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Byline: JANE RIDLEY From Pulau Tiga, Borneo

I'D beheaded a live eel with a machete and rafted in shark-infested waters. So chewing writhing beetle larvae on an improvised fig-leaf plate shouldn't prove too daunting.

I was ravenous, but my stomach churned as I faced this latest challenge.

I was spending 24 hours on a remote tropical island off Borneo, in the South China Seas, to find out what the contestants on ITV's gruelling new game show Survivor have let themselves in for.

It's the toughest extreme-reality show yet. Sixteen contestants - battling it out for pounds 1million - must fend for themselves for 40 days on Pulau Tiga, an island teeming with deadly snakes, giant lizards, rats and nasty insects.

They are divided into two "tribes" and set a series of tough tasks, including eating giant worms just like the one squirming in front of my sunburnt nose. It looked like a miniature Jabba the Hut and wobbled its glutinous body in a hideous, pulsating rhythm.

"It's nutritious and packed with protein," said Terence Lim, my trusty Man Friday and one of the experts co-ordinating the show.

Closing my eyes, I chomped down hard. It felt like biting into a frankfurter with skin made from industrial-strength rubber.

Yuk! I spat out the larva and gulped a bottle of water to get rid of the foul aftertaste.

In that moment, my fate was sealed. I had lost my battle to be a true survivor after less than a day of hardship. Compared to the TV Tarzans, I was just a wimp of a Jane.

All I knew was that whoever wins will deserve every penny of that million after risking starvation, heat-stroke, malaria and mental breakdown. Starting on Monday, viewers will see the 16 fire-walking, swimming underwater with venomous snakes and tackling an assault course in 90-degree heat. If they fail a task or let their tribe down, they can be voted off the island by their peers and sent home empty-handed.

Over the weeks, they will be whittled down to 10, five, and then just two before the victor is announced by presenter Mark Austin.

Much more than in Big Brother, scheming and underhand behaviour are encouraged. The show's sinister mottoes are "Trust no one" and "You don't win, you survive", so Nick Bateman would be in his element.

The survivors are expected to sabotage one another's ambitions by forming alliances, voting strategically and using guerrilla tactics. If last year's hit US show is anything to go by - 52 million watched the last episode - the British version will have echoes of William Golding's chilling book, Lord Of The Flies.

Despite its spectacular beauty and fine white beaches, it's easy to see why Pulau Tiga was chosen as the setting for Survivor. A doctor is on permanent stand-by and producer "Nasty" Nigel Lythgoe, of Popstars notoriety, took out extensive insurance in case of emergency.

BEFORE I waded ashore, Terence told me about the nasty sea urchins, stone fish, conches and stingrays - and the yellow-banded sea krait snake, which could kill me within two minutes.

"Don't worry about sharks, though," he said, reassuringly. "They're white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, so they're not man-eating."

As I smiled in relief, he added: "But, if you upset them, they have been known to attack." Once on land, I nipped off for a wild wee - and was immediately bitten by an outsize mosquito, causing a vicious allergic reaction. So much for wall-to-wall insect repellant.

Terence discreetly examined the unsightly weal on my bum and muttered something about the swelling going down in time.

Thunder growled in the distance and my clothes were drenched with sweat in the 85 per cent humidity as we trekked past giant fig and banyan trees, soaring vines, creepers and grasses. I kept stumbling over mangrove roots and branches on the forest floor.

"Is everything on this island out to get me?" I snapped. Every leaf had razor-sharp spikes, each stem was studded with poisonous thorns.

But just when I was thinking this was the most inhospitable place on Earth, we stumbled on the mud volcanoes - pools of thick grey ooze which bubble away merrily with escaping methane gas.

I belly-flopped into the crater. It was a weird sensation as my entire body hung, suspended in mid-mud, buoyed up by the gloopy grey clay. No, I hadn't been on the jungle juice - alcohol is banned - but, trekking back to camp, I came over all primeval.

The mud was drying like a tight grey overcoat and I imagined myself carrying a spear like an Amazon huntress, swinging from 30ft vines.

"I am WARRIOR!" I chanted, mantra-like, before tripping over yet another mangrove root.

TERENCE caught an evil-looking eel in our net and I beheaded it with a swift blow of his knife.

A few bony barbecued slices were all I could swallow during my stay apart from a few slices of coconut and a couple of tablespoons of rice.

TV's survivors are allowed one meal of rice a day, plus whatever they can catch. But I drew the line at eating the bright green marsh frog we'd heard singing near a stagnant pool.

No matter how many times Terence talked about the natural order of things, I couldn't justify eating anything with such a cute face. By now, it was getting dark - time to bed down. At least I wouldn't feel so hungry while I was asleep, I thought.

Earlier, while I snoozed on the raft, Terence had lit a fire, using the rays of the sun through the lenses of my specs. I'd tried the same technique for 30 minutes, but failed miserably.

I slept fitfully, curled up in front of the embers. The temperature dropped dramatically and rain fell in short, sharp bursts, soaking into my clothing and making me shiver with cold.

I woke around 6am, exhausted, grimy, bad-tempered and with a pathological urge to clean my teeth a dozen times. But my mood didn't last as the tropical sun danced on the water during my final stroll along paradise beach.

Besides, as I scanned the horizon, I could just about make out a boat in the distance. My heart leapt. Someone was coming to take me home.

Survivor starts on Monday at 9pm on ITV. A special show to introduce the 16 contestants will be shown at 7pm that night.


GLAD TO BE GREY: I take time out (inset), then wallow in mud in a crater - and it brings out the Amazon in me (right); LOGGING OFF: No luck fishing, and worms a(right) taste dire, so I just curl up and shiver; HUNTRESS: Fishing in coral-fringed waters - but dangers lurk; Pictures: MARK BOURDILLION
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 18, 2001
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