Australian Survivor

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Let’s face it. You don’t really take on a granddaddy like Survivor unless you throw everything at it.

Exotic backdrop. Noisy characters. Likeable, smart host. Big-arse challenges. Aerial shots. Dramatic music. Twists, surprises and betrayals. We don’t want the Tribal Council reinvented, we just want it loyal to a worldwide brand.

Thankfully TEN knows all of this. Australian Survivor bursts out of the gate with all of the above. Memories of Nine’s effort and Seven’s celebrity version are quickly forgotten.

Set in Samoa with host Jonathan LaPaglia (the Probst you have when you’re not having Probst), this is also a ‘supersized’ version. 18 contestants become 24. 39 Days becomes 55. A one-hour premiere becomes 1:45hrs (ep 2 is 70 minutes). One episode a week becomes two. These are not necessarily ideal choices as Australian television can’t resist the temptation of wringing more from its set-up production costs, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

With so many contestants the challenge, pardon the pun, for episode one is to highlight key characters and moments of drama. Amongst the three tribes, Aganoa, Vavau and Saanapu, are Aussies who have studied the US version now approaching a mammoth 33rd season. Since its debut in 2000 a generation has grown up watching this format, effectively making everyone a contender for Fan vs Favourites.

Traditionally there are athletic muscle men, photogenic young women, strategic under-the-radar players, wise owls, born leaders and zany, erratic wildcards. Most of these are evident amongst this very Caucasian cast. Similar to Seven’s failed Big Adventure, the Australian version of Survivor also brings on the Bogan factor. Get ready for strine accents, cliches (“walking the walk, talking the talk / living the dream” etc) and plenty of cookie-cutter folk who could be on your next Contiki tour.

But what the local version can play with is whether Aussie mateship gets you further in the game or should be sacrificed for the $500,000 prize. This differs from America’s “winner takes all” society.

The first episode sees early alliances, camp set-up, team building, the first injury and white lies as individuals conceal their true occupation. The elements prove unforgiving from the get -go, the creepy crawlies surround them and fire is king. There are metaphorical shots of crashing waves and wildlife matched to Mark Burnett library music, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Host Jonathan LaPaglia does his best Jeff Probst impression, ‘narrating’ the action of challenges and sporting some guns that give the contestants a run for their money. He also presents as smart and in control of Tribal Council. Hopefully the format allows for some spontaneity and snap decisions that producer Probst throws into the gameplay like hand grenades.

By the time first Tribal Council is underway early rivalries have emerged, and LaPaglia highlights the candidates ripe for culling. Sadly as other Reality shows have found in the past, one of the biggest characters is sent packing in the first episode. Producers will be spewing.

Excess screentime notwithstanding, Australian Survivor is as faithful as they come and is up there with The Amazing Race Australia as a successful local adaptation of a global brand. It  has every chance of keeping fans happy until they await the return of the real thing. If we’re really lucky, we’ll have the best of both worlds.

Australian Survivor airs 7:30pm Sunday and Monday on TEN.

18 Comments:

  1. I enjoyed it and for the most part I thought it was loyal to the US version, though I did cringe when Anthony said 24 survivors and 55 days… It’s always been 39 days, but 10 obviously want to stretch everything they can out of it. So far the casting seems pretty good, a good mix of personality types and characters, which is the key to the show.

    I don’t like the idea of 2 shows a week, I think 10 is thinking short term and not long term. Too much of a good thing becomes overkill. Some of the key reasons the US version has run so long is they keep it to one show and just one hour per week. As has been pointed out, they need to edit it down and not draw it out.

    • The ‘reality’ is that Ten (or any other local network) wouldn’t have been able to put on such a grand production without 2-3hrs of product a week, across a number of weeks.

      Funnily enough I enjoyed the first ep more than the second, and the first was much longer.

      And I do feel the American version could easily have extended episodes. This is my one gripe with the US edition, so I personally love the fact that we get more than 1 hour per week.

  2. I enjoyed it and will be watching throughout the season if it keeps on this way. Only two negatives, Jonathan’s voice was a little strident, and the section at the start when he grilled the contestants. We don’t need that inane questioning, just let us meet the contestants gradually as the show unfolds. In particular, don’t follow the olympics formula – “what does it mean to you?”. Must be the worst interview question ever written.

  3. The production values are good, the casting seems OK (I don’t really like any of the contestants yet but will give it a bit of time.) Host is a good choice. But when will Australian reality TV producers learn to edit? There was no need for it to be that long. Makes you lose interest. One of the reason American shows like the Amazing Race are so good is that they are edited so well, there’s little extraneous stretching going on. So for the viewer, everything moves at a fast pace.
    I can live with them deciding to do 2 episodes a week but keep them within an hour, please.

    • barrington bumbaclaart

      Exactly. Too much extraneous fat that could easily have been trimmed to get it to around an hour. Editorially, there’s no reason to run it twice a week other than lazy programming and the fact channel 10 need to fill air time. I used to love Survivor but gave up when the Americans started running two seasons a year. Overkill. One season a year of one episode a week is enough. I’ll probably only watch on Sunday nights as the ABC’s Monday nights are a must watch in our house.

      • “Gave up when the Americans started running two seasons a year”.

        Weird comment – so you gave up after 1 or 2 seasons? They’ve run fall/spring for almost its entire run – the only big production change they’ve made has been to film 2 seasons in the same location to save costs and that was roughly after 10 years.

        I do agree with the initial point about Australian editing of reality shows though – have only watched Amazing Race, Survivor and The Mole – but they could certainly stand to ditch a good 10 minutes. I don’t think these shows in particular lend themselves to the stripped down reality “tent-pole” ideal that networks strive to build their weeks around

  4. barrington bumbaclaart

    Was an alright attempt at Survivor, but I really didn’t like the host. The way he spoke to the contestants at the beginning was awful and obviously contrived. He’ll get better though. Also, to be critical, it lacked the nuance of the American version. It was very obvious who would be voted out from very early on. I wasn’t left guessing at any point which I needed to be pulled through a long show with many commercial breaks. With sharper editing the show could’ve been tighter and shorter and more watchable.

  5. timmydownawell

    I am surprised it didn’t beat The Block in the ratings. On various sites all the talk and buzz was for Survivor with The (tired old) Block barely rating a mention. But I guess people are creatures of habit. I will now make a vague prediction that Survivor’s audience will build while The Block’s drifts away.

  6. Let the producers spew – Australian viewers are not going to cheer on an absolute d***head. Glad he got voted out. Have to agree LaP did a great job, even tho I do not like the guy (still looks too much like the sleazy doctor from Love Child).

  7. I agree – all boxes ticked, it was a genuine thrill to have a version we can be proud of. The production values are top notch, but the cast could do with a bit more diversity. When LaPaglia turned to camera at the end of the first challenge to deliver the line “55 days, 1…survivor”, I got goosebumps. It could have done with a bit of trimming, and LaPaglia does occasionally have the glint of someone who is going to stab someone in the eye if they piss him off, but this is nitpicking. I’ll be watching every episode.

  8. So does 2 episodes a week mean 2 eliminations? I hope so. They could struggle if they go against the tried and true Survivor template of 1 elimination/episode.

    • Certainly should be possible to do – my biggest wonder at this point is whether the 2 episode deal makes some portions of the show hard to get through as with the extra 16 days and the tendencies of Aussie editors/networks/production companies, presumably we won’t get the heavily edited 2 obvious boots in the one episode post-merge thing we usually get in the US.

  9. Glad they sent him packing in the first episode, happy that I don’t have to sit through watching and listening to him for the next few months. There’s plenty of other personalities to come out of this bunch i’m sure, enough to keep the producers happy.

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