham and Clancy get any promotional help from their publishers. So, in order to get their work known, they have to become media savvy. I have found radio to be a very valuable medium. Since word of The Stingray broke last fall I've probably done 100 radio interviews and/or commentaries. After one interview with ABC Radio News, I was asked to deliver regular weekly Survivor commentaries on a number of the stations of the ABC Radio Network.
Though it was difficult getting up ever Friday morning at 5:00 a.m. Pacific having just stayed up past midnight writing my weekly web post mortems (syndicated by zap2it.com) I was grateful for the support that the radio listeners gave to my book. But having a website that regularly discussed the issues surrounding the book was also a key asset, not just in terms of spreading the word about The Stingray but in terms of research. I got a number of leads for my next book on Survivor from web site visitors; including help from a source inside SII that I dubbed (affectionately) Deep Kangaroo.
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