CBS Sues Texas Woman Who Didn't Watch "Survivor"
September 18, 2000
On the surface, Sonja Beckart, a native of Austin, Texas, looks like just about any other middle-aged American mother nowadays. She's an attractive athlete, she's got a well-adjusted teenage son, she works a high-paying executive job at a dotcom enterprise, she lives in a large house in a wealthy suburb, and she drives one of the two his-and-hers Beamers parked in the front driveway. At first glance, Sonja blends right into the American fabric.
But despite the fact that Sonja practices a textbook heterosexual marriage and only infrequently requires a prescription of Xanax, Sonja Beckart isn't at all your typical human being. At least not in the eyes of CBS, the network which created the mega-hit "Survivor."
Sonja Beckart's Office ID Photo
According to CBS internal documentation made public upon Beckart's arraignment last week, Sonja Ann Beckart is the only person in America who did not watch the final episode of Survivor, in which Richard Hatch (the gay chubby, gay corporate executive naked gay trainer) was awarded the valuable prize of a brand new Pontiac Aztectm, as well as a million dollars. As a result, CBS has brought a lawsuit seeking an undisclosed sum of $1.5 million in lost advertising returns from Beckart. Beckart has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and her lawyers said in a statement that she taped the episode in question and has been intending for weeks to watch it later.
As the legal evidence mounts and a grand jury is assmebled, close friends are working the tabloid circuit, describing the Sonja Beckart they know as a seemingly normal woman who had everyone else fooled. "I knew she wasn't all that she said she was," Charlotte Travas, a neighbor of the Beckart's, admitted candidly, "you could see in the way she closed her curtains at 7:00pm every night that she was hiding something."
"She hadn't been herself for the last three weeks," noted Marliss Rutherford, Beckart's sister-in-law and coworker. "Everybody else in the office thought she was fine, but I said, you gals mark my words, there is something wrong with that woman of late."
Many of Beckert's coworkers reported trying to engage in light speculative banter about "Survivor" with her on several occasions during the series' run, but Beckart excused herself from the conversation every time.
The reason for Beckart's aversion to talking about "Survivor", according to the legal challenge filed by CBS, was her failure to come in off her patio on Wednesday, August 23, at 7:00pm central time, to enjoy the gripping, commercial-packed conclusion to the CBS unscripted reality drama "Survivor." According to investigators, Sonja chose to enjoy the sunset and play a game of old-fashioned solitaire on her picnic table rather than experience "Survivor Fever" with the rest of civilized humanity.
CBS asserts in the 469-page legal filing that Beckart's missed viewing single-handedly cost the eye network $53.5 million in damages that must be repaid to advertisers who bought commercial time during the episode Beckart missed. The network is asking that 1.5 million of this figure be contributed by Beckart herself. "Thanks to Sonja Beckart," a spokeswoman for the network and its advertisers told the press, "there may still be someone alive who isn't familiar with the brands of Reebok, Target, and most of all Pontiac." She went on to explain that, "With this lawsuit, we are driving excitement."
Authorities who searched the Beckart home this weekend say that, despite Ms. Beckart's claims that she has the episode on videotape for a later viewing, no such tape has turned up, not even during the live televised strip-searches of Beckart and her family. Still, Beckart maintains her innocence, alleging that CBS has deliberately covered up evidence of the "Survivor" tape in order to make an example out of her.
CBS has responded to the allegation, noting that if Ms. Beckart's claim to own a bootleg copy of "Survivor" is true, she would then be admitting to theft of intellectual property under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.
The case was set in motion last Wednesday morning when an anonymous tipster alerted CBS Crimetime After Primetime that "my mom didn't watch the last episode of Survivor." The Crimetime department immediately examined the Nielson records from the night in question and found that, in fact, one person in America was not paying attention to the much-hyped finale. CBS Corporate was informed of the situation, and shortly thereafter the network assembled its own legal team and a board of advertising representatives. The meeting lasted for 6 hours, during which all parties involved agreed on a course of action: The advertisers would receive refunds totaling $53.5 million; 52 million of which would come from CBS itself, and a reasonable $1.5 million would be expected from Sonja.
The Beckart family claimed in a counter-filing that they don't have accumulated assets worth anywhere close to $1.5 million. CBS, however, has statistics that indicate otherwise. In a joint 1996 study funded by CBS and its key advertisers, it was found that an average American woman with one child and a suburban middle-class lifestyle spends about $563 billion per year on consumables. Since Beckart missed advertising spots during the most important "Survivor" episode, the advertisers feel they lost at least $60 million of her spending this year alone. By asking for only $53.5 million total, they are hoping to be seen by the jury as generous and understanding.
Beckart's lawyers have called the study's findings "an error in calculating on astronomical scale," but CBS is standing firm by its numbers.
"We don't think asking a mere $1.5 million from Ms. Beckart is unreasonable," CBS attorneys said at a press conference Sunday. "We all have socks that are worth more than that."
"Ms. Beckart not watching Survivor is not just a crime against CBS and its advertisers, it's a crime against the humanity," CBS president Leslie Moonves wrote in an open letter to the New York Times, in which he explains his network's motives for suing a viewer. "She opted-out of witnessing the single-most historic televised moment since the Apollo moon landing-the catfight between Kelly and Sue at the final tribal council. There has to be some consequences for that. American consumers demand it." He closed the letter saying, "CBS thanks the anonymous tipster who alerted us to this situation. He will be duly rewarded for his efforts."
When approached for comment regarding the identity of the mystery tipster, Beckart's 14-year-old son Alex said, "I hope they catch the guy or girl who snitched on my mom for not letting me get a Dreamcast."
Sonja Beckart declined to comment to divisiontwo, but investigators working on the case say that for everything Beckart isn't saying, her garbage is speaking volumes. Network authorities reported finding a used condom in the garbage bin behind the Beckart house, indicating that members of the Beckart family may have been having sexual intercourse instead of watching the television event of the century. Additionally, a mysterious, slightly charred bra was also recovered from Beckart's trash, leading many to speculate that it may have been used in some sort of pagan ceremony. Rumors are also circulating that a bottle of ear wax dissolver was recovered late yesterday, giving further weight to the claim that Ms. Beckart may be some kind of rare pervert.
No matter what happens, CBS is still looking on the bright side of the situation. It just announced plans to capitalize on the publicity by turning the upcoming Beckert trial into a new reality show, where home viewers will deliver the final verdict. Tentatively entitled "Accused", the series should begin airing on CBS as soon as the trial gets underway.
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