WASHINGTON - The campaign trail is pretty much full of two things - snakes and rats. Oh, and TV cult personalities.
In a moment of Surreality TV, Susan from "Survivor" joined Regis Philbin yesterday morning to interview Republican candidate George W. Bush about why he should win a million dollars. Sorry. Become president.
No, Bush didn't have to eat a grub so he wouldn't be voted off the island (he merely had to convince Susan he'd give her a tax cut). And Regis did not even once ask the presidential hopeful if he needed a lifeline (Bush sounded pretty certain about all those platform questions and kept on playing).
So goes campaign 2000: Political event meets game show meets coffee-talk TV. Here's what happened: Bush, continuing the candidates' circuit of relaxed interviews meant to showcase their softer side, took a turn on ABC's "Live With Regis," whose host also emcees "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."
And, in a bizarre twist of morning-show entertainment, alongside the popular host came Susan Hawk, the Wisconsin truck driver best known for delivering an acid-tongued speech about snakes and rats in the final episode of the CBS sensation "Survivor." She's now enjoying another 15 minutes of fame as a "celebrity" guest host on the morning show after Kathie Lee Gifford's departure.
Not the most typical setting for a campaign Q&A.; But Bush, it turns out, had nothing to worry about. Philbin didn't shine spotlights on him and ask about his final answer. Hawk didn't threaten to let vultures take him if she passed him in life again, a fate she reserved for a fellow "Survivor" contestant. Instead, everybody sat on stools and bonded.
Hawk said she liked Bush's Social Security plan because it lets voters invest their own money. The two formed an alliance.
"You're saying Americans are not dumb!" Hawk said.
Bush agreed. "You're singing my tune," he told her.
"Hey," she replied over the applause, "we'll go hunt sometime!"
Truth be told, Bush seemed to enjoy the harmonic convergence of mismatched TV celebrities. He even came dressed like Regis, wearing the same monochromatic tones the host made famous on his ratings hit, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."
And the candidate learned a thing or two about survival from the "Survivor" finalist along the way. It's not the strongest or the fastest who deserves to win, Hawk told him, "but the man that says, 'I can.' "
Bush took the advice, but spent most of his time just trying to get a word in while the hosts interrupted him. When the Texas governor tried to attack the Clinton administration for current high oil prices, the Wisconsinite blurted "Awww!" and "Yah!" so many times that Philbin shot her a look to stop.
For his part, Bush seemed intrigued by the hosts, telling Hawk he had been a fan of "Survivor."
"I was fascinated to see who was going to survive. It was kind of like me," said Bush, adding that he expected to prevail this fall.
Like his turn on "Oprah" earlier this week - engineered by his campaign to help him capture the women's vote - this was Bush's chance for a regular-guy moment.
So there was Hawk, who once praised her own "work-ethic background," talking to the heir to a political dynasty. Bush seemed aware that the name of the game is blue-collar, not blue-blood. Telling her about his daughters, Bush said one was at the University of Texas, but described the one at Yale as simply being at school "up East."
As he cozied in, Bush showed baby pictures and praised his wife's patience. ("Put up with you, right?" Hawk teased.) He talked about the time his dad played tennis with Reeg and seemed interested when Hawk reminisced about her pony, Sugar. All in all, it was like hanging around the campfire - except with 5 million viewers, more than half of them women.
Democratic rival Al Gore has tried the same thing. He showed up on "Oprah" this month, just last week did David Letterman's show and, a few nights ago, Jay Leno. Gore also plans on visiting Regis as well as Rosie O'Donnell.
Now the candidates are left waiting to see who wins this TV personality contest. To that end, they'll keep visiting talk-show sets for the rest of the fall - until, as they say, the tribe has spoken.