Mark Burnett (Survivor) is pitching a reality show that would send the winner into space — just barely:
The winner would take off on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico — perhaps as soon as next year.
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic as part of his Virgin Group, has already said he plans to be on the first flight, with his family, on Dec. 25 this year. The Burnett show is then expected to pit contestants against each other for a chance at a seat on the second flight.
Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are among the more than 600 people who have already signed up for a Virgin Galactic flight, which cost $250,000 per seat. That price tag puts a commercial space flight out of reach for most people — which is part of the idea behind the Burnett show.
The Virgin Galactic space rides are expected to last around two hours and take passengers up 62 miles above Earth. They’ll experience weightlessness and witness the Earth’s curve. Virgin Galactic has said that the company’s first flights will only come after the passengers’ safety is secured. A start date for flights has been pushed back several times, now with a 2014 target.
This is actually his second — wait, third — go at such a show:
But it’s no secret that the tenacious producer has long hoped to mount a reality show about space, going back to 2000, when he first sold the show Destination Mir to NBC. At the time, the Peacock network agreed to pay Burnett between $35 million and $40 million for Destination Mir, which included the nearly $20 million that Burnett agreed to pay MirCorp — the company that held the lease to Mir.
Destination Mir was planned for the 2001-02 TV season, and would have followed a group of Americans as they underwent cosmonaut training at Russia’s Star City compound and competed, Survivor-style, for a chance to be sent in a rocket to the former Russian space station. The finale would culminate with the live broadcast of the winner’s launch in a Soyuz capsule to Mir.
It wasn’t meant to be, however. The aging space station was brought down in 2001. Burnett tried again a few years later with the renamed Destination: Space, partnering with the Russian Space Agency and a Russian TV network on a show that would have put someone aboard a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. But the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster turned U.S. networks off the idea.
At age seventeen, he enlisted in the British Army, and became a Section Commander in the Parachute Regiment. From 1978–82 he served with the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) and saw action during the Falklands War.
In October 1982, Burnett decided to immigrate to the United States, where he met up with a friend, Nick Hill, who had also emigrated from Britain a few years earlier and was working as a nanny and chauffeur. Hill knew of an open position for a live-in nanny position with the Jaeger family in Beverly Hills, the interview for which was that night. Although he had no experience in that field, Burnett took the opportunity, and because of his military background, the Jaegers, realizing the advantage of having a nanny and security at the same time, hired him. After a year of working for the Jaegers, he moved on to another family in Malibu, taking care of two boys for $250 a week.
He was eventually given a position in the insurance office owned by Burt, the father of the two boys.Two years later, he decided to rent a portion of a fence at Venice Beach and sell T-shirts for $18 each during weekends. Realizing he made more money selling t-shirts, Burnett left his insurance job.
In 1991, Burnett, along with four others, joined a French adventure competition called the Raid Gauloises. After competing, Burnett saw a business opportunity in holding similar competitions. He purchased the format rights and brought a similar competition, Eco-Challenge, to America. Eco-Challenge launched Burnett’s career as a television producer.
I can’t say I’ve followed his career since then.