June 01, 1998 12:00 AM

The ratings race between CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and NBC’s “Friends” is really revving up. The sequel to last summer’s reality show debuted Sunday before an average of 43.6 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings, making it the second most-watched post-Super Bowl program since at least 1987, when this sort of thing began being carefully tracked. And the No. 1 most watched? That would have been the 1996 episode of “Friends,” which drew 52.9 million back then and is now the show that the new “Survivor” will face when the outdoors program settles into its regular time slot this week. Sunday’s edition of “Survivor” managed to retain 52% of its Super Bowl audience, which also proved to be the second best-ever showing — again behind “Friends,” which held on to 56% of Bowl viewers. (On the premiere episode, Debb Eaton, 45, a corrections officer from Milan, N.H., was the inaugural Survivor voted out of the Outback.) As for the ratings of the Super Bowl itself, they were not as low as had been predicted. According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, an average of 84.2 million viewers saw at any given moment the Baltimore Ravens trounce the New York Giants, 34-7. That was slightly better than 1999’s Atlanta-Denver game but in a dead heat with the 1992 Washington-Buffalo confrontation as the second lowest-rated contest in the last 11 years. When all was said and done, about 130 million people watched all or part of Sunday’s Super Bowl XXXV.

Click here for more on “Survivor II”

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