Hunched over a carved wooden coffee table in his office, studying drawings of a river relay race that "Survivor" contestants will soon endure, Mark Burnett sounds every bit the acclaimed television producer he is.
He nods approvingly, calling it "epic." But he worries that he's seen the race once before.
"We haven't done this one since Season 2," responds Jeff Probst, the host of "Survivor." Another colleague, John Kirhoffer, does the arithmetic in his head. "It's been 16 seasons," he says, sounding rather astonished.
Mr. Burnett can't resist ribbing him. "Did you have gray hairs then?" he asks. "No, but I had more hair then," Mr. Kirhoffer says.
"Survivor" introduced reality television to mainstream American audiences eight years ago on CBS, and for two viewing seasons a year it continues to draw a bigger audience than almost any other show. When it started, it was almost inconceivable that regular people could be prime-time TV stars. " 'Survivor' turned TV on its head," says Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS.
But the series -- once renowned for rejuvenating CBS and drawing young viewers to the network -- is showing its age. So, too, is the competition-based reality format that has dominated television for nearly a decade.