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And then there were five ...

'Survivor' winds down, hype ramps up

Jeff Probst
"Survivor" host Jeff Probst says this series' contestants had a more difficult time than the ones on the original show  

In this story:

'Rain, and heat, and rain, and heat'

'Hard to be hard'

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(CNN) -- For "Survivor" fans, the signs are everywhere.

The number of contestants left on "Survivor: The Australian Outback" is down to five. The number of weeks for the show is down to three. And CBS, Nielsen love 'em, has programmed a two-hour finale -- followed by a live reunion of the whole Australian gang -- for Thursday, May 3.

Yes, the end of "Survivor II" is near.

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Until then, "Survivor" fans are hanging on every nugget of information, every grain of rice to determine who the winner of the $1 million prize will be. As always, however, secrecy is the watchword.

Host Jeff Probst isn't saying who the winner is, of course -- in fact, he claims he doesn't even know. The winner will be determined on that live broadcast, he says.

"I think it will be a spectacular ending," he told CNN's Laurin Sydney Tuesday on CNN Showbiz Today Reports, which he visited to promote pet adoption as well as talk about "Survivor."

'Rain, and heat, and rain, and heat'

For the contestants, who braved searing heat and torrential rains during their 42-day stay in the Outback, it had better be.

Last week's episode may have chronicled the nadir: After a flash flood washed away the tribe's encampment, the contestants had to brave dangerous rapids to save their store of rice -- and then found they didn't have any fire with which to cook their food.

As contestant Keith Famie claimed, "That was the most miserable night of my entire life."

Probst sees "Survivor" contestants through the highs and lows of the competition  

And that was after an episode where one competitor, Michael Skupin, fell into a campfire and had to be given medical treatment.

Probst, himself now safely back in the United States and cleverly goosing CBS' hype machine, said that he thought this "Survivor" series was much harder than the original. The first "Survivor," he observed, took place on a small, two-by-five-mile island -- Pulau Tiga, near Borneo in the South China Sea. He characterized the setting for "Survivor II" as "acres and acres of land" where contestants had to deal with "rain, and heat, and rain, and heat.

"You can tell they're having a very hard time," he said.

'Hard to be hard'

But, he added, the entrants knew what they were getting. "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett didn't promise an all-expenses-paid vacation at the Ritz.

"They sign up for ... the adventure of a lifetime," said Probst. "And that includes the highest highs and the lowest lows."

Probst also defended his own behavior, claiming that remaining distant from the contestants, even in the midst of their ordeals, isn't easy. "It's hard to be hard," Probst said.

And, no, he's not dating any of the contestants, contrary to rumor.

Now, all that remains of the initial 16 are the final five: crusty Rodger Bingham, athletic Colby Donaldson, adventurous Keith Famie, impulsive Elisabeth Filarski, and serene Tina Wesson. The shifting loyalties of tribal councils have winnowed away people and patience, and the final home stretch may prove the breaking point for those who are left.

For CBS and Probst, it's been good -- and successful -- television. The ratings have made "Survivor II" the top show of the season, and people are already signing up on CBS' Web site to be a part of "Survivor III."

Where will that be held? "Someplace warm," is all Probst will say.

Well, secrecy is the watchword.



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