What do the shows Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, The Restaurant, Martha,
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and Expedition Impossible have in common?
They were all created and produced by Mark Burnett. In fact, they are just a
fraction of the reality shows that the 51-year-old mega mogul has created in his
Nominated for 69 Emmy Awards, the winner of several
prestigious media awards, inducted into the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame,
honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and named one of Time magazine’s
Most Influential People in the World Today, Burnett has single-handedly changed
the face of television.
Like the hero in most compelling success stories,
Burnett came from humble beginnings. He was born in London to parents who were
factory workers. At 17 he joined the British Army and became a section commander
in the Parachute Regiment and served in the war in the Falklands.
he left Britain and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in various capacities,
such as a nanny, a bodyguard, an insurance agent and a T-shirt
The turning-point in his career came in 1991 when he read a
newspaper article about a French adventure competition called the Raid
Gauloises. With four other team mates, Burnett took part in the contest,
calling their team American Pride. Inspired by the adventure, he saw a business
opportunity in the competition and bought the rights to the
format. Creating a similar race for the US, he developed the reality show
, and his television career was off and running.
soon went international after its initial challenge in the Utah desert in 1995.
In the two-week adventure race, each four-person team, comprised of a mix of men
and women, raced 24 hours a day over a rugged 500-km course, involving such
disciplines as trekking, whitewater canoeing, horseback and camelback riding,
kayaking, scuba diving, mountaineering and mountain biking. In its run
until 2002, the challenges took place in such locales as Australia, Morocco,
Argentina, Borneo, New Zealand and Fiji.
During the course of the Eco-
races, Burnett was intrigued by how the players interacted with each
other under stress. Recognizing that the communication within groups was a
stronger factor in an expedition’s success than technical or physical prowess,
Burnett took on his next adventure venture, the widely acclaimed show Survivor.
Here, a group of people are effectively dumped in the middle of nowhere and have
to work individually or in teams to overcome the challenges they are faced with.
The last man standing, so to speak, is proclaimed the winner of that grueling
survival of the fittest.
In Burnett’s latest adventure challenge,
, 13 three-person teams grapple with 10 stages of hurdles
in Morocco as they race across deserts, over mountains and through
As a producer, Burnett seems to have unlimited scope when it
comes to creating reality shows. Ranging from music and food to cowboys and
weddings, he devises ways to spark the competitive spirit in any just about
And competing within the industry itself, he is giving American
a run for its money with his show The Voice
, which seeks out the next great
And The Apprentice
, hosted by the indomitable Donald
Trump, has become so popular that since it originally premiered, it has been
produced in more than 21 countries.
But not all his shows have been
successes. He took at stab at a Martha Stewart, the Martha Stewart Apprentice
but it fell flat on its face. Which comes as no surprise. Creative though she
may be, the woman has no charisma or stage presence, so that idea was a
What has been very successful, though, is the quiz show Are
You Smarter Than a 5th Grader
? Here, well-educated adults are teamed up with a
group of fifth-grade students, who try to hep them answer elementary-level
questions in categories such as math, grammar, history and geography. Very few
contestants have ever won the grand prize and when they give in, they have to
admit to the camera, “I am not smarter than a 5th grader.”
Burnett’s upcoming projects is not a reality show but a scripted drama. Taking
on the Bible, no less, Burnett will produce a 10-hour series that recounts some
of the classic stories. Slated to air on the History Channel in 2013, in his
hands The Bible
may well take on epic proportions.