Jason Dundas, host of The Big Adventure for Seven, did his level best to avoid mentioning ‘that’ show by name during the course of our interview, especially when I asked about preparing for the role.
“I watched a lot of similar shows in the same genre,” he acknowledged.
“But I didn’t want to copy. I didn’t want to be influenced. I just wanted to keep it honest.”
Asked about how much time the contestants spent in front of cameras, it was also nearly as much as that nameless show.
“They have camera crews on them the entire time they are in base camp -bar when they go to sleep. There’s none of that other reality show that’s 24 hours. But there are people on standby ready to shoot if things happen.”
By now Survivor had became the elephant in the room, as if to avoid direct comparisons.
Yet in a crowded genre where there are similarities in many reality shows, The Big Adventure has its own points of difference. The prize, for instance, is a rarity in Australian television. The last time a reality show gave away a million dollars was a decade ago.
But will TBA actually part ways with the full amount for real?
“Definitively one of the 12 will win a million bucks. 100%,” Dundas insists.
“One person will unlock an ancient chest with a million.”
With 12 golden keys on offer, the 12:1 odds are also high -including better than that other nameless show which is 18:1.
Devised internally by Seven, the 10 part series makes the most of its air of mystery, both to contestants and audience. With the game never having been played before, Seven has been banking on the element of surprise.
“Everybody is friendly at the start because nobody knows what’s happening, because we’ve done the show. On The Amazing Race they know what happens next so they know how to interact, but on this show everyone is walking on egg shells at the start until it unfolds.,” he says.
“The show has escapist qualities that other shows don’t have. There’s nothing that looks like this show that’s on Australian television at the moment.
“They carved out an area in the real jungle and at night when you walk in it’s lit by balloon lights. You walk through the jungle on a path lit by tilleys until you come out into this ancient setting that looks like it’s been cleared by an archeologist. It’s spectacular.”
As host, Dundas was also required to switch from his usually-friendly demeanour to something fitting a competitive reality game. To do this, he limited his contact with the cast whilst filming in Fiji.
“We wanted to keep the contestants as isolated in this environment as much as we could. So I wouldn’t say a single word to anyone. Nothing. I wouldn’t even come on set until they were all in place and I would only say the words that were in the script.
“Every other show I’ve worked on my strength has been charismatic and engaging, because that’s what I do.”
But he also found himself hooked on the group dynamic in the pressure-cooker environment.
“There was nothing else to do on the island so we became obsessed with what was going on. I would wrap shooting (on the sky rig) and as contestants would travel back I would run about 1.5km back to the control room and sit there and watch everything unfold.”
Dundas is best known for his years as a travel presenter on Getaway. He left Nine 4-5 years ago and ended up as a VJ with MTV, co-hosting Big Morning Buzz Live for 3 years on VH1.
“I moved to the US 5 years ago looking for a huge new show to anchor. I was on ensemble casts, pop culture shows for a long time,” he says.
“Channel Seven presented 2 or 3 lines of this and the rest they kept secret. All they said to me is ‘Someone will dig for a million bucks. It’s similar to the psychology of The Hunger Games and there is one host.’ So I said ‘Let’s go!’”
His next project will also be on MTV, fronting another Reality series, filmed back to back with The Big Adventure.
“It’s a primetime Dance Reality competition called Beyond Dance. It comes off the back of America’s Best Dance Crew. They’ve rejigged the format and thrown everything at it,” he explains.
“It’s huge. Very young, very hip, big pop stars.”
Right now the boy from Penrith is happy to be home, working with a new network, Seven.
“They welcome you with big open arms. They’re very warm. I just feel like it’s a family channel. I hosted The Morning Show with Kylie Gillies, I was on Sunrise, Dancing with the Stars, The Daily Edition.”
But the air of mystery surrounding the show means producer Rikki Proost (My Kitchen Rules, House Rules) still has a few tricks up his sleeve for viewers. The show’s launch established some of the game play but more will unfold and contestants will become more strategic.
“Every other episode begins with a captain’s pick, a team battle, the sky rig, and then an arena (challenge). But yes Rikki puts in a few twists. You have to,” Dundas smiles.
The Big Adventure airs 6:30pm Sunday (8:30pm WA) and 7:30pm Monday on Seven.