All reality shows are shite, right?
Actually, no. I used to hold this misinformed belief myself, due in no small part to the amount of trashy, brainless and sometimes quite insulting programmes that do make up a large part of the reality show pie chart. Hell, at one point I was half anticipating ‘Britain’s Favourite Tramp‘ to pop up in the genre.
I still thought they were all shite even as late as September last year (conveniently overlooking the fact that I had never missed an episode of The Apprentice in its – to-date -19-year run), when I went to my favourite deli in Leicester where my friend Conor works, and he was waxing lyrical about Survivor. I vaguely recognised the title – it ran for a couple of seasons in the early 2000s – but I would almost certainly have dismissed it at the time as ‘rubbish’. But Conor was talking about the US version, which has been running for 23 years now and is still a hugely popular part of the schedule Stateside.
Still not expecting much, I decided to check it out, on the basis that Conor had recommended many great shows to me in the past. He started me on season 25 (it is presently in its 45th season). Now, I don’t use the phrase “OMG” very much. In fact, I don’t use it at all, but…
This is a deep, deep show with so many layers to it. Smart, strategic, savvy and sassy all at once, the truth is that you cannot win Survivor unless you have all those qualities and more – good social skills are important, as are a high tolerance level and the ability to endure the severest of conditions. You need a decent enough measure of athletic ability too, but often those who fall by the wayside put far too much emphasis on this facet of the game when it is probably, surprisingly, the least important part of the game. If you think the winners of Survivor are all going to be muscular bronzed Adonises or catwalk models who would scratch your eyes out in the bathroom, then you are pitifully mistaken. The winners of Survivor are a highly eclectic group from all walks of life. I won’t give names, but you have the schemers, the nice guys, the bad guys, the single moms, the seven-stone weaklings, the cerebral winners, the players who overcome their fears as the weeks pass, the providers, the backstabbers…all these kinds of people have won Survivor, which is undoubtedly one of the most inclusive shows on television. The one thing that links pretty much all of them? They have to have a certain level of intelligence. You simply can’t win unless you do as its tagline says: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.
And now, after more than twenty years since the UK version went out with a whimper after two series, a BBC reboot, with Joel Dommett at the helm, is due to start airing on Saturday 28th October. Those earlier incarnations suffered from a wholly unnecessary documentary style, which detracted somewhat from the most important aspect of the show – the relationships being formed – and a lack of charisma from both respective hosts, but I feel like Dommett is the perfect fit to make this reboot a resounding success. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I only hope the show can reach the same heights as its US counterpart.
As a precursor to this momentous resurrection, I spoke to two people with previous experience on Survivor *SPOILER ALERT* – Richard Hatch, who won the US version’s first season, and Sarah Odell, who competed in the first series of the UK one…
Richard cut a controversial and divisive figure at the time – openly gay, atheist, and spending a lot of his time on Survivor‘s inaugural run naked (blurred out, naturally), the latter aspect of his game caused one alleged ‘incident’ when he returned for season 8’s ‘All Stars‘. It’s important to acknowledge that he was cleared of any wrongdoing after being supported by that season’s cast and a lengthy investigation that looked at the supposed accusation from many different camera angles. I talked to Richard about both his seasons, his thoughts on Survivor now and his time in jail after he was put behind bars in the 2000s for alleged tax evasion. Richard talks frankly and candidly about these things and I think he was treated shabbily, a victim of misinformation and, arguably, blatant homophobia. Have a look and see what you think. Oh by the way, my son’s a big fan too, and couldn’t resist making Richard feel “at home” at the start of the video. Also, Richard asked me via email whether I could get him contact details for Charlie Parsons, the TV producer responsible for many shows including Survivor, which is why I mentioned him in the interview. Bear in mind that if you are currently binge-watching previous seasons, there are SEVERAL SPOILERS in the video.
Meanwhile, back in the first UK adaptation *MORE SPOILERS*, Sarah was unfortunate to not fare as well in the game, becoming the fourth person voted out, despite being one of the most likeable contestants on the show.
What was the hardest thing about being on Survivor? I don’t think I could ever do it because I get fed up with people if I’m in their company for even a few hours, so…
SARAH ODELL: You know, it’s funny you should say that because I’ve literally just discovered that programme Alone and binge-watched the whole lot. And I was like “THIS is what I should have gone on!” In terms of what was the hardest, I think you hit the nail, because I enjoyed the island experience. You know, we found food pretty quickly, but I hadn’t done enough research and I had NOT anticipated quite how horrible and conniving people were going to be. So I formed an alliance with Richard (Owen), Jackie (Carey) and Eve (Holding), the bomb disposal expert – we got together pretty much at the very beginning, but unbeknownst to me, Richard and Jackie had met up before the thing had started, in the hotel, even though I’d been there about seven days before it started and I’d followed the brief, which was that were pretty much supposed to stay in our rooms. But they got together and had a party, and decided that, whatever happened, they would stick together through thick and thin. I really clicked with Eve, and we’re still friends now, but it came to the point where we were saying “Oh, we’ve got to get rid of Jackie, she’s useless!”, so I tried to instigate getting her voted off, but of course, Richard wouldn’t vote for her and it all backfired, so I was voted off instead. Eve was the one who told me all about Jackie, and of course, she then got it in the neck, so once I got voted out, Jackie was like, “You’re next!”
Eve was like “What just happened there?” because we were totally all going to just vote Zoe out, but they’d all done the dirty. And I didn’t really want to vote Zoe out, I wanted to get back into an alliance by getting rid of Jackie and bringing Zoe in. We were kind of safe, going into the merge, because we had the numbers, so we were just going to pick them all off. The four of us had decided we were going to be the final four, but Richard was very smart – I didn’t realise he was a psychiatrist, and he was just “feeling” us, and putting all this ‘bad’ stuff in our heads about the others.
I don’t think you deserved to go home that early…
Yeah, but I think I just wasn’t really playing the game that well, I was just so happy just to be picking up rubbish, cleaning up the beach, swimming and enjoying life. I mean the island was so beautiful. But I remember Nigel Lithgoe, when I came out, saying “Oh, I’m so sorry you got binned! Mark Austin, he’s upset you got binned, but…you should trust no one!”
Was that the BEST thing about it?
Yes! Just having that simple life. I’ve always been drawn to that kind of thing. After Survivor, I went and did a yoga teacher training course and ended up living in an ashram for four and a half years, which was very refreshing. I’d been doing very adventure-type stuff like ultra-endurance sports – I’d done a race in Borneo six months before Survivor, and I know Mark Burnett, the creator of the show and he said “Sarah, they’re going to do an English Survivor. Why don’t you try out for it?” so I said “Yeah sure” because at that time, the prize was a million quid, so that was quite good! But when I got there and we were about to do the first challenge, this Malaysian guy came up to me, in front of my whole tribe, after I’d told them that I’d never been to the jungles before, or anything like that, and he said “Oh, I remember you from CP25! From the checkpoint!” and I was just like “Oh my God”, I’d been totally rumbled – and it was Richard who piped up and said “Oh I think you’re getting her confused with somebody else” and he totally stuck up for me in front of everybody and bailed me out of quite a sticky situation.
Anyone you really didn’t like?
Peter, who was the model – I couldn’t stand him. He said some really unpleasant stuff, which you didn’t see on the show. He was on my list, and definitely going to be picked off after Zoe, and then the older guy, and by then it would have been time for the merge and everything would have come together. So I was really pissed off that I missed out on more of the island experience. It wasn’t about the money, it was more about missing out on that experience. I actually saw Richard at an adventure race not so long ago and even now, I can’t really forgive him for flipping! (laughs) – You know, I can have a laugh with him but deep down, I really detest him! (NB – This does come across to me as Sarah is saying this tongue in cheek, but I can’t be 100% positive!)
Simon actually tried to organise a 20-year reunion, but I thought “You know what? I’m just not really interested in being part of this.” I mean, they’re all nice people, you know, Simon’s super nice, but the fact that *SPOILER ALERT* Jackie and Charlotte got to the last two says it all really!
I think people that win Survivor generally deserve it though, certainly in the US one anyway. I guess you disagree…
Well, I guess Charlotte…she played a smart game. She integrated herself well and made herself less of a ‘target’ while they picked off the strong people, and then they turned on Richard. So yes, I guess she did play a smart game, but, you know…
What do you think is the mark of a winner?
I would say that, having watched The Traitors – I thought the UK one was just brilliant – but specifically, the US Traitors, the winner of that [MORE SPOILERS HERE] was someone who’d played Survivor several times, and she was a friend to ALL. That was very smart – you’ve got to be working your friendships. You’ve got to be really working it and becoming a real valuable person to your tribe. To be valuable in the challenges, that’s good, but it’s important that you don’t do too much backstabbing – you listen, and you’re trustworthy. Flying under the radar, but also being valuable.
Good advice. Now, the host of your season, Mark Austen… he did a decent enough job, I guess, but was a tad lacklustre, the complete antithesis of Jeff Probst, who is great at ramping up the excitement on the US one, which is a mainstay of US television, now in its 45th season and regularly casting All-Stars type versions of the show with previous popular players.
Well, Mark was a newsreader, and he hated it! He really didn’t like the fact that he was doing something he felt was ‘beneath’ him. He did everything in one take – boom! He did NOT want to do multiple takes! Don’t get me wrong though, he was super nice and really friendly to talk to, but I just think he was having a miserable experience and felt like he should be reporting on some war somewhere instead. It was just too “game showy” for him.
So, with Survivor coming back….would you do it again?
Well, with it being the BBC, there won’t be any breaks so you’ll get 55 minutes or however long it is, to get more emotionally attached to the characters in the show, so I think they’ll probably do a better job of it. I mean ITV threw a lot of money at the show back then – they’d seen how Big Brother had taken off and I think they thought Survivor was going to be huge in the UK, but it just completely flopped! But yes, I loved doing it, and hearing that it’s coming back has kind of stirred up everything again, and if I was asked back as a returning player or for an “all-stars”, then yes, I’d definitely do it!
So there you have it. BBC take note – This can be a roaring success if you do it right, and it would be fabulous to see Sarah get a second crack at the competition. Give her a bell; go on, do it! And while we’re at it, maybe if the reboot is successful enough, we can have a UK vs USA version, and have both Sarah and Richard Hatch on it! That would be TV gold!
Survivor returns to UK television screens on Saturday 28th April at 8:30pm on BBC1.