NEW YORK - "Survivor" may have a security problem. Before the first episode was even televised this season, more than 15 people from the Vancouver, British Columbia area placed bets with an offshore bookie on contestant Sandra Diaz-Twine.
On Sunday night, Diaz-Twine was revealed as the winner during the show's season finale on CBS.
Suspicious that people were trying to profit from inside information, the Antigua-based bookmaker, BetWWTS.com, shut down "Survivor" betting back September. The company still paid out $40,000 on Monday - from less than $5,000 in wagers - to people who had gotten their bets in before it was stopped, said Simon Noble, the company's CEO.
Noble's company may now join other offshore bookmakers that he said shun "Survivor" because of fears of insider betting.
"It's either one of two things," Noble said. "It's either an insider from CBS or a friend or neighbor of Sandra's. I would lean toward the former because it seems to be a regular pattern with `Survivor.'"
Vancouver is several hours away from Fort Lewis, Wash., where Diaz-Twine lives, so Noble believes that also makes it unlikely that the bettors knew her.
Diaz-Twine, who knew for months that she was one of the final two contestants but found out Sunday that she had won the $1 million prize, said she didn't spill the beans. She knew that if she had, she would have forfeited a prize (the second-place finisher wins $100,000).
"I wanted the money, whatever little bit I was getting," she said. "I didn't want to screw that up. I suffered too much out there. I lost 22 pounds."
Diaz-Twine said friends approached her this fall after the bookmakers' story had circulated, wondering if they should bet on her. She told them that rumors had also been spreading about two other potential winners.
"I said to them, `If I were you, I wouldn't put the money down on me.'"
A CBS spokesman, Chris Ender, would not comment Monday on any specific security steps the network or the show's executive producer, Mark Burnett, had taken.
"We take security very seriously on `Survivor,'" Ender said. "But, obviously, you're never going to ensure that something is not leak-proof. I think Mr. Burnett has done a great job changing the game, teasing the viewers and making the chase aspect so confusing that the viewers never know which information is true out there."
The knowledge that Diaz-Twine had attracted unusual wagering attention didn't seem to have much effect on the popularity of "Survivor." It is consistently one of prime-time TV's most popular shows and drew an estimated 25.4 million viewers for Sunday's finale, according to Neilsen Media Research.
The Pearl Island finale, the seventh edition of the game, drew the most viewers of any "Survivor" since the fourth game ended in May 2002, CBS said.
So many theories are floated about winners to each game that viewers don't know what to believe.
During the first "Survivor," many fans believed Gervase Peterson would win because a CBS technician failed to quickly place an "x" over his picture on the "Survivor" web site, Ender recalled. The theory spread wildly across the Internet, then was torpedoed when Peterson was voted off the island a few weeks later.
Ender said CBS learned during that first game to give the same non-answer whenever confronted by someone who claims to know the show's winner in advance: "We won't confirm or deny any speculation and we will allow the media to run inaccurate information."
Many fans also want to keep the element of suspense so they pay no attention to such stories, said Noble, the bookie.
"I wish it would have surprised me," he said. "I wish it had been a different result."