The Great Coral Caper!

Australia investigates "Survivor" for eco-crimes after a contestant pilfers pieces of the Great Barrier Reef.

By Bill Wyman
Published April 5, 2001 8:00PM (EDT)

Australian authorities are looking into an episode of coral pilferage from the sensitive ecology of the Great Barrier Reef. The alleged crook? Colby Donaldson, the hunky Texan from "Survivor" -- who pulled off the crime live on camera.

The second edition of the popular reality TV series is airing in the United States right now, with episodes appearing in Australia a week later. The coral caper edition was shown here March 29 and is scheduled for Australian TV Thursday.

In anticipation of that airing, the Australian Associated Press is reporting that the governmental body that oversees the reef is investigating whether the "Survivor" producers allowed the contestant to illegally take coral from the reef, a protected area.

The body, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, says there's also evidence that the show flew a helicopter over a protected bird rookery.

The story says the maximum fine for pocketing coral from the reef is $110,000.

In the episode, contestants Donaldson and Jerri Manthey win a physical contest. The prize is a day snorkeling on the 1,250-mile-long Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral formation in the world. The pair are flown there by helicopter. At the end of the trip Donaldson passes out bits of coral to the other contestants on the show -- an act that Manthey later tags as a game tactic.

On "Survivor," contestants ingratiate themselves with other players; those who fail to do that get voted off the show (as Manthey ultimately was that episode) and lose their chance at the $1 million grand prize.

Colby's place in the game may be precarious as well. On the "Survivor" rules page, there is this unambiguous statement:

"If you were one of the Survivors, you wouldn't want to do any of these things: ... Break the law. Even though they are stranded in the remote Australian Outback, the Survivors will still be held to U.S. law, as well as local law. Any breach of those laws is against the contest rules."

But it's unclear how that would affect the progress of the game, which transpired last December, when it was filmed and edited for later broadcast.

CBS did not return a call for comment.

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon and National Public Radio.

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