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Image: "Survivor: Nicaragua" cast
Monty Brinton  /  CBS
"Survivor: Nicaragua" is offering perhaps the biggest changes to fall reality TV: a new night as well as a new twist.
TODAY contributor
updated 9/2/2010 8:30:52 PM ET 2010-09-03T00:30:52

In one year, fall reality TV — and the buzz about it — will be very different. That's because Fox will be introducing what could be the next "American Idol": Simon Cowell's new singing competition, "X Factor." The show is sure to make headlines because of the return of Cowell alone, never mind whoever he finds to judge alongside him.

This year, though, television doesn't have anything that big, and it's largely the same set of reality TV shows we're used to, though there are new faces and some surprises.

The fall's biggest change is "Survivor’s" move to Wednesdays (premieres Sept. 15 at 8 p.m.), where it aired in its first season before moving to Thursdays for its second through 20th seasons. It will face off on its new night against the eighth season of "Hell's Kitchen" (Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. on Fox) and the 15th cycle of "America's Next Top Model" (Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. on The CW). While Tyra Banks is offering the cover of Italian Vogue to the winning model, "Survivor" is hoping to lure fans with a couple of twists.

Story: Cast of 'Survivor: Nicaragua'

"Survivor: Nicaragua" will feature a battle of the ages: One tribe is comprised of contestants over the age of 40, while the other has challengers ages 30 and under. The most famous of the bunch is former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, and he and the other contestants will learn of a new rule in the playbook: The Medallion of Power. The medallion allows the tribe that possesses it an advantage in a challenge, but if the tribe uses it, the MOP then goes to the opposing tribe.

"The Apprentice" is also introducing a twist — albeit an old one. When Donald Trump's series returns (Thursday, Sept. 16, at 10 p.m. on NBC), it won't feature celebrities. That version will be back, probably in the spring, but for now we have regular folks competing to actually become Trump's apprentice. This season is recession-themed, with contestants all having been affected by the economic downturn somehow.

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Speaking of the recession, "Undercover Boss" — the show that debuted big after the Super Bowl — returns, this time to the fall lineup (Sunday, Sept. 26, at 9 p.m. on CBS). As in its first season, the series will show top executives working in their own companies while in disguises good enough to throw off suspicion. Companies featured will include NASCAR, DirecTV, Great Wolf Resorts and Chiquita.

The show had a feel-good vibe and themes that resonate during the recession, but it did get formulaic quickly last season, and will need to offer surprises to keep viewers interested. This time around, it wouldn't hurt if the bosses were a bit more generous sometimes, or perhaps agreed to spread the wealth among all the employees, not just the select few who have stories that make for good television.

Get real at the end of the week
Friday nights will become home to two series: First, there's the ABC resurrection of "The Secret Millionaire" (premiere date to be announced), which aired its first season on Fox in 2008. It features people with lots of money going undercover to hang out with people who aren’t wealthy. It's like "Undercover Boss," except there's no pre-existing connection between the millionaires and the people they help, although they do give out substantial portions of their own money — more than the bosses do.

The other offering is "School Pride" (Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. on NBC), which is pretty much "Extreme Makeover: School Edition." Although the show won't rip down entire schools and rebuild them in a week, it will try to change lives with makeovers. With the help of a team, teachers, students and parents will recruit the community and local businesses to renovate schools in desperate in need of aid.

Reliable reality
Don’t forget the standbys: "Dancing With the Stars" (Monday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. on ABC) returns for its 11th season of ballroom dancing antics, but this year’s cast is packed with even more train wrecks and has-beens than usual. "The Biggest Loser" (Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. on NBC) starts its 10th season of helping people lose weight, but this year also helps their communities get healthy. And "The Amazing Race" (Sunday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. on CBS) takes off on its 17th trip around the world.

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There are also some great offerings on cable, too. In the fall's perhaps most surprising new show, Tony Danza goes back to school as a teacher — a real teacher. "Teach" (Friday, Oct. 1 on A&E) follows the "Who's the Boss" star as he fulfills a lifelong dream and actually teaches high-school English for a year at a Philadelphia public school.

The often disturbing "Hoarders" returns with its depiction of mental illness (Monday, Sept. 6 at 9 p.m. on A&E), but offers hope and support to its subjects whose homes are unlivable because of their hoarding. "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" (coming to VH1 in October) will follow a new group of celebrities —  including Rachel Uchitel, Janice Dickinson as they battle their addictions, and sometimes each other. And "Celebrity Apprentice" winner "Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It," will debut on VH1 in October (date to be announced), taking us into the life of the reality star, rocker, father and now stroke survivor.

Clearly, it's a busy fall for entertainment derived from real life.

Andy Dehnart is a writer, TV critic and editor of reality blurred. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Timeline: Fall TV premiere schedule

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    Above: Timeline Fall TV premiere schedule
  2. Image: "Survivor: Nicaragua" cast
    Monty Brinton / CBS
    Gallery Cast of 'Survivor: Nicaragua'


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