"You're in a foreign country. Remember that," host Jeff Probst says in his most serious voice on the debut of the ninth edition of "Survivor" (7 p.m., WBBM-Ch. 2), this one set on the Pacific island of Vanuatu.
In a geographical sense, that is true for the 18 contestants, but for the TV audience, "Survivor" is as familiar and as snuggly as a favorite sweater. The show, which in four years has gone from renegade newcomer to the granddaddy of the unscripted genre, has become such a staple of the television calendar that one expects a "Survivor/CSI" spinoff to pop up any day.
Though some contestants on Vanuatu might seem interchangeable at first, followers of the show know it takes a few weeks for the real drama to begin. Last season's hero/villain, "Boston Rob" Mariano,didn't emerge as the backstabber you loved to hate until the "Survivor: All-Stars" edition of the show was well under way.
Trouble is, with that tip-top edition of "Survivor" so fresh in the minds of the TV audience, the Vanuatu crew will have to be pretty great if they want to be even remotely as memorable as Mariano, "Am-buh" Brkich and fan favorite Rupert Boneham.
But creator Mark Burnett has proved adept at mixing up the show a bit each time out, and this edition is no exception. On Vanuatu, contestants are divided into male and female teams (shades of "The Apprentice"?), and, unlike other editions of the show, this crew will get no food, not even the usual bag of rice.
Perhaps that last fact, in time, will provide delectable fodder for reality fans.