"The day's big announcement was left to Burnett, who said that in response to the ongoing clamor of fans, the show's eighth installment (presumably airing in early 2004) will be an all-star "Survivor" tournament of champions, bringing back many favorites." - Zap2it article, May 13th, 2003

Is everybody ready?

Talk about a long time in coming! As a veteran of Survivor message boards across the 'net, I think it was around Africa when people first started discussing what might happen if players from different seasons competed against one another. That's going back to 2001...and the discussion has simmered since then, a tantalizing game of "what if" that virtually every Survivor fan had their own thoughts on.

As more and more talk appeared on message boards, and it even started to come up in contestant interviews, it's clear that Burnett was listening (or at least his lackeys were). Around the time of Thailand, he even hinted that it might happen for Survivor 9. It seemed the idea was being seriously looked at for the future.

Then...the week after the Amazon finale...The Announcement. Richard, Sue, Rudy, Tina and Ethan were trotted on stage with Burnett to announce an All Star Survivor would air in 2004. Burnett knew when he wanted the series to start, and he got his wish...the coveted Super Bowl lead in.

From that day in the middle of May last year, what was previously idle speculation really began in earnest. Fans discussed, debated, traded rumors, and argued. True Dork Times and other sites posted speculation lists through the summer, with names being added and deleted as new rumors came to the fore.

There were a few sure bets. The five contestants Burnett brought out were probably a lock, as was Jerri, Rob Cesternino and Kathy from the Marquesas. But from there...guesswork and speculation abounded.

There were some debates about the location. A South Pacific location called Palau was seriously scouted last summer, but as production went on for Pearl Islands, it became clear that logistically they couldn't pull out of Panama and get set up in the South Pacific in time for ASS filming, which needed to start in time for Jeff to be back in L.A. for the Pearl Islands finale. So the South Pacific location was abandoned...it would be two straight editions from the Pearl Islands. No new exotic locale...that was different.

As summer faded into the fall, more rumors started to come out. From about week two of Rupertmania, he was fingered as a shoo-in for All Star. Never mind his popularity, he is probably the only Pearl Islands contestant crazy enough to turn around and do it again so soon after the wrap of filming! Rodger was reportedly "very, very eager" for another shot. Mike Skupin's name was bandied about, as was Paschal, Big Tom, Lex, Christy, both Jennas, Brian, Neleh, Gina...and on and on.

On Monday November 3rd, filming for All Star Survivor began, the contestants having left for Panama that previous weekend. The Thursday before they left the Outcast episode of Pearl Islands aired, so they ought to have all known about that wrinkle. Or more likely read about that twist long before on message boards...either way they knew it was a possibility.

Survivornews.net went with the Dan Rather credo of "We'd rather be last than wrong" and refrained from publishing a list right away. That gave Survivor Fever the scoop, as they posted their list of 20 players as of November 4th. Ken and Sandra were included, but turned out to be no-shows, or perhaps alternates. Yep, Survivornews had the right idea, and published their 100% accurate list on November 5th, but with a vital new piece of information - the tribal makeup's. For the first time fans could see this would be a three tribe affair, at least initially.

That day, I went to Survivornews, blew up the list on my screen, made some tea, sat back, and did some thinking. How would this go? Who will get along, who won't? How will voting work? When will the tribes combine, and how? Not too many casting surprises, but...Amber??!?!

In a sense, I really haven't stopped thinking from there. Talk about buildup!!! In the words of Rupert "It hadn't even STARTED yet!!!"

It took a few weeks after the end of filming before any spoilers started to come out. Now I won't go into them here - I'm not writing this to spoil - but I will make a few comments.

One spoiler that can be openly discussed is Rupert's obvious weight loss at the Pearl Islands reunion. They gathered just days after filming on All Star wrapped, and it seems a lock that Rupe lasts a good long while. Plus he made a point of saying "I KNEW I could beat Richard Hatch!" which implies he had a direct hand in doing so. He also made another comment backstage at the reunion that he probably shouldn't have - something about "charm" - and that's all I'll say.

The first true spoiler to emerge came from ColleenLover over at Sucks who reported that a coworker of hers spotted three Survivor alumni horseback riding in the South American location of Patagonia right around the end of ASS filming. This was a very credible spoiler, and eliminated three out of 18 players from contention.

The Ol' Faithful Weight Loss Spoilers started to emerge by the new year. While sometimes unreliable - Jeanne from the Amazon was said to have lost 20+ pounds, and she only made Day 15 - they are generally a good guideline to use.

Big hitters in the spoiler world put in their two cents through January. Chill One, Survivornews, and several new spoiler sites started posting info. Then there is Sleek28, someone who claims to be closely involved with the production, who named what he claims is the exact boot order, start to finish, and even described something of the plot of the show. It's heavy, heavy stuff, and could very well all be a hoax...right now, no one really knows!

In any case, on January 12th CBS released what was by then two month old news and "officially" announced the same cast and tribal makeup that Survivornews ascertained. The hype was officially ON!!!!!

There are a couple of things to consider, without spoiling a thing. I will go here purely on the footage released by CBS, and on any interviews with Probst...

- Any Survivor fan with half a brain should realize that former winners all have big-ASS targets on their backs. However it all turns out, they will all be fighting an uphill battle from Minute One of the game. "We're all idiots...we're going to get our asses handed to us!" as Jenna Morasca so aptly put it. If any of them even makes the jury, it should be seen as a tremendous accomplishment.

- According to many interviews with Probst, we are supposed to see the first bona fide romance on the show. My guess is between Amber and Rob Mariano. They just seem like the most likely couple. Also consider how Rob played the game in the Marquesas...he immediately started flirting with Sarah and essentially controlled her vote. He tried the same thing with Kathy. So really, why not do it again? He is seriously in it to win it...

- ...unlike other castaways, whose hearts just aren't in it, or probably don't stand a chance. Tina was apparently practically dragged onto the show. Colby is openly questioning why he signed up in interviews. And Rudy? He's always good for a soundbite but really, is he ready for this soap opera?

- It's going to be BRUTAL out there physically. One pot, a machete for each of them - that is IT. That's even less than what they got in the Marquesas, where at least they got a magnifying glass to start fire. But just how long can they leave them without fire???

- EVERY SINGLE BOOT is going to be tough on someone who is a fan of that particular contestant. There are fans sites out there for several players, rabid fans of each of them. It's going to be so heavy.

So now, tomorrow, game is on. We will actually see these people interact for real. It's going to be take-no-prisoners, down and dirty and emotional.

Every other Survivor show had strong bonds between contestants, but then these were still strangers, and each player was against every other player, affecting even the closest of pacts.

But since then, Survivors have crashed at each other's houses, met each other's spouses children and parents, gone out drinking, taken trips together, coordinated on charity projects, discussed relationships, commiserated in being locked down by their Survivor contracts...the whole gamut. Stuffed into the back of my mind is a quote from Jenna Lewis, on taking Kimmi out for lunch with Joel "We were welcoming her to the family."

And now...the very fabric of that family is about to be torn at. You want DRAMA??!?!?!? On the CBS website, Amber said "You're not going to win it unless you're out to possibly lose a couple of friends, hurt feelings, and backstab." The player most willing and able to do this is probably going to make it further than one who lets friendship cloud their decisions. That's a cutthroat statement to make...and most likely accurate.

Funniest Preseason Moment: All the panic over Johnny Fairplay being on the show. C'mon folks! The cast list had been out there for more than a month...a virtual eon with which to poke holes in it, and none were poked. But Jon made ya flinch - ha!

So...the first episode...

A very, very odd thing is happening in spoilerdom: there doesn't seem to be any kind of broad consensus of who will leave first. I cannot recall another series where this has occurred (aside from the first one that is). There's always a slipup somewhere...the Immunity Idol is spotted in someone's camp, preview shots are shown with people missing, and so on. This time though? There are a couple of good theories floating around, but nothing irrefutably concrete. I think Mark's editors are being really, really careful this time.

Still, I think I'll say...Tina??? Or about three other people? This is WEIRD...how can I not know the first boot?!??!

Oh by the way...Patriots 24-14.