In praise of Australian Survivor – Cast an introvert, get different television

Tonight sees the series finale of Australian Survivor. With intriguing, intelligent casting and high production values, this was a series that deserved a bigger audience, argues Mumbrella's Tim Burrowes.

With the exception of live sport, I can’t remember the last time I did appointment television.

Games of Thrones tends to pile up on the Foxtel IQ. Better Call Saul was great, but I soon got out of the habit of pouncing on a new episode as soon as it was uploaded to Stan. And Media Watch doesn’t really count.

But this spring, I returned to (almost) linear TV habits.

I got hooked on Australian Survivor.

Tonight, we reach the series finale.

Last night saw Flick ejected from the tribe, meaning that introvert Kristie will go up against cricketer Lee and his ally El for the $500,000 prize.


Last night’s tribal council: Lee, El, Flick and Kristie

And the casting of Kristie is just one of the factors that has made Australian Survivor such an interesting and (for commercial television) subtle show.

The fact that Kristie – incidentally, full name Kristie Bennett, previously an account exec at Sydney communications agency Bang – says a lot about the casting decisions for the show.

Whether it’s Celebrity Apprentice, The X Factor or My Kitchen Rules, most reality shows depend entirely on extroverts and conflict to keep the viewers interested.

Not so much with Survivor though, a show which has exemplified the strategy of the network under chief programming officer, Beverley McGarvey.

This was a show that was a slow burn. Much like the eventual success of The Bachelor, it takes a while for audiences to wake up to it. And, in Survivor’s case, it hasn’t really happened in this series. Even last night, the metro audience was only 750,000.

The cast were much less of a freak show than your average Big Brother cast. For the most part they came across as ordinary people, albeit skewing towards the adventurous, as you’d expect for a show where you have to make fire if you want to eat.

Given the high expense involved in making the show, I suspect it wasn’t profitable.

And boy, was it well made by production house Endemol Shine.

Of course, it helps when there’s such a well-crafted format from the US version. The production bibles on these shows are the size of books. But it felt like there were no short cuts taken.

It looked great. The camera work did justice to the Samoa setting. And night or day, rain or sun, the cast were well lit with really good audio, too.

However, it feels like a show originally designed to run five nights a week. A lot of the episodes – featuring both a reward challenge and an immunity challenge, felt like they were planned as seperate episodes. And when Ten moved it up for a while from Sundays and Mondays to three nights a week, that also felt like it wanted to burn through the show when it didn’t get the initial ratings the network would have wanted.

Nonetheless, at the weekend, Ten announced that it had recommissioned the show. And like The Bachelor, I suspect that it will go better the second time around.

For the sponsors, I suspect they’ll be happy with the quality of the integration, if a little disappointed with the ratings.


Hungry Jack’s placement in reward challenges, and (the well cast) host Jonathan LaPaglia’s integration into the AHM ads both felt very effective.

It wasn’t quite a return to linear television for me, though. Like many viewers, I suspect, I found the optimal method of viewing was to IQ the show, then start watching about half-an-hour later. By fast forwarding through the ads, one could watch the last few minutes of each episode as-live.

But that made the integrated AHM spots all the more impactful because that was how I navigated. That’s the beauty of a good sponsorship; the viewer can’t skip it.

What makes this such an interesting format though, is that it’s the opposite of so much commercial television. Alliances form slowly, plots emerge gradually, and many of the key moments feature no action at all, just people wandering up the beach, talking to each other.

One problem for Ten is that it lacks big sporting rights like Seven’s Olympics and AFL or Nine’s NRL to promote its big shows. So finding an audience always takes longer.

When series two of Survivor comes along, Ten deserves a bigger reward in the ratings.


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