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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TV - DANIELLE MCGRANE

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.

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