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.