SURVIVAL OF THE SMARTEST
From studying medicine to following in his big brother’s footsteps and taking up acting, Jonathan LaPaglia has been on a journey. As the host of the new Australian Survivor, his bag of skills is now coming fully into play
Jonathan LaPaglia turned his back on a career in medicine. He thought those days were behind him when he decided to follow his brother, Without A Trace star Anthony LaPaglia, into acting. But for his first presenting gig as the host of Australian Survivor, he found that medical degree came in pretty handy.
“In a way you’re like this amateur psychologist, there’s a lot of psychology involved,” LaPaglia said.
It certainly helped the Adelaide presenter who acts as a sort of linchpin throughout Network Ten’s first season of Australian Survivor.
With 24 people fighting to outlast each other on the island of Samoa, LaPaglia found himself sidestepping mind games the likes of which he’d never experienced before. But it’s not surprising when contestants have the chance to win $500,000 if they can survive until the end. “You are kind of fighting for your life,” LaPaglia said.
It’s not as though they’re merely trying to survive, though. Split into three tribes, the contestants also have to compete in difficult obstacle course-style challenges for rewards such as food, comfort items, tools and immunity. If a competitor fails a challenge, they’re brought before the tribal council who vote to decide who goes.
“When they come to tribal council for the first time they have to dip their torch into the fire because the fire on the island represents life and as long as they have it, they’re alive,” he said. “But once it’s gone they’re out of the game.”
During the council meetings, alliances are formed and enemies are made, all in a bid to be crowned the winner.
“You’ll need to vote one of your own members out but that’s where the game play comes in. The game is in keeping people on side until the time when you need to vote them out,” he said.
It’s at these meetings that LaPaglia’s background in psychology comes in handy.
“I go into the tribal council knowing what’s going on with all of them but I have to pretend like I don’t know what’s going on with them, so the questions have to come from the periphery,” he said.
LaPaglia has been studying the work of Jeff Probst, the host of US Survivor, which has been running for 32 seasons.
“It seems like it’s easy when you watch Jeff, but it’s really not because you’re on the spot. You have to come up with these questions that can pry open these subjects without making too obvious that you know what’s going on, without pointing the finger at someone. So they kind of have to be hypothetical in nature,” he said. “That’s the pressure of the show, to put all kinds of pressures on them and see what it does to human behaviour, and it certainly twists the contestants into a knot for sure.”
The concept of the TV show tends to go against the idea of Aussie mateship.
“I think the Aussies really struggled with it,” LaPaglia said. “I think for the Americans it’s a little more acceptable to be cutthroat. The Australians, they struggled with what needed to be done.”
According to the host, it makes for interesting struggles and conflict both between people and within themselves as they grapple with their own moral values.
“It’s refreshing to see someone who doesn’t have an arsenal or game plan stumbling their way through it,” he said.
Unlike many other reality TV shows, the villains and heroes aren’t as easily defined. LaPaglia says those who you find horrendous in the beginning might actually become your favourite character as you watch their growth through the show.
“That’s one of the interesting things about this show is that people have journeys,” he said. “Someone who starts out as a villain ends up being a hero and vice versa. So that’s what makes it, for me, so fascinating to watch.”
The experience has certainly been a challenge for LaPaglia himself. He spent 68 days in hot conditions on the island, and worked 67 of them. It was a change of pace for the Love Child actor.
“It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done, it was much harder than I thought it would be,” he said.
“It’s a massive, massive show but it was a crazy, wild, woolly ride that was a great experience for me. It was a pretty fascinating and rewarding experience.” Australian Survivor, premieres Sunday, 7.30pm, Ten
The “Throw One Over” challenge will be part of episode one, showing Sunday night.