e was an unusual choice for the host of Network Ten’s reboot of Australian Survivor: a doctor-turneddramatic actor who had made a life far from home; a family man who had no presenting experience. He was a risky choice, too: the show’s previous Australian incarnations on the Seven Network and Nine Network flagged under poor ratings, lasting just one season each.
Yet here we are, on the cusp of a third season on Network Ten hosted by Jonathan Lapaglia, the revamped show’s success in part credited to the 48-yearold’s steady hand – and muscled physique, his impressive biceps having scored a following of their own on social media. Lapaglia takes time out from the gym floor to talk to Stellar from the Los Angeles home he shares with wife Ursula Brooks and daughter Tilly. You became a US citizen in September 2016, ahead of an election that set off what many might say is a fraught time for the nation. Any regrets? No, no regrets. We talked about becoming citizens for a number of years but we were just complacent and lazy, I guess. Leading up to that election we just wanted to vote. I did my thing but it didn’t matter anyway. For a long period there I was just obsessed with the news; it consumed my every day. I would wake up and read news articles and couldn’t believe what was going on with Trump’s administration. And that continues, but I guess like a lot of people I’ve become numb to it. I think in California we are a bit insulated because it is almost like its own country. Like many people, I am concerned not only for the US but the entire world. It’s disconcerting and I wonder how things are going to play out. So escaping to a tiny island for Australian Survivor must have been nice. It was. Certainly when we first landed we were constantly checking in. But by the end, we were so busy that it took the back seat. It was nice not to be consumed by it 24/7. You hired a dialect coach to regain your Aussie accent when you starred in the 2011 ABC mini-series The Slap. Have you lost anything else since making America home? Access to universally good coffee. But it is getting better. I come back every year for work or the family, so I am in constant contact with Australia. Apart from the accent, I don’t feel I’ve lost too much. You were struck down with a mosquito-borne illness while filming the previous cycle of Survivor. Any dramas this time around? I got sick again with bad gastro; it was pretty gnarly. Most of the crew ended up getting it. But there are no days off. Just lots of make-up. Everyone is always like, “That looks like it would be so much fun!” Yeah… it is. Until you get sick. You’ve said you’re a combination of coach, psychologist and referee in this job. How do you prepare for that? We sit down and have story meetings and come up with a list of questions that might be useful. So we have an idea where we want to go, where it might go. But of course when you get into a tribal council, the contestants have their own ideas. I am trying to track 20 different stories of all the contestants, plus all the information that the producers would like to come out. It’s one of the trickiest things I’ve had to do. Give me a script
straight up any day! It’s way easier. It’s intense, you really need to be on your toes, to track everything and be on point. It is a weird dance, for sure. What has your role on Survivor taught you about your real-life alliances? I’ve come to realise that I am at the bottom of the alliance with my family; they let me believe all this time that I was in control. I am worried on a daily basis that I am going to get voted out. They are just keeping me around for the extra vote; before I know it my head is going to be on the chopping block. You have a 13-year-old daughter. What’s harder, getting to the end of Survivor or parenting a teenage girl? I have to go with Survivor, just because I think I have an unusual daughter. We are very lucky. She is way smarter and more sensible than both her parents. I don’t know where she came from but she is incredibly easy to parent. In fact, I think Survivor is one of the most difficult things in the world. I think that’s one of the reasons it has been so popular over the years, because there is no formula to win this thing. There is not one path, there are an infinite number. That’s what makes it so fascinating and maddening at the same time. Your arms always seem to get Twitter in a frenzy. Was there pressure to up your game again? There is total pressure to keep it up. The number of bicep curls I had to do before each challenge was crazy. I was actually a little bit blindsided when that first happened. I thought there would be a lot of chatter about the show, but it was just all about my arms. As the youngest of three boys, are you the baby of the family, performing for attention? Well, my brother [Anthony Lapaglia] is an actor as well, so we don’t fit the mould. There was such a big gap between us, eight years’ difference. I kind of grew up as an only child on many levels – it was just me and the Matchbox cars and Lego.