When Survivor Borneo debuted on the Nine Network in Australia, it not only introduced the Australian public to the master of all reality shows, it meant the Nine Network was contractually obligated to produce their own version of Survivor. Fans of Survivor like myself salivated at the prospect of potentially taking part in the show. But sadly it would be said that Australian Survivor is considered a failure by all and sundry. The show never got a second season and Survivor fans couldn’t wait to see season five of the CBS version, (Survivor: Thailand), and erase the memories of the disaster that was Australian Survivor.
Studying media during the birth of Survivor, I was sceptical as to whether firstly the Australian version of the show could ever be the equal of the CBS version and secondly whether the Nine Network could afford to produce a show that could be successful. When Australian Survivor premiered, I remember trying to be optimistic because deep down I knew the show wouldn’t be as strong as its American counterpart. To make an analogy, it’s like the CBS version is the Los Angeles Lakers with plenty of money and worldwide support and recognition and the Australian version would be the Milwaukee Bucks, able to compete, but not with the big guns.
I had applied for the show and was shattered not to be given at least an interview, (in hindsight I was probably a tad too young, but I would have played the game hard and uncompromising), and my first impression of the cast wasn’t great, only a couple of castaways seemed to have come to ‘play’ the game. While the rest believed they wanted to play the game honourably, truthfully and up front.
In the eyes of the Nine Network and the ratings figures deemed Australian Survivor to be deemed a failure. Speaking to some Ozlets they believed the show to be a disaster.
Ben Waterworth – (Survivor Oz Host) – “The whole season sucked except for the final episode. The end.”
Noah Groves (Survivor Oz Ozlet) – “Slightly underrated, still worse than all the American ones. Had some okay characters, (Rob, Sciona, Katie, Joel), but the cast was mostly bland. LOVED how all the challenges were completely unique to the season and hadn’t been done on the US ones. Didn’t think Lincoln was a very good host. The location isn’t as bad as everyone says but they could have done a whole lot better.”
Rhett Butler (Survivor Fan) – “There were really no real “major events”, aside from Katie’s meltdown, and perhaps Joel doing an Ian at the Final Three.”
But is that really a fair assessment?
I believe mistakes were made in both pre-production and production of the show, and in order to keep costs down too many corners were cut. Putting together a season of Survivor isn’t cheap, and doing an Australian version is even tougher. It cost approximately ten million dollars to produce Australian Survivor, which is far less than its CBS counterpart. So to be fair, can we be as scathing on its quality when we clearly cannot afford to replicate the American version?
While writing this article, I did a re-watch of the season, watching closely and taking numerous notes whilst thinking about how each facet of the show was possibly compromised by budget constraints.
Admittedly there were production mistakes especially in the first episode, which potentially killed off the chance of keeping the casual viewer and maybe even the diehard fan. Several production decisions in episode one, unfortunately made Australian Survivor seem farcical and illegitimate. The first episode needed to be big, and it turned out to be a disappointment, which probably lived up to the expectations of the sceptics and crushed the hopes of the fans.
Episode One – The die is cast
I believe the following three major production decisions cruelled the first episode and was a major reason why fans tuned out. A curious decision arose when the Immunity Challenge came around and David from the Kadina was feeling so sick he opted to sit out of the challenge. This meant Tipara had to sit someone out as well, Jane. To me this is simply bad luck, and it got more farcical in the next episode when Jane was told she couldn’t sit out back-to-back challenges. How is that fair? It wasn’t Jane or Tipara’s fault that David wanted to pull himself from the challenge, so Jane sitting out the first time should have been a free pass. David’s sickness actually disadvantaged the opposing tribe strategically so how is that Survivor?
The Immunity Challenge was a good one and it was lengthy. The only problem was in the end it didn’t work. For those who haven’t seen it, the last part of the challenge had tribe members taking it in turns to throw a fire spear to light a bonfire, which would burn high enough to release the tribe flag. The bonfires did ignite and burn, but unfortunately the wind on the night meant the fire didn’t burn high enough and never could reach a tall enough height. The challenge was scrapped and a rushed trivia challenge was held the next morning. Jane beat Lucinda in the tie-breaking question to send Kadina to Tribal Council.
To rub salt into the wounds of the fans, the first boot, (Lucinda), asked her tribe to vote her out and she also voted for herself. How producers let this stand is beyond me but this was definitely a nail in the coffin of Australian Survivor. It also proved that the producers were not exactly the right people to bring Survivor to our screens. The Lucinda vote and the fact producers let her vote for herself, left the producers in a predicament for later in the game when it came to tied votes and previous votes cast.
Thankfully the season did get marginally better, and the abysmal mistakes of the first episode didn’t really resurface to ruin the integrity of the show. But the naivety of the cast to play the game left the series somewhat flat and uneventful until the last few episodes. Unfortunately many viewers had already given up by this stage.
So what else went wrong?
Survivor and its theme song are so identifiable that having anything but Russ Landau’s music is always going to invite criticism. We’ve heard this was a contract situation, so we can’t be too critical of the production for this, but they have could have written a better theme.
The casting of Lincoln Howes as host was a huge mistake and he seemed uncomfortable and restrained in the role. He was already contracted to the Nine Network, so maybe this was a cost cutting exercise. I get the feeling they always wanted an unknown person to host, as not to take attention off the castaways. In hindsight, is a wonderful thing, and if the Nine Network had their time again they would have hired Richard Hatch or Jamie Durie to potentially attract more viewers. I felt sorry for Lincoln as he had little chance to replicate the charm of Jeff Probst without being too similar. By no means am I bagging Lincoln for his performance more so Nine for casting him as host. I think Howes would have been a better person behind the scenes, not in front of the camera.
Survivor fan Rhett Butler – “He came across as a nice guy, but lacked screen presence and ultimately failed to really endear himself to the viewers.”
Many viewers expected castaways to be sent to Fiji, Borneo or Thailand, but when they found out the season was filmed in Australia a collective sigh of disappointment could be heard around the country. I was a tad disappointed but understood why this happened. I was more disappointed they chose such a boring, miserable location. The location, (Whalers Way), dictated that both tribes had to alternate days between either fishing in the bay or hiking up to the water well. Seriously? That is a massive mistake in my book, why pick a location that means you can only fish or collect water every second day?
Many Tribal Councils suffered from lack of tension as the voting parchments were hard to read on screen. I’m not sure if the marker wasn’t dark enough, the parchment was too thin or the lighting of the Tribal Council set was right, but many votes simply couldn’t be read. Too many of the early challenges didn’t incorporate the team element of Survivor by making all members participate. One challenge only needed three to four people of a seven person tribe to participate. This is simply ridiculous and doesn’t put the acid on the tribe’s weakest links.
We are all used to Jeff Probst commentating the challenges these days, but even after Lincoln would explain the challenge, he can be still heard during most challenges explaining and talking the castaways through it; as if they have no idea what they are doing. It sounds terrible and reeks of real amateur status.
Was this Lincoln’s fault or production not clearly explaining the challenge off camera?
You know you are on Survivor when you are given your tribal buff, but for Australian Survivor only two tribal buffs were made, and there was no Merge buff. How can you merge a tribe and give them a new camp and flag but no buffs? Not sure what happened here but it made the series seem very cheap.
The Final Tribal Council was also a slight departure from the CBS version. The Final Two; Rob & Sciona were never given the chance of an opening statement to the Jury. They answered the Jury questions, but didn’t get to address the Jury with a closing statement either. Another weird thing I noticed about this Final Tribal Council is Rob & Sciona are clearly wearing new clean buffs. What is going on there?
What went right?
Sadly not a hell of a lot went well for the season, but it did have some redeeming qualities. Even though some of the challenges looked a little cheap at times, most were completely original ideas and not ripped off from CBS. Australian Survivor seemed to use product placement very well, incorporating products into the challenges as well as part of the rewards.
The Tribal Council set was really well designed and looked good and real enough to be a legitimate shipwreck. As the season went on I think Lincoln Howes did get better and seemed more comfortable in this role as well as with interacting the castaways.
The last two to three episodes were brilliant as the tension began to mount on the potential Final Three and which players would make those positions. Katie’s mental breakdown and the blindside of Sophie made the finale compelling viewing.
Australian Survivor Revival?
So can an Australian network breathe new life into the best reality show ever? Recent years have seen the birth of The Amazing Race Australia, The Apprentice and the re-emergence of Big Brother with great results. By no means is the following all essential to making Australian Survivor 2 successful, but there are ideas that could take the show to new heights and hopefully several seasons.
Production – Go and get people that have worked extensively on the CBS version of the show. Many of these crew members are/were Australians and may want to come back home. Seek them out for their experience and expertise. Get a couple of die-hard fans, (I know a few Ozlets), that know the game inside and out as production crew or consultants.
Location – Look for a tropical location, whether in Australia or just off shore somewhere. Audiences want to see some good-looking men & women in not much more than shorts or bikinis.
Host – Actually recruit someone that has hosted shows for sometime like Jamie Durie or Matthew Johns (NRL), someone that has played sport at the highest level and understands the competitive nature of Survivor. Or think outside the box. Go and get a former Survivor, someone that understands the game, someone that would embrace being a host and get into the players’ heads at Tribal Council. Richard Hatch and Rob Cesternino immediately come to mind. If you could get a previous Survivor it works on so many levels. It means you have a hook to get audiences in, you have someone that can help from a production standpoint and you have the potential to sell the show overseas.
Music – Go all out to get the Russ Landau theme. If that fails or is to cost prohibitive, I’d go totally the other way and use something very Australian. Use ‘Great Southern Land’ by Icehouse or ‘Land Down Under’ by Men at Work and have those bands or any Australian band for that matter rerecord those tracks to fit the theme. Watch the YouTube clip below that someone has put together about Australia, some of it feels like your watching a Survivor intro. If we can’t totally replicate the CBS version, embrace our Australian heritage and give the theme an Australian feel.
And finally, I’d like to see sixteen to twenty Aussies go at it to see who becomes the Sole Survivor but I think the series needs a hook which is why I’d get a couple of celebrities. We need celebrities that would make great television but also have a popular following. Someone like Shane Crawford with all his fundraising for breast cancer would b e perfect. He could lead a tribe and grab a female celebrity for the other tribe. Or think big, get the most famous Survivor villain of all time – Russell Hantz to try and stick it up the Aussies. Add a hero to that mix to lead the other tribe. In this situation you bring in two Survivor’s with experience and you potentially have a bigger audience worldwide instead of just Australia & New Zealand.
In closing I believe Australian Survivor 2 should be done, and can be done well. If the rumours are true about Survivor finding a new home on Australian television, then it becomes super important to get the right network to firstly grab the rights, but then to get the right people involved. The key to success is in the pre-production of the show, picking a host, choosing a location and casting a bunch of Aussies we want to watch. I think in the ten plus years since Australian Survivor, many Australians have developed a character for reality television, as seen in The Amazing Race, Big Brother and the multiple cooking shows on offer. I think the time is right for Survivor to be part of the Australian television landscape again.
If you want to watch Australian Survivor, you can search for it on YouTube as the entire season has been uploaded on the site. We would love to know what you think of it if it’s the first time you’ve watched it, or whether or not it’s the first time you’ve seen it in a very long time!
Do you agree or disagree with Cable? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!