In the immortal words of Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, “Australian Survivor we have a problem.”
It might not be quite a life threatening problem that the astronauts faced in that movie, based of course on real life events, but it’s definitely something that I feel needs to be talked about given how popular Australia’s version of the iconic reality series has become.
The sixth season of Australian Survivor finished airing this week, with actress Pia Miranda taking out the title of Sole Survivor and claiming $500,000 in prize money. The finale was the highest rating episode ever of the Channel Ten version of the show, and events that occurred in the final week around Luke’s elimination and the public crowdfunding support campaign that followed made it the most talked about TV show in Australia. Earlier this year the show picked up a Logie award for Most Outstanding Reality Show, and it is clear that the show has now firmly entrenched itself back into the Australian television landscape.
But with all this popularity and support for the local version now, which has survived four seasons since it was brought back in 2016 and is set to air two seasons in 2019, there are numerous issues that people are seemingly quick to ignore. So let’s take a closer look at just what is holding our version back from being truly great.
The main issue around Australian Survivor is the inconsistent editing. What sets Survivor up to be a great TV show is the way it can portray the contestants battling for the top prize by showing consistent storylines that are able to tell you just why the winner wins, just why the runner-up doesn’t win and just why the other contestants finish where they do. Added to this there is a balance between strong characters who are deserving of airtime, despite the fact that the may not go far. There also is a balance of drama, comedy and action, something which after 38 seasons the US version has shaped into a perfect art form.
Not so much in the Australian version. The show struggles to maintain a consistent narrative of the majority of their players, switching constantly between over-the-top characters who do nothing more than over hype their own game and ability with barely anything to back up their claims and ‘under the radar’ players who occasionally drop in for a “hey I’m still here” confessional to casually remind viewers that they are probably going to win the series. In each version of the reboot, the eventual winner has not had a consistent enough edit to really show just why they end up winning. A lot of people might argue this is harder to do based on a longer season with longer episodes, but I would argue this gives you even more time to successfully sell the audience a winner and keep it consistent.
The show is so overfocused on the entertaining characters that are quite clearly never going to win (Nick, Henry, Benji and Dave are four examples) that they struggle to accurately portray other contestants who actually have a say in how the game ends up. And it’s a massive problem, especially when you watch a show in close quarters consecutively. I watched all of season 5 in the space of 3 weeks knowing that Shane won, and you would often forget she was even in the season for the most part during the stretch of episodes in which Benji stole every second of screen time. And by the time the editors realised they had to explain why she won the season, it was done in such a rushed fashion that left many audience members scratching their head as to how she was able to come out on top.
We also have the over abundance of repetitive confessionals and being too obvious in the switching of confessionals to form a story in an episode. This is apparent when you see a contestant sitting on a beach during the beginning of their confessional, before seeing them sitting in the jungle before switching again to them sitting in a tree. Yes, reality television is down to editing to fit a story, but not in such an obvious way in which the viewer can tell. The viewer should be made to believe what they are seeing is all fit into one snug continuity and not raise more questions when watching. In the age of social media it’s just too risky to attempt to do this, and we saw this most recent season just how troubling that could be. We shouldn’t have the host of the show going rogue to defend editing, and that’s where Channel Ten really need to look at how they put a season together to really bring it up a notch.
Survivor has lasted for nearly 20 years in the US based on a strict format that brings 13-15 episodes a season followed by a reunion. When Australian Survivor first was attempted in 2002, Channel Nine stuck to that format, as did Channel Seven when they produced Celebrity Survivor in 2006. Channel Ten decided to try something different and make over 20 episodes, airing the show up to three times a week with episodes sometimes last upwards of 80 minutes without commercials. It was a bold move that was worth a shot, but a bold move that just doesn’t work.
Survivor is a show that succeeds on a vote out each episode, backed up with one or two challenges, some strategy talk and drama along the way. Even the worst seasons of the US version work perfectly based around this. Yet somehow Australian Survivor just overdoes it, and it’s inconsistent editing and pacing are shown even more so in the longer episodes.
The final two episodes this week are a classic example of this. What did we have over the course of both episodes? One episode was basically an hour of drawing sympathy for Luke who we knew was going home as soon as he lost immunity, before the finale brought an over abundance of emotional heart tugging with family members showing up and dragged it out before we got to the final tribal. Both episodes should’ve been merged to keep it tighter, and that would’ve brought a much more consistent and satisfying ending.
There is also no excuse for under-editing players when you have such a long season with longer episodes. The fact that Sam this season didn’t get one single confessional, despite lasting 16 days was an absolute joke, and other players such as Simon, Hannah and Casey should also be equally annoyed with the lack of screentime they received. This ties back into my point above with editing, but there really is no reason why a player should be ignored on a show that has nearly triple the amount of time to showcase players than an average US season does.
It was a great relief that Channel Ten was able to secure the rights to the actual music from the US version of Survivor when it returned in 2016. A huge issue with the previous two Australian versions was that is lacked the ‘feel’ of the American show given it used original music. So that was a bonus. And it is still a bonus to use it.
However there is just too much of it. Way too much of it. A tribal council sounds like it should be a battle between two Jedi Knights battling over the fate of the galaxy, not a simple elimination on a reality television show. I swear that if somebody farted loud enough, they would play a loud DUM DUM DUMMMMMMM to accentuate the drama it brought to that moment. It’s way too much. Scale it back, bring in a simple background theme (Tally The Vote anyone?) and it would be much better.
Ugh. This one is obvious. Just don’t do it. It’s stupid, pointless and a waste of an episode. Especially when it happens on an 80 minute episode. Why should we bother watching if we are just going to get an episode that doesn’t matter? The three episode stretch this season featuring the vote out of Daisy and Simon to ‘exile beach’, followed by Daisy being eliminated in a challenge and Simon being voted out 5 minutes later was perhaps the worst and most pointless stretch of episodes ever seen in Survivor. It’s just not needed. Scrap these episodes immeadiately.
This is a tough one to sell, because on the grand scheme of things Channel Ten have been amazing in bringing this show back and keeping it on air. So that has to be said as a positive. But there is an issue around just how they produce this and make it how it is. All the issues above come down to the network. Sure the show itself is made by Endemol Shine, but the network does have the final say in just what airs on TV.
With everything above that I have already mentioned, it has to be pointed out that Ten also plays a huge issue in showing favouritism to players and ignoring others. The whole saga around Luke this week is a clear example of this, and it really shouldn’t be portrayed by a network that they are playing favourites and over selling a player to jump on the hype train, The entire episode where Luke was voted out is once again summed up by my points above, particularly around the editing and the music, because at the end of the day the game of Survivor is bigger than one player and should never be made out to be anything else. The fact that their social media team go as far to create fake notes for people to take to work or school because they are “so sad Luke was voted out” is just ridiculous, and they definitely show poor judgement when it comes to keeping a fair and balanced show for the audience to watch.
If they are going to play up moments like that, fine, do it. I have no problem with that. But balance it out more so that everyone gets a turn. We don’t need 500 more posts about how “great and entertaining” David is when 98% of our episodes are filled with exactly that when we’re watching the show. CBS doesn’t do this with the American version, so why should we have to deal with that on this side of the world?
As you read at the beginning of this article, the season that just finished airing was the sixth season of Australian Survivor. Not the fourth. The fact that anybody says any different is just plain wrong. And the fact that Channel Ten ignore this too, particularly when it comes to the upcoming All Stars season is even more wrong.
For those who need a quick history lesson, Channel Nine did a version of the show in 2002 and Channel Seven did a celebrity version in 2006. Australian Survivor is actually one of the very few shows in the history of Australian television to have aired on all three major networks, making it very unique indeed.
Sure, both previous versions weren’t that well received and are quick to be dismissed by the Survivor community. But in hindsight, it is actually unfair to do so without going back to watch them. Both have their flaws, just like the ones that I am pointing out today with the Channel Ten version, but both also have some fantastic positives which should be celebrated and remembered as part of the franchise. I would even go as far to argue that season 1 is the best season in the history of the Australian version. But that debate is for another day.
I do also stand firmly on my notion that the two greatest players in the history of Australian Survivor are the winner from season 1 Rob Dickson and fourth place finisher from the same season Katie Gold. Both owned that season and played some of the best gameplay you will ever see in any version, and their achievements should be celebrated and recognised. The Channel Seven version also brought us David Oldfield, who if it wasn’t for a terrible twist at the end would’ve dominated that game and won it at a canter. The fact that you can have such great players and have them be ignored is an absolute travesty.
I would argue that any Australian Survivor fan who ignores the first two seasons would struggle to be able to hold that opinion when talking to any of the 28 castaways who played the game prior to the Channel Ten contestants. Each one of them suffered through hunger, pain, adverse weather and all the regular challenges any Survivor contestant faces, and they shouldn’t be relegated into oblivion just because fans want to ignore their seasons or the network wants to pretend they never happened. We don’t do that with the likes of Redemption Island or Edge of Extinction, so why do we do it in Australia?
While I understand that Channel Ten on a production level would want to keep it in house and only cast their own players for an All Stars season, I still think that ignoring some of the all time greats such as Katie and David from the previous seasons and not even consider them to come back is a massive mistake. And on that note, #BringBackKatieGold.
At the end of the day, it’s great we have Australian Survivor again. Absolutely fantastic. But I believe it is important to look at the overall product objectively and not through rose coloured glasses in the way that most of Australia seemingly does. In no way do I believe it is a terrible show. Far from it. It is entertaining and great that such an iconic show can get a local version to allow superfans on this side of the world to play, well, perhaps with the exception of me now that I have written this article…
However with a few little bits ironed out, the show could finally be truly great and stand on its own two feet as the king of reality television down under.
So get that iron Channel Ten…