Aussie contributor Alice Barelli breaks down the season premiere of the brand new Australian Survivor.
Survivor Australia is back! I’m so overjoyed my brain is overflowing with Australian clichés (skips and sheilas, kangaroos and koalas, billabongs, jolly swagmen and the lot) and I’m not one for national colloquialisms. As a teenager, I faithfully watched every episode of the local version of Survivor and after nearly every episode I was disappointed. I couldn’t put my finger on why it was so disappointing but over time I’ve forgiven Survivor Australia in a way Lex will never forgive Boston Rob, and I’m ready to give it another shot.
More than that, I’m excited. For the first time in a long time, I will not be going through self-imposed exiles from social media. It would be amiss to omit that I am also nervous for how this version of Survivor will fare. It would not be the first time Australia has taken a successful format and torn it to shreds. Another network butchered a local version of The Mole in 2013, so I am keeping everything crossed that Ten does not do the same to Survivor with the extra contestants, a longer season and screening multiple days a week. It’s reassuring that the production company for this iteration has produced other local reality shows in an engaging and entertaining way in the past years.
I’ve also been mulling over how the Australian version will differ from the U.S. version I know and love (aside from the obvious difference of the cuter accents). Aussies love to see certain characters and stories on their screens. The most typical are the Aussie Battler – the ordinary woman or man who rises to success against the odds. Other values Aussies love are tales of exponential personal growth, being there for your family, mateship and sticking up for the little guy and giving everyone a fair go. While these are not too different from what is seen internationally, it’s worth noting that Australian’s don’t take too well to the villain, to the people that ruthlessly undermine others or who lie, cheat and steal unashamedly. While some reality TV in Australia does show these people (and is doing so increasingly), it is rarely in pursuit of a large cash prize; so it will be interesting to see what Survivor brings to the table.
It’s no surprise that the opening confessionals in the season premiere reflect the “Aussie Battler” types of people: Conner, El, and Lee are about going through a rite of passage, being heroes and winning without playing dirty. They’re backed up by regular Survivor characters we know and love. Flick, who will use her body to win if she has to, Evan, who wants to emotionally manipulate people, Andrew who is on a business trip to win, and (most triumphantly and who must already be a fan favourite) Des who wants to play a despicable yet admirable game. There’s the usual bounty of castaways who are in it to win it despite the costs. I’m feeling positive that we might have a good game on our hands.
The opening shots are comforting due to their similarity to the opening of every US season I can remember. Music soars, host Jonathan LaPaglia scrambles over rocky terrain and castaways look apprehensive as they’re driven through the jungle. Jonathan points out the three tribes of eight people each and introduces the first challenge. The theme of choosing when to go for fire over supplies is a good one. The element of choice can influence early gameplay (like picking tribes in Survivor: Palau or setting up So Kim’s elimination in Survivor: Worlds Apart).
It also sets up a good race between the Saanapu and Vavau tribes while the Aganoa tribe quickly sink half their canoe and swipe more supplies instead of going for the fire. The challenge is done and the Survivor season is underway. Of course the Australian (tweeting) public was mainly concerned with the treatment of those chickens (Mark had a real impact last season) and what the contestants were wearing (loving that red suit, Peter). Kat’s hat seems to have caused major cause for concern while Barry’s drew comparisons to the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter.
— Nick Bond (@bondnickbond) August 21, 2016
Apart from the general shock of most castaways that they don’t spontaneously possess fire building or shelter construction skills, the majority of the episode settles into the castaways focusing on survival. Each of the tribes sets up their own theme. Vavau as a tribe is a loveable (albeit at times hopeless) crew who use positivity to keep morale high despite failure at starting a fire or building a shelter. As Craig so aptly states, “We laugh all the time, we work together so well, and we just fit.”
The Saanapu tribe are the ‘get down to business’ type (following Jonathan’s instructions I’m sure). They are working hard as a team and successfully assembling camp, despite their self-professed lack of skills, to a background of triumphant music. In contrast, everything at the Aganoa tribe that could go wrong does go wrong. They sink their canoe during the challenge. They have a sleepless night. Their measly shelter is flooded. They have the first, and so far only, major clash of personalities between Des and Kat. Unlike Nick, the Survivor super fan teacher from Vavau, who recognises he’s making a mistake by being the leader, Kat reveals she knows being the boss is not a good thing in Survivor but goes on being a “loveable dictator” regardless. Des manages to combine two improbable qualities (being like Kung Fu Panda and being a villain) while watching his tribe suffer without his army knowledge. The Luzon tribe (from Survivor: Cagayan) springs to mind.
We do manage to throw in a few classic Survivor moments – Conner’s injury leaving him feeling vulnerable to the elements and to his fellow tribemates, castaways Bianca and Evan hiding their occupations to benefit themselves in the game and there is even an early alliance between Flick and Conner. While this was happening, Twitter was ablaze with the real issues: namely that the three tribes could be counterparts for Pokémon gyms and Hogwarts houses. Also plenty of jokes about Conner’s “injury” and the castaways inability to survive.
Conner’s burned himself! Where’s LaPaglia calling for the medic? Where’s the chopper? #SurvivorAU
— Sportsbet.com.au (@sportsbetcomau) August 21, 2016
The immunity challenge comes and goes and to nobody’s surprise, the Aganoa tribe loses. Given the negative vibe coming off every second we’ve seen in their time together, it would have honestly surprised me if either of the other teamwork focused/high positivity/united and strong tribes lost. The challenge is put down to atrocious teamwork between Des and Kat on the puzzle. Never mind that the rest of their tribe got through the physical part last, it’s 100% the puzzlers fault. It’s moments like these when I wish we had a bird’s eye view on tribes planning their challenge strategy. It’s no secret Des and Kat aren’t getting along – why have them work together on a puzzle?
Grumbles aside the stakes are set up for a showdown. Kat’s girl’s alliance vs. Des’ ‘hard and fast scramble’ was a treat. Initially, I was torn between not being sure how Des could come back from how he had isolated himself from the tribe both physically and socially and being pretty sure he would because he’s had lots of publicity, and who promotes somebody who goes in the first episode? I was delighted to find out how he would make it happen. I wasn’t convinced sharing his survival skills would be enough. Evan reveals three alliances amongst the tribe – the men, the women, and the oddballs. On that basis, it seems that the men’s alliance will be setting up their tribe for the early game with this vote.
Rohan says that without Kat, the tribe will be quieter, and without Des, the tribe will be more united. Live tweeters seem split between loving and hating Des. If I were choosing on that basis, I’d choose to be united, but there is surely more to it. If Evan knows there is a girl’s alliance then surely the other men do too and being outnumbered by women may make them feel nervous. They may value Des’ survival skills more than they’re letting on but I’d be equally uneasy about a tribe member that withholds skills to suit their own game.
Tribal runs as expected. JLP has a cute moment empathising with the tribe as they’re sharing their first tribal council together. Phoebe is diplomatic. Rohan is honest without being harsh. Kat spruiks her own behaviour and criticises Des. Des goes about his insulting-yet-loveable way telling Kat he doesn’t like her and insinuates he’s voting her out. Which he does. Sadly the rest of his tribe disagree and Des is heading home 7-1. We’ve lost a huge personality here, but I can only be hopeful that other people are going to step up now. I mean we haven’t even heard from Barry (a known rugby player and radio broadcaster), Kate, Mr. Red Pant Suit himself Peter and a few others, so there is plenty of time for drama to build and strategy to unfold. For now, see you later Kung Fu Panda Des.
Check back later in the week when our other Aussie contributor Heath Chick will be reviewing Episode 2.