May 27, 2009 04:16 PM by Ryan Haidet
Admit it. You’ve watched Survivor for 18 seasons now and have always wanted to experience the live finale as a member of the studio audience. You’re tired of watching it on the couch, aren’t you? I’ve been lucky enough, since writing for RealityTVMagazine, to be in the studio audience for the last six finales — including Survivor: Tocantins — the Brazilian Highlands, which recently wrapped. I’ve laid out my whole experience from the May 17 finale from start to finish so Survivor fans can get a better understanding of what all takes place.
Time was winding down. I was dozens of blocks away from my hotel with a friend and needed a shower after hours of walking around New York City before my arrival time at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Oh, and I still hadn’t eaten anything all day.
After a quick subway ride from near the Statue of Liberty back to Times Square, I stopped and chowed down two slices of pizza (the best I’ve honestly ever had in my life) and hauled back to the hotel.
Of course I made it there in time — 1697 Broadway — the same location where the Late Show With David Letterman is taped.
I approached one of two tables and received my credentials for the finale. I was given two silicon armbands — a white one for my seat in the audience and a red one for my spot as a member of the press on the red carpet.
After my name was checked off the list, I grabbed a spot in line and waited for my colors to be called so I could enter the theater.
All guests with white wristbands were taken inside where they met with an usher who helped them find their seat. I was in the center section of the lower level, two rows from the back.
At that point, dozens of people had already settled in and started taking pictures.
I walked up to the set and looked around at how incredible it looked. The Survivor art department truly deserves tons of kudos. They do such an amazing job at recreating Tribal Council that it really feels like it’s straight out of Brazil.
One thing I noticed immediately was the fact that there were only two torches on set, which gave away to all of us folks in the studio that there were only two contestants at the final Tribal instead of three.
Before walking back toward my seat, I plopped down on one of the steps in front of Tribal Council and had Erinn Lobdell‘s mother snap a picture of me. Yes, third-place finisher Erinn. Her mom is great! Very nice!
I walked around for a bit and chatted with some usual faces I have become familiar with over the last six finales.
I’m back in my seat when former NFL star Eddie George — Taj‘s husband — walked in. He was up in the front of the studio taking pictures with adoring fans.
With the show just 15 minutes away from starting, the emcee, Bill Sindelar, stepped on stage and asked everybody to take their seats. As everybody hobbled to their assigned spots, he came back out and told a few jokes and tossed out some Survivor merchandise — buffs, hats and shirts.
Everybody was ready for the show.
The lights dimmed as the 15 in-studio monitors lit up. The finale was officially underway. After the intro was over and the title sequence began, the audience erupted in cheers.
And the night had only just begun.
8:05 p.m. — 9 p.m.
Between this time, not much happens. The in-studio audience simply watches the show on the monitors. Occasionally the emcee will come on the microphone and tell some jokes or give some instruction to the audience, but other than that, nothing too exciting. The coolest part is watching it with several hundred other fans who are laughing and cheering right along with you.
With less than an hour before the show goes live, the crew starts running some tests. They test the studio lighting and adjust cameras to make sure everything is set to go.
Everybody is instructed to take their last bathroom break because once the show returns, nobody can leave their seat. Excitement really starts building as the crowd waits for host Jeff Probst to enter the studio.
Around 9:45 p.m.
Stephen, JT and the jury come out from backstage and take their places on the set.
As Tribal Council winds down and the final commercial break airs, the emcee hit the stage with some instructions for everybody. He told the audience to stay seated when Probst enters the studio. We were allowed to stand up once he hit the stage. That way we weren’t interfering with any camera shots.
With the ballots sealed in Brazil, the transition started to take place. The live band starting playing as the crowd cheered on. Moments later, Probst opened the rear door and came walking down through the audience to big applause and excitement. Everybody rose to their feet once he hit the stage.
GEEKY MOMENT FOR ME: If you look closely enough when Probst walks in the studio or goes to the audience during the reunion show, you can see me in my bright orange shirt moving around excitedly in my seat! Going to these things never gets old!
Just a few minutes later, JT was crowned the winner and the show quickly went to commercial. Throughout the entire commercial break, the crowd was pumped up and JT was extremely emotional, fighting to keep his face clear of tears.
Probst popped backstage for a quick wardrobe change.
When the show came back from commercial, JT was still crying and Probst was in fresh clothes.
10:15 pm. — 11 p.m.
Commercial breaks throughout the entire live reunion show involve the emcee getting the crowd fired up. It seriously is like a giant party. The emcee would tell jokes, toss out prizes and get people in the audience to sing. This guy, who has emceed every live reunion show since season five (Thailand), also got the contestants’ families involved. He got every father of a Tocantins contestant to go down to the front of the studio for a dance off. Absolutely hysterical. As the Survivors looked down from the stage, they laughed and clapped as their dads got down and dirty!
For fans who didn’t notice, there were quite a few former contestants in the audience, too. Probst recognized each of them during a commercial break. Cirie Fields, James Clement and Todd Herzog were all present.
The crowd quickly leaves the theater and the media gathers on the red carpet.
The stage crew also starts removing the Tribal Council set immediately.
From there I conducted interviews (previously published here at RTVMag) with the final four before heading back toward the hotel for a much-needed night’s rest.
Until next time!
Enjoy Survivor: Samoa — the epic 19th season, which slams the airwaves this Fall.
Read an exclusive interview with the winner ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â¬” JT.
Read an exclusive interview with second-place finisher ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â¬” Stephen.
Read an exclusive interview with third-place finisher ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â¬” Erinn.
Read an exclusive interview with fourth-place finisher — Taj.
For more great Survivor: Tocantins news, please feel free to check out SirLinksALot: Survivor Tocantins. Discuss on our reality TV message boards. You can also read more about each of this season’s contestants by checking out our Survivor bios page.
Images by Ryan Haidet.