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A “Survivor” contestant’s testimony that executive producer Mark Burnett suggested voting a player off the island has raised questions about how real television’s most popular “reality” show is. Burnett denies the accusation. CBS released copies Friday of a deposition given by Dirk Been in the lawsuit filed by Stacey Stillman, a loser in the first “Survivor” game last summer who has charged that Burnett rigged her early exit from the island. Been testified that he did not feel coerced or manipulated into voting the way he did. But he said that Burnett, in a conversation on the ninth day of filming, suggested that he form an alliance to vote against Stillman and keep Rudy Boesch on the island. Been voted against Stillman and she was eliminated from the game in a 5-2 vote. “Instead of doing what I thought was right, I had voted Rudy — or voted against Stacey directly because of the influence of Mark Burnett. … And at that point it began to become clear to me that maybe what Mark was doing didn’t have the best intentions in mind,” Been testified. Been said Burnett “believed that certain people would make a better TV show than others, and he did what he could to have influence over those people staying on the island.” Burnett testified that “at no point during the production of ‘Survivor’ did I or any other producer, staff member or crew member ever direct any of the participants to vote for or against a particular participant, or attempt to manipulate, coerce, induce, intimidate or influence the participants’ voting.” When the show was on the air last summer, Been said, he talked by phone with Burnett, who denied that the conversation about voting off Stillman had ever taken place. “He denied it, that he never remembered ever saying anything like that, and that he woudn’t do anything like that. … And obviously I was a little distraught, simply because now here’s some — somebody that I care about and thought I was friends with telling me something I know that happened didn’t happen.” The testimony, released Friday because lawyers said a judge was about to unseal the documents, is the second blow in a month to “Survivor,” which has been a television sensation since its debut a year ago. Earlier this month, Burnett admitted to staging scenes with stand-ins to get better camera shots. “I think that it totally trashes the credibility of the game,” said Donald Yates, a lawyer for Stillman. “Mark Burnett has said he’s not participated in manipulating votes and I think this is clearly participating in manipulating votes.” Andy White, a lawyer for CBS and Burnett’s production company, said he believed Been’s testimony “supports the integrity of this show. That’s why we’re pushing to get this to trial.” White said Burnett “did not make a suggestion or try to influence anyone.” The producer did, however, discuss with all of the participants how they would vote in upcoming tribal councils. Been, a Wisconsin native, was the fifth contestant voted off the island. He was the player who brought his Bible along and said his opponents were intimidated by the strength his Christianity gave him. CBS also released testimony from another original “Survivor” contestant, Sean Kenniff, who said he told Stillman that Burnett had nothing to do with his vote against her. The original “Survivor” was a television phenomenon last summer, drawing an audience of 51 million people for its final episode in August. The show’s second edition was a hit this winter and spring, and was chiefly responsible for CBS winning the year’s prime-time ratings crown. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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