The makers of hit U.S. reality television show "Survivor" want to use an island in southern Thailand for the next series, Thai officials said on Thursday, reviving memories of a bitter 1999 environmental dispute.
When the Hollywood blockbuster "The Beach" was filmed on a Thai island three years ago, environmental groups accused the producers of causing extensive damage and disrupting the region's ecological system.
Undeterred by the controversy, American broadcaster CBS has asked the Thai government if it can film the fifth "Survivor" game show in Thailand's Tarutao Islands National Park.
Somsak Thepsutin, cabinet minister in charge of tourism and film production, told Reuters the government was in the final stages of approving the request.
"It is 90 percent done at the moment since I personally want to approve the proposal, but we need other agencies to approve this, too," Somsak said. "We will reach a decision very soon, and they can come to start the filming as early as June."
A record 52 million U.S. viewers tuned in to see corporate consultant Richard Hatch go the distance on Pulau Tiga in Malaysian Borneo in the original "Survivor" in August 2000.
The sequel "Survivor: The Australian Outback" drew 36.4 million viewers in May 2001, capping a series of solid ratings that helped CBS to a first-place finish in total viewers and household ratings last season.
The third edition of the show was filmed in Africa's Shaba National Reserve in Kenya and its fourth edition, "Survivor: Marquesas" was filmed on the island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas archipelago of French Polynesia.
In each series, 16 contestants are marooned in a remote location in a game of elimination. The last remaining person wins $1 million.
CBS is a unit of Viacom Inc.
"Survivor" representatives had hoped to meet Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Wednesday, but the meeting was cancelled as Thaksin was unwell.
Somsak said as many as 200 people were expected to work on the production of the series in the Tarutao Islands.
The national park, located in the Andaman Sea some 800 miles south of Bangkok, comprises five major islands and covers a land-and-sea area of 1,490 square kilometers.
One of the five islands, Tarutao, was a prison for hundreds of political prisoners during the 1940s and is now a hatchery and nursery center for endangered sea turtles.
Thai authorities said they would bring in environmentalists and local residents to monitor the likely environmental impact caused by filming on the islands.
"We will ask environmentalists to help keep a close eye on them. This will not be another 'The Beach'," Sidhichai Jayant, director of Thailand's Film Board, told Reuters.
Environmentalists said the filming of 20th Century Fox's "The Beach" at Maya Bay on Phi Phi island, northwest of Tarutao, had caused soil erosion and subsidence after grass and weeds were uprooted for coconut tree plantation.
The studio denied the claim.
By Panarat Thepgumpanat