Survivor's Fiery Finale

Survivor, summertime's hottest show, is going out in a blaze of glory, high ratings — and one last wild rumor.

CBS is denying a report that its final four survivors — scheming Rich, gruff Rudy, passive-aggressive Kelly, and tough-talking Sue — have made a pact to split the $1 million cash.

A rumor had the four contestants, whose alliance has held throughout the 13-week show, making an agreement to split the cash four ways, thereby making tonight's two-hour grand finale somewhat anticlimactic.

A CBS spokesperson referred us to the show's official Web site, where the rules clearly state that any kind of money-sharing agreement between the contestants is in violation of those rules.

Making the Final Cut Tonight's showdown requires the final four to participate in two immunity challenges, one in which they must answer questions about their rivals, and one in which they must (ouch!) walk on hot coals. After two of the four have been eliminated from the competition, the fate of the last two contestants is decided by the jury of seven booted survivors who've been watching and waiting these last few climactic weeks.

The winner gets the $1 million and the runner-up gets $100,000. The also-rans receive $2,500 or more (according to USA Today), depending on how long they survived on the island. To avoid reports of conspicuous shopping sprees, none of the contestants have yet received their money prizes, although the actual surviving wrapped prior to the show's May 31 debut.

Of course, the 16 contestants (except maybe Sonja) have been offered their chances to cash in on their 15 minutes of fame, from offers of a nude layout in Playboy to Jenna (which she declined) to doctor Sean's upcoming appearance on the soap opera Guiding Light.

CBS Is the Real Survivor Regardless of who ends up claiming the $1 million cash prize on the final episode of Survivor, one clear winner has already emerged: CBS, which is expected to post near-record ratings for tonight's two-hour finale.

Analysts expect that tonight's episode will finish only behind the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards.

The perpetually stodgy network is riding high from its surprise summer hit, which has made its demo younger (and sexier to advertisers).

"I've never seen anything like this," CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves tells Variety of the Survivor hype.

The cable era means that the island-bound game show can't hope to achieve the record numbers possible when the "Who Shot J.R." mystery was revealed Nov. 21, 1980, on Dallas. Still, with predictions of 30 million to 40 million viewers, CBS is commanding as much as $600,000 for 30-second spots on the can't-miss finale.

Already, the eye network has seen gains with the usually-trailing morning and late-night shows (Bryant Gumbel's The Early Show and Late Night With David Letterman), thanks to appearances by the ousted Survivor contestants.

And perhaps more importantly, CBS already has the nation's rapt attention for its upcoming fall slate. The network has cannily used its Survivor airtime to promote a revamped version of The Fugitive (spinning the Tim Daly starrer as an urban survivor story) and C.S.I., a forensics show in which star William Petersen snacks on crickets. Yum.

Survivor II Just Five Months Away And if those shows don't whet audiences' appetites, they can tune in to Survivor reruns, which will air opposite the Summer Olympics (to be held in Australia). All 13 episodes of Survivor will air every night except Sunday, beginning Sept. 15.

Even the Olympics, which will air on NBC, may serve to tease the next edition of the phenomenal reality game show, which will strand a new batch of contestants in the Australian Outback. Survivor II will kick off Jan. 28, right after the Super Bowl — a traditional launching spot for new shows that need a leg up. Maybe the evening should be scheduled the other way around …

Most-Watched Shows of the 1999-2000 Season

1. Super Bowl (ABC); Jan. 30, 2000; 88.5 million viewers 2. Academy Awards (ABC); March 26, 2000; 46.3 million viewers 3. ER (NBC); Feb. 17, 2000; 39.4 million viewers

Most-Watched TV Episodes of All Time

1. M*A*S*H (CBS); Feb 28, 1983; 60.3 million viewers 2. Dallas (CBS); Nov. 21, 1980; 53.3 million viewers

Reuters contributed to this story.