NEW YORK - Even though the secret of ''Survivor'' was inadvertently revealed hours before the show went on the air Wednesday, it didn't keep viewers away.
An estimated 26.5 million people watched ''Nature Boy'' Greg Buis get voted off the island on Wednesday, Nielsen Media Research said on Thursday. That's the show's best rating to date.
Even better for CBS: the average age of a ''Survivor'' viewer Wednesday was a youngest-ever 40 years old - meaning the network is reaching the youthful audience that advertisers love and CBS rarely finds.
Quick, eagle-eyed fans who logged on to the ''Survivor'' Web site Wednesday afternoon, like writer Richard Foster, learned six hours before everyone else that Buis' days were numbered.
Foster found an article about Buis' departure - similar to what CBS usually posts after the episode airs each Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT - on the Web site after 2 p.m. on Wednesday. He said he began downloading the article, but it disappeared from the Web site before he could complete the job.
Foster immediately posted his own article about what he saw on the Web site he works for, www.richmond.com, which is devoted to news about Richmond, Va.
Six hours later, viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones saw the scoop was real. Other details, which Foster also passed along, panned out as well when the episode aired: An archery competition, with winner and loser; an obstacle course aced by youth basketball coach Gervase Peterson.
''There's a whole lot of hacking going on,'' CBS spokesman Chris Ender.
He declined to say whether outside hackers sabotaged the Web site or whether a CBS employee made a mistake. Ender wouldn't say Thursday what - if any - security steps are being taken to ensure there won't be any more future glitches.
The network has been trying hard to keep secret who stays and who goes on the island, knowing the mystery is key to the appeal of the enormously successful summer series, which was taped weeks ago.
Fans of the show were already buzzing about another computer user's discovery that CBS Web designers, in content supposedly unavailable to the public, had placed a red X over pictures of all 16 ''Survivor'' contestants except for one - Gervase Peterson.
That has led many fans to conclude that Peterson will be the million-dollar winner on the show's final episode, which airs Aug. 23.
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