Well into the second season of "Survivor," the reality TV show taped months before its airing, nothing has been leaked about who will win the contest in the Australian Outback. Furthermore, the contestants who survived the first show filmed last year on a remote island are still mum about the particulars of that show's production.

What makes these and other reality shows so airtight from blabbermouths?

Killer contracts, which force contestants and technicians on the show to sign away virtually their entire public persona. Violating provisions of those killer contracts could be more painful than falling prey to a hungry croc they call for millions of dollars in fines.

The labyrinthian legal documents ensure that producers and networks maintain iron-fisted control over contestants, restricting both their public appearances and potential revenues.

"We were so trained not to say anything," said Joel Klug, a current Los Angeles resident who survived to round six before being voted off the infamous island in the first "Survivor."

As a look at the contract for the first season of CBS's hit "Survivor" reveals, contestants agreed not to derive any monetary value in connection with the "Survivor" series except "as authorized by producer and/or CBS" until three years after the initial broadcast of the last episode of the series.

In addition, "all contact with the media regarding the series must be authorized by the press officer of the producer or a duly appointed representative of the producer or CBS."

The "Survivor" confidentiality agreement puts the price of violating the contract at a minimum of $5 million. The agreement goes on to release to the producer, "in perpetuity and throughout the universe," exclusive rights to contestants' images and life stories in fact to all incidents and exploits either on or off the program and to depicting contestants "either accurately or with such liberties and modifications as producer determines necessary."

In effect, signers give up control of their entire public persona.

"The contracts are part of the consideration (for joining the show)," said Leigh Miller of Miller & Eisenman in New York, who has represented reality TV clients looking for ways around their contracts. "They're legally valid and binding. A clever lawyer could find a loophole, but the costs associated with the legal fees would be prohibitive."

Threatening participants drawn from a cross-section of America with seven-figure penalties seems absurd to some industry observers.

"A poor man is not very threatened by (losing) $5 million," said Pierce O'Donnell, a prominent Los Angeles entertainment attorney with O'Donnell & Shaeffer, LLP.


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