In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
“My current strategy is find the dickhead. In every group there’s always a dickhead, so all you do is point them out and say, ‘Look, do you want to have 55 days with this dickhead?’ But if you look around and you can’t find the dickhead, it’s you, and you’re in real trouble.” – Kent, ‘Australian Survivor’
At any time of the day, a cursory flick through the television channels is likely to land you on a reality TV show of one kind or another. The now much-maligned TV format, that captivated the world at its peak in the early years of the millennium, has now mined almost all imaginable aspects of modern life in the search for digestible, addictive human drama.
Yet none have done it better than ‘Survivor’, a show that maroons contestants from all walks of life on a desert island, where they are forced to survive, compete and vote each other out until only one remained. Combining elements of nature documentary, sporting competition and narrative storytelling, it is the ultimate televisual game show and remains eminently watchable 17 years after its first season finale attracted a US viewership of 51.7 million people.
In Australia, a couple of disastrous local versions tarnished the show’s brand, but it has always retained a loyal, passionate fan base. In 2015, Network Ten announced it was reviving the show, based heavily on the production style of the US version and filmed in nearby Samoa.
Now in its second year, ‘Australian Survivor’ has delivered a season that can stand alongside the very best its American cousin has to offer, replete with the kind of moments that elevate it above its reality TV peers. By employing a larger cast and extended running time (55 days to the US’s traditional 39), ‘Australian Survivor’ allows its characters to flourish and invests the audience in their struggles to survive the conditions and each other.
Like most reality TV, ‘Survivor’ lives or dies by its casting and Season Two of ‘Australian Survivor’ has managed a perfect balance of intelligence and ignorance, heroic and villainous, those you love and those you love to hate. Yet ultimately all 24 are willing to play the game – to lie, backstab and connive – but in a positive spirit, befitting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the show offers.
Host Jonathan LaPaglia has also grown into the role, moving from a laconic, bloky imitation of iconic US equivalent Jeff Probst to an engaging, likable host in his own right. He understands when to prod and provoke and when to let the contestants speak their minds.
Given the nature of the show, it is impossible to discuss the highlights without revealing how some contestants fared, but the season is full of genuinely riveting moments – spontaneous humour, emotional revelations as well as great strategic play and significant tactical blunders.
Like its American counterpart, ‘Australian Survivor’ has found a passionate fan base despite average ratings and in 2017 was nominated for the Logie for Best Reality Program. However, Network Ten has yet to announce whether the show will return for a third season.
Both seasons of ‘Australian Survivor’ are available to stream on the TenPlay app.