Mark Burnett is known as the producer who introduced competitive reality television to the United States, forever changing the television landscape.
Burnett, who served as a section commander of the prestigious Parachute Regiment in the British Army, is living the “American dream” after being raised in humble beginnings and spending his first 10 years in the United States toiling in a variety of jobs, such as T-shirt vendor on Venice Beach and Beverly Hills nanny.
Burnett’s foray into television was born from his love of the outdoors and his adventurous streak. While reading the Los Angeles Times, he learned of a French adventure-competition, the Raid Gauloises. Because a grueling team race of its kind did not exist in the United States, Burnett decided to create one and produce it for American television. That program was “Eco-Challenge” and nine cycles of it aired on basic cable from 1995 to 2002.
The success of “Eco-Challenge” only served to make Burnett more ambitious about developing another competition-based series. Intrigued by how the “Eco-Challenge” players interacted with one another under stress, Burnett bought the rights to the Swedish version of “Survivor,” and turned it into a social and physical experiment that pitted players against one another for a shot at $1 million.
For two years, no TV networks were interested in his pitch. But as soon as “Survivor” aired for the first time on CBS in May 2000, it became an instant juggernaut. Currently in its 20th cycle, the program that introduced “The tribe has spoken” into the lexicon is still going strong and has inspired many copycat TV series, including several Burnett series: “The Apprentice,” “The Restaurant,” “The Casino,” “The Contender” and “Rock Star.”
Often referred to as “the king of reality TV,” Burnett is married to actress Roma Downey and has two sons from a previous marriage.