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Survivor Finale Posts Second-Highest Ratings of the Season

Wednesday night's airing of the two-hour conclusion of Survivor on CBS drew an astounding average of 51 million viewers, making the telecast the second-highest-rated show of the season behind the Super Bowl.

The huge audience is especially noteworthy in that it came during the summer. For years, the big TV networks assumed that viewers were not interested in watching TV during the warm weather of summer, and fed them a steady diet of reruns.

But the success first of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on Walt Disney's (DIS) ABC last summer (which turned into a runaway hit and propelled that network into the top spot for the entire 1999-2000 season) and now Survivor has prompted all the networks to revisit their summer programming strategies.

Survivor, which is a knockoff of a similar show that first aired in Sweden, is built around a simple premise: Sixteen men and women of diverse ages and personalities were plopped on an island off Borneo in the South China Sea. At the end of each episode, the group voted to throw one person off the island until a single survivor -- in this case, corporate trainer Richard Hatch -- is left. Hatch walked away from the show with a grand prize of $1 million in tow.

Wednesday night's broadcast , which saw the corporate trainer voted the winner, cleaned up among the younger viewers most coveted by advertisers, in fact drawing 76% more adults aged 18-49 than any previous episode of the show, which began airing in June. Overall, the show, which aired from 8 to 10 p.m. EDT, was seen in some 28% of U.S. TV households, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research.

The show has seen its audience grow since the first episode aired, from about 15 million to nearly 30 million in recent weeks to Wednesday's more than 50 million.

CBS, a unit of Viacom (VIA), is already promoting the next Survivor, which will take place in Australia and debut following the Super Bowl in January. That show will be greeted with high expectations, and CBS is already reportedly basing the advertising rates it charges on the number of viewers that Wednesday's telecast drew.

Stacey Lynn Koerner, an analyst with media buying firm TN Media in New York, expects at least the initial broadcast of the next Survivor to do extraordinarily well, in part because it will follow the Super Bowl, which is annually the biggest draw on television. That, combined with the appeal that Survivor has already clearly demonstrated, should give the next installment a huge boost, Koerner said.

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