NEW YORK – Gimmicks are generally a sign of desperation for TV shows, especially reality shows.
And one of the worst gimmicks for any show - particularly survival-competition shows and game shows - is the introduction of celebrity contestants.
The arrival of celebrities took all the fun out of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (search) and "The Weakest Link" a few seasons back. And when Z-listers like porn pig Ron Jeremy (search) are trotted out as the main attraction for reality shows such as "The Surreal Life," it's time to change the channel.
But once again, the king of all reality shows, "Survivor," (search) completely beats the odds with a celebrity edition that takes the already-successful "Survivor" format and ratchets it up a few notches.
In its debut last night following the Super Bowl (search) (it assumes its regular time period this Thursday night at 8), "Survivor All-Stars" arrived with its game face on and ready to play.
This is a show where the familiarity of the contestants turns out to be a real plus. Since we already know them, we get to dispense with the process of learning what makes each of them tick.
That enables the game to get under way right at the outset.
And we're not the only ones who know them. The participants, obviously, also know each other, either from having mingled in person or from having watched and studied all editions of "Survivor."
As a result, distrust was established instantly last night, and so were several alliances.
They're all so experienced that you cannot take any of them at their word - except, perhaps, for Richard Hatch (search), the winner of the first "Survivor" in the summer of 2000 and the man widely acknowledged by the 18 "Survivor All-Star" participants to be the most dangerous of them all.
Once again, Hatch's strategy goes against the grain of all the other participants. While they sneak around making secret alliances, he kicks back and blatantly avoids work and interpersonal involvement. And he talks openly about this strategy with his fellow tribe members (which probably means it's not his strategy after all).
You get the sense, again, that he's the shrewdest participant to ever play the game, and he's either going to be voted off early or last until the end.
This new show has participants divided into three tribes, stranded in Panama's Pearl Islands with nothing but one machete per tribe - the most meager "supplies" ever given to "Survivor" castaways.
Starving and thirsty, they competed for fire last night in the show's first immunity challenge.
And when the final vote was cast, it was a former "Survivor" champion, Tina Wesson (search) from "Survivor: The Australian Outback," who became the first all-star voted off the new show.
Thursday nights at 8 on CBS.