Stephen Tate and Tim Ali on Australian Survivor: ‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things’

The sixth series of Australia Survivor, and the first to be filmed locally, has landed on Network Ten. Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson speaks with Ten ViacomCBS head of entertainment, Stephen Tate, and entertainment producer, Tim Ali, about the latest season.

Australian Survivor returned to Ten on Sunday night, with numbers up on the 2020 premiere, as Aussies begin to embrace the show’s latest ‘Brains v Brawn’ format.

After last year’s celebrity-laden All Stars edition, with names including Shane Gould, Mat Rogers and more, Ten wanted to return to a version of the show with relatable characters for this season.

Head of entertainment, Stephen Tate, and entertainment producer, Tim Ali, tell Mumbrella it was about returning to the “everyman format” where the narrative will be driven by the two contrasting ‘Brains’ and ‘Brawn’ tribes.

“Fans like to project themselves into the show,” Tate says. “We’re not looking for celebrities in the cast. At its heart, Survivor has always been about, you know, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

Ten ViacomCBS head of entertainment, Stephen Tate

Ali calls Survivor “the grandfather” of reality formats. “It was one of the first to ever allow the contestants to provide the narrative. It’s the first great unscripted format.”

In terms of the new format, Ali adds that it has been successful overseas for a good reason. “Brains v Brawn is a popular theme. We have some excellent narratives and there are some brilliant, brilliant characters in this series, and lots of exciting storylines throughout the episodes.

“It has been done a couple of times around the world and it always proves really popular because I think there’s something almost primal or something from our childhood.

“In your school days you know whether you’re a jock or a nerd. People identify quite strongly with the tribes.”

Tate adds: “Endemol Shine are the best in the business at casting these types of shows. They’ve been really clever and created two casts who are very evenly matched.”

Aside from the fresh faces, Tate reveals there is really another character central to the show in 2021. “The biggest character and the biggest change for Australian Survivor is introducing Australia itself as the main character,” he says.

Filming took place in Cloncurry, in north-west Queensland, with production given a $3.9 million boost in Federal Government funding.

“Setting the show here for the first time on Ten was really challenging,” Tate says. “The environment we chose in Central Queensland is absolutely beautiful but also really challenging and very remote.

Australian Survivor: Brains V Brawn cast

Ali says the conditions were tough for both contestants and crew. “Initially the conditions were very challenging, obviously in the outback. I certainly didn’t know how challenging the conditions would be, so it was a surprise for us.

“In terms of the contestants, they’re not sleeping on a beach. They’re sleeping in dry river beds and on rocks, so the comfort level was a lot tougher. There are no coconuts and papayas that they can just walk down the beach and eat. They’ve had to change their thinking in terms of, ‘how are we going to feed ourselves and adapt’. The same goes for the crew as well.”

There was even a full-time snake wrangler. “We were finding snakes every day,” Tate laughs.

After being forced to cancel 2020’s second season, which was set to film in Fiji last April, Ten was well-aware of the dangers of filming during the age of the pandemic.

“We had a really strong COVID-19 plan. We had a full-time COVID team that everybody had to adhere to,” Tate says.

“We had to be incredibly careful taking a production to the Australian outback because the last thing that we would want to do is impact the health of the local communities. So we did regular testing and had full-time medics.”

10 ViacomCBS entertainment producer Tim Ali

Ten is yet to confirm the full list of sponsors and brands taking part in the show, with a spokesperson telling Mumbrella: “We’re excited to have great sponsors on board for Australian Survivor: Brains V Brawn, which include KFC and Isuzu.”

After the launch episode, Ten national sales director, Lisa Squillace, said this season as seen “… an unprecedented take-up of sponsorships on the show”.

“I would like to extend my sincere thanks to our sponsors for giving us the opportunity to showcase their brands. Keep your eyes peeled because you will get to see over the next few weeks, just how innovatively and seamlessly we have integrated these brands into the narrative of the show,” she added.

Tate confirms that Ten has “a full house” of sponsors for the season. “The show has done incredibly well, commercially for us.

“If you’ve watched Australian Survivor in the past you’ll know that it’s the perfect place [for brands] to provide incredible rewards [to contestants]. When a contestant has nothing, they’re so appreciative when something is given to them.

“So it’s a wonderful environment for clients on that level.”


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