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Pirate’s life on ‘Survivor’

Themed preem to be expanded to 90 minutes

It’s a pirate’s life for the seventh season of “Survivor.”

With Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” still drawing big crowds at the box office, Mark Burnett’s reality smash “Survivor” will return next month with a distinct pirate feel — and at least two major twists designed to keep auds interested in a franchise heading into its fourth year.

It’s a key year for “Survivor” since the skein will spend the fall doing battle with the first episodes of the final season of NBC’s “Friends.” Ratings have remained solid for the skein so far, with the latest edition averaging nearly 20 million viewers.

Expanded preem

CBS will also announce today that the skein’s Thursday, Sept. 18, premiere will be expanded to 90 minutes, duplicating a strategy first used in January.

Pirate theme — which includes a tribal council set featuring a re-creation of a giant Spanish fort, complete with cannons — predates the success of this summer’s blockbuster, since “Survivor” tapes months ahead of time.

Contestants on the coed teams –including a mortician, a counselor of troubled teens and a massage therapist — will use pirate-style rowboats to travel between their individual islands and various competitions. Other pirate themes are likely to emerge throughout the season, which was filmed in the Pearl Islands near the coast of Panama.

Skein will also up the cruelty factor a bit by marooning contestants in their street clothes, rather than allowing them to change into survival gear beforehand. Changes of clothing, luxury items and bathing suits have all been banned.

Well-dressed contestants

“If you really were marooned, you wouldn’t have time to choose your clothing,” Burnett said. “There’s one person who has to jump into the water wearing an Armani suit, a woman wearing a dress with high heels and no underwear. It’s very humorous in that way.”

Indeed, humor is a bigger-than-usual aspect of this season’s “Survivor.”

“With some of these characters, you can see they’re funny right off the bat,” said CBS reality guru Ghen Maynard. “When you look at the raw material before it’s been edited, and you find yourself laughing, you know you have something.”

Maynard said expanding the seventh season premiere of “Survivor” to 90 minutes allows Burnett to pack in more character detail and give viewers a better feel for the new cast.

In addition to the marooning, Burnett said there’s another unexpected turn that will shake up the game — and hopefully keep viewers from switching to their “Friends” on NBC.

‘Jaws will drop’

“There is the twist of all twists in this year’s ‘Survivor,’ ” he said. “I tell you, jaws will drop.”

While twists are now mandatory for reality shows, Maynard said it’s essential “Survivor” not duplicate the twist-a-minute mandate of other shows.

“You have to keep it fresh, but you have to stay true to the original nature of the show,” he said.

Contestants on the skein’s “Morgan Tribe” include Tijuana Bradley from St. Louis; Nicole Delma of Hermosa Beach; Darrah Johnson of Mississippi; Lillian Morris of Ohio; Ryan Opray of Los Gatos; Andrew Savage of Chi; Ryan Shoulders of Clarksville, Tenn.; and Osten Taylor of Boston.

On the “Drake Tribe”: Rupert Boneham of Indiana; Shawn Cohen of Gotham; Jon Dalton of Danville, Va.; Sandra Diaz-Twine of Ft. Lewis, Wash.; Trish Dunne of Maryland; L.A.’s Christa Hastie; Burton Roberts of San Francisco; and Michelle Tesauro of New Jersey.

This year’s crop is particularly youthful, with 10 twentysomethings and three thirtysomethings. Two players are in their early 40s, while the oldest player is 51.