Editor's note: Last paragraph may be hazardous to your surprise.
They're talking about it at water coolers, debating it on bulletin boards. They're searching for the answer everywhere - hacking Web sites, scouring computer code, analyzing television footage. Everyone wants to be the first to know who will emerge victorious at the end of the summer.
No, we're not talking about the bid for vice president. We're talking about "Survivor," the CBS reality program.
There hasn't been this much popular attention to a TV cliffhanger since the nation wondered who shot J.R. on "Dallas" in 1980 or who killed Laura Palmer on "Twin Peaks" in 1990. There is, of course, nothing new about conspiracy theories and pop culture. But today, there is one difference to such rampant speculation: the Internet.
It means that conspiracy theories run deeper, spread more quickly, and involve more high-tech espionage. Over the weekend, a Canadian college student claimed to have discovered the winner of the show by cracking into files supposedly not available to the public on the CBS "Survivor" Web site. The student found image files of the 16 contestants; all of the photos were marked with a red X, except one. He immediately announced his shocking revelation on a popular fan site.
The announcement set off a wave of further speculation that the discovery was a red herring planted by CBS. Earlier this summer, one of the contestants already kicked off the show hinted that the winner was Gretchen Cody, a former Air Force survival instructor. Then last week, Cody was voted off the show.
Is the latest discovery another false clue? A brilliant marketing ploy? CBS isn't talking.
"CBS will neither confirm nor deny any report about the future results of 'Survivor,' " said Dana McClintock, vice president of communications.
Students at MIT weren't convinced, so they did some hacking and discovered other photographs of all 16 contestants on another section of the site; there, all 16 were shown with a red X. So go figure.
Caution!: Read no further if you don't want to know the name of the alleged winner, however dubious. It's Gervase Peterson, a youth basketball coach distinguishable as the only contestant who can't swim.