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WHEN IT COMES TO 'REALITY' SLEAZE, ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES

Her name is Kimmi Kappenberg. She is, according the Web site for "Survivor II: The Australian Outback," a 28-year-old Long Island bartender whose perfect day would include "a trip to the beach, horseback riding, eating many times (a vegetarian, she will not eat land-dwelling animals, only seafood), having sex and watching the sunset."

On last Sunday's much-awaited debut of the new "Survivor," she raucously complained to one and all that sleeping in such close proximity to other members of the Kucha tribe would leave her no place to indulge her nightly inclination toward auto-eroticism. (Needless to say, she put it more bluntly.) I don't know about you, but I don't believe I've ever heard that precise problem voiced so plaintively in network primetime -- not even on Fox.

If Kimmi Kappenberg isn't a male fantasy and a cover girl for our sleazy, gabby, no-secrets society, no one is.

The new "Survivor"? It's fine, just fine. Now that we're two episodes into the new round of the national phenomenon, some of us know for certain that this thing is the historic TV we thought it was from the opening paddle splash. Put it this way -- it's the Lamborghini of "reality TV." And everything else is a Hyundai -- or worse. Accept no substitutes.

I'm truly sorry that some people didn't get it the first time. They won't get it this time either no doubt. But there's junk genius at work here. Where else can we see -- exposed so nakedly -- kindness and cooperation as nothing but a strategy for dominance? And into this jolly, game-playing allegory of modern business life, we have some of the most vivid people in America dropped in and sketched with just a few sure narrative strokes.

Take Rodger, Kimmi's 53-year-old tribe-mate from Kentucky. He brought a Bible with him to the Australian Outback. The camera showed us his family's inscription of encouragement on the flyleaf and the trail of nuggets of familial affection written on a series of the Bible's pages.

You couldn't make up a detail like that. No screenwriter would have the nerve. And no other "reality TV" pretender, thus far, would have the brains to put a guy like that on TV.

Never mind the fact that the show's Web site describes him as a teacher, farmer and "real estate investor," not to mention a former "chief officer of a bank" and "owner of a lumber company."

Why on earth is this guy running around the Outback playing tag with snakes and kangaroos and summer camp games with a bunch of narcissistic singles-bar hardbodies? Why does he want $1 million so badly? But this is "Survivor" we're talking about here.

The first outback castaway was Debb Eaton, a 45-year-old female guard in a male prison who treated her fellow tribe mates as if they ought to be in lockdown and had trouble understanding why she was given the boot in an unprecedented 7-1 vote. To her eternal credit, she explained to David Letterman on Monday evening that she just didn't fit into the "MTV beach house mentality" of everyone else. (Like a Bible-bearing Kentucky farmer/teacher? Ah well. Just asking.)

For the duration of the February sweeps, "Survivor II: The Australian Outback" will be doing Thursday battle with "Friends," a sitcom stocked top to bottom with Kimmi Kappenbergs but with nary a Rodger in sight. They've tacked 10 extra minutes to "Friends" to help the battle but even with those extra minutes, "Friends" will never be in the heavyweight division the way "Survivor" is.

You've got to love all these February ratings battles. We are, for instance, just one day into NBC's XFL season, wherein we'll be able to watch all the loud, gaudy obnoxious things Vince McMahon can do to make football even more obnoxious and anti-social than the Baltimore Ravens already are.

And locally we have the 10 p.m. news wars: Channel 4's and Channel 23's Lisa Flynn vs. Channel 2's and Channel 51's Victoria Hong -- for the flyweight anchor championship of Buffalo. (Both, in case you don't know, are physically rather tiny.)

It's no contest, as I see it. Not only does Flynn have 20 more minutes of broadcast time than Hong, she was, on her opening Monday, brisk and efficient -- maybe not letter-perfect but a more fluent news reader than Victoria Hong will ever be. (For all her openness and charm, Hong can't seem to read off a prompter or script for frijoles.)

Flynn, on Monday, was obviously keyed up but continually aglow with opportunity and professional attainment. She is an extremely attractive anchor presence. On top of her obvious prettiness, she has a personality that is sunny without being dopey and a happiness that doesn't have a trace of airheaded bubble. In addition, no matter how hard you look, you can't see, just one level down, that unpleasant gossipy, querulous and nasty streak that has clearly stalled some other anchor careers. What you can see instead is something that looks like real soul. Add to that the "local girl makes good" factor and I think she might be a Carol Jasen in the making.

Lisa Flynn is the real deal, anchor-wise, and my bet is that her new 10 p.m. anchordom is just the beginning of big things.

Frankly, I'm not much-interested in local 10 p.m. news. But if I were, Lisa Flynn is where I'd go. Meanwhile, it must be admitted generally that Channel 2, in its current Gannett era, is putting on the best news show it has put on since -- yes -- Ron Hunter came to town four decades ago.

It is going to be a very interesting February.

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