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Still Thriving

It's time again for the nation's favorite mindless couch-potato eye candy: "Survivor."

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"Welcome on the Marquesas Islands Home Page," it says at the top of the page. Two fierce Marquesas warriors bookend the headline. And I'm listening to Marquesas music as I type — a bouncy, American folk-music-like MP3 file I downloaded from Alptuna's site _ "Angelo-Ho'e ana'e tatou."



You can while away a chunk of time on the Marquesas Islands pages. There are gorgeous postcard pictures of the islands — there are 10 islands, but only six are populated — as well as a map that pinpoints Nuku Hiva, the big island, 930 miles northeast of Tahiti out there in the vast South Pacific. There is a page devoted to Marquesas warriors and war tools, the islands' turbulent history, and to a "lexique," where I learned that ikaikai means "to be disgusted." Alptuna points out that the Marquesan language is the antecedent to modern Polynesian languages. Tahitian and Hawaiian are dialects of ancient Marquesan. Hawaii's language is closer to Marquesan than Tahitian, though the Marquesas are 1,200 miles farther away from Hawaii than Tahiti is.



The Marquesas Islands were already populated before they were "discovered" by the Spanish in the late 16th century. Now, there are about 7,100 Marquesians, but their islands are known as among the most breathtakingly beautiful on the planet.



Today, there are a few more inhabitants, however — the contestants and crew from "Survivor Marquesas" (which Alptuna's site doesn't mention). The new series of programs was taped on Nuku Hiva island, the big one, yet still fetchingly remote since there's a lot of Nuku Hiva and not many Marquesians.



And it might be time to get back into the "Survivor" series, time once again for mindless couch-potato eye candy cum faux reality television, now that the country's pulse has slowed to something in the neighborhood of normal. "Survivor" does that genre well and doesn't appear to be losing the touch in the South Pacific.



The rules have toughened up — no food, no matches and no water were provided — so already this fourth "survival" outing is different. Tension is moving in as fast as the surf, and viewers are picking their favorite contestants, the ones they'll be pulling for and the ones they'll love to hate. In the two tribes, leaders are emerging and alliances are forming. And I'm mildly surprised that I care at all.



I'm not alone: 23 million of us are watching.



Maybe it's the contestants, who seem to be less radically stereotypical this time. Maybe it's the setting, which is splendidly idyllic. Maybe it's the national mood. Perhaps we're ready to be lulled once again by reality in quote marks. S







Airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBS TV. (There will be two Wednesday broadcasts, on March 13 and 20, due to NCAA coverage conflicts.)

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