‘Australian Survivor’: Jonathan LaPaglia On How the US Franchise Keeps Things Fresh

jlp jonathan lapaglia australian survivor heroes vs villains

Australian Survivor is back, and according to host Jonathan LaPaglia, better than ever.

“Every season we say ‘this is the best season ever!’ and normally, that’s the marketing department, not me,” LaPaglia told The Latch over the phone. “But this season, I’m actually gonna say it.”

Not wanting to discredit the past seasons, LaPaglia added: “I think they’re all good seasons, but this one is a cracker. It really just has some big, inventive gameplay that doesn’t seem to let up, and we have a bunch of twists that land really well.

“Overall, it’s just a great, great season. It certainly felt that way on the ground and I’m hoping it comes together that way.”

This season, Australian Survivor is taking on the beloved Heroes Vs Villains theme but, for longtime Survivor fans, this one comes with a twist.

Heroes Vs Villains was first done by US Survivor back in 2010 and featured a cast of returning players battling it out for the title of Sole Survivor. The Australian Survivor format is a little different — rather than completely returning players, the cast is made up of half returning players, and half new players, with five returnees on the Heroes tribe, and six on the Villains, a decision that caused a bit of a stir in the Survivor fandom.

“I did see that on social media, people are like, ‘well, hang on, Heroes Vs Villains, it should all be returnees!’ and ‘maybe a better theme to this season would be Fans Vs Favourites’,” LaPaglia said. “And I get it and I understand what they’re saying on some level.”

LaPaglia said that while “technically” a Fans Vs Favourites season “would’ve been more appropriate”, he thinks the end result is great, and that the producers “did a good job of figuring out who was a hero and who was a villain”.

“There’s probably two players this season who felt like they weren’t in the right tribe, but it’s subjective, you know?” he laughed. “Because from our point of view, we’re like, ‘Uh, no, you’re on the right tribe! What are you talking about!'”

Of the returning players, LaPaglia assured us that he doesn’t have any favourites, but said that he was “particularly happy to see Nina [Twine] come back”.

“‘Coz you know, she got pulled for medical reasons in her season, which just sucks, going out that way,” he said. “So I was particularly happy that she got another chance to come back. She wanted to come back and demonstrate what she was really capable of.”

As a general rule, though, LaPaglia is always happy for a season to feature returning players, because he likes to “see the growth that they go through” in their gameplay.

“You know, working out, reflecting on what they did in the past, correcting those mistakes and coming back and playing a better game, it’s fun to watch that,” he said. “So, I’m happy for any of them to come back.”

With a lot of talk online about the possibility of there one day being an international edition of Survivor: All Stars, which would see our players go up against those from around the world, we had to know: who would JLP like to see represent Australian Survivor?

“Ooh, that’s — hmm!” he exclaimed. He laughed. “Now you’re making me pick favourites!

“But, I think I’d love to see George [Mladenov] do it,” he ventured. “David Genat would be great. Luke Toki would be kind of hilarious. Who else would we like to see? Hayley [Leake] would be pretty good, and I think Shonee [Bowtell] would be a good bet for that tribe.”

The last time we spoke to LaPaglia, we discussed how the extended format of Australian Survivor — with more days in the game, more episodes, and longer runtimes — can make the game more challenging for players to make bold moves, because the more moves you make, the more likely you are to be eliminated.

Since then, the US franchise has shortened its format even more, introducing a number of new twists and turns along the way, all of which combine to create a new version of Survivor that moves at a breakneck pace. The newer seasons of Survivor have had a mixed response from fans, and as a big fan of the game, we wanted JLP’s thoughts on the new format, and whether it could work for Australian Survivor.

“I do like it, to be honest with you!” he said. “I think the shorter, faster game really keeps the foot on the accelerator and I like that.”

Comparing the two franchises, LaPaglia said that there are “consequences to extending the format” the way Australian Survivor does, in that “it‘s the big aggressive gameplay that really keeps the game moving and keeps the pace up and makes it fun to watch”.

With the US’ new format, LaPaglia said, “you can take big swings and have a much higher chance of getting to the end”.

As for whether we’ll be seeing any of the new twists that Survivor has introduced making their way down under — like the very controversial Hourglass twist — JLP doesn’t know.

“Unfortunately that’s not something that they get me involved with,” he said.

“Personally I think they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at it with the US one, but I kind of like the fact they have, ‘coz I feel like they’re trying to keep the game fresh and modern,” he said.

“In doing so, they’re trying a lot of things and maybe, you know, you could argue maybe it’s a couple things too many, right, all at once, but I think part of that is an experimental element to it,” he mused. “There are lots of things going on, lots of advantages, lots of twists, and maybe not all the things have landed like they intended.

“I’m not in the head of Jeff Probst, but I think there is an experimental element to it and seeing what works and what doesn’t,” he continued, “and I’m sure that they will hone the stuff that does work, and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t.”

“Overall, I’ve enjoyed it,” he reiterated. “I appreciate that about the US, that they’re willing to do that.”

LaPaglia added that he “often will suggest things” to the producers, but has found that they “seem to be reluctant to make any significant changes for fear of losing the audience”.

“But I think you have to make some big bold moves, just like the game players — I feel like we should sometimes be doing the same thing,” he said.

As for the changes he would make?

“Now you’re really putting me on the spot!” he exclaimed with a laugh.

“Personally I’d love a shorter game, fewer episodes,” he said. “I think that would make it better, but that’s just me — a shorter game, fewer episodes and I’d make the episodes a little bit shorter too.”

Australian Survivor: Heroes Vs Villains premieres at 7.30pm, Monday, January 30, only on 10 and 10 Play on Demand.

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