If you’re a fan of reality competition shows like The Amazing Race, Australian Survivor or anything that involves strategy, strength and social skills, it’s likely you’ve crossed paths with Michelle Pearce-Denovan already.
I began covering Australian Survivor for work back in 2018, and quickly fell down a rabbit hole. First, I tuned into a few episodes of Australian Survivor: Champions Vs Contenders, just to get the gist. The next thing I knew, it was several months later, and I’d not only watched every episode of Australian Survivor, but every episode of the US franchise too. It wasn’t enough. Soon, I found myself tuning into Big Brother Australia for the first time in years. As the years went on, more shows emerged. Hunted Australia, The Traitors Australia, The Bridge Australia, The Amazing Race Australia. The list went on endlessly, and as I joined Facebook groups for fans of these shows, to find my people, Michelle’s name kept popping up. Over, and over, and over again.
Before Million Dollar Island premiered, I already knew I’d be tuning in, and I went looking for a group to join. Once again, Michelle’s name popped up, and my curiosity was piqued — who was she, this woman who was behind all these Facebook groups? What did she do for a living? How many groups was she actually in? How much time was she spending in them? I had many questions, and there was only one way to get answers. I reached out to Michelle, and thankfully, she was keen to chat about life as an admin and all it entails.
Over a Zoom call, Michelle told The Latch all about life as an admin, from where it all began, to her dream of competing on The Amazing Race, and everything in between.
How It Started…
Michelle’s journey to Facebook group domination began over a decade ago, when she became an admin in a group for the US version of The Amazing Race. The group has nearly 40,000 members from all over the world, and a group of that size requires 24-hour coverage.
“I’m in Australia, there’s someone in Ireland, there’s a few in Canada and one in America,” Michelle explained. “So we’d take all the time zones and we can sort of cover it and be there most of the time.”
In 2016, Network 10 announced that they were rebooting Australian Survivor after two one-season attempts in 2001 and 2006. Michelle was thrilled, and immediately went to find a Facebook group to join. When she couldn’t find one, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I couldn’t find a group!” she recalled, “And I said ‘this is ridiculous, there’s gotta be a group. If I can’t find a group, I’ll make a group.’”
“I messaged him and said ‘oh my God, I couldn’t find your group. I’ve got a group, you’ve got a group, what am I going to do about this, I’ve got like 150 people in it now!’” she said. “And he said ‘just keep it, you know, we’ll just have two going, it doesn’t worry us’.”
… And How It’s Going
Seven years on, Michelle’s Australian Survivor Facebook group now has nearly over 26 thousand members, with new requests to join flowing in daily, even in the off-season.
Currently, Michelle is an admin for:
- Amazing Race Fans — 39k members
- Australian Survivor Fans — 26.4k members
- Amazing Race Australia Fans and Racers — 6.7k members
- Hunted Australia Fans — 4.8k members
- The Summit Australia Fans — 4.3k members
- Traitors Australia Fans — 2.4k members
- Million Dollar Island Australia Fans — 952 members
- The Bridge Australia Fans — 865 members
- Rush Australia Fans — 254 members
She’s also an admin for a Big Brother Australia group, but notes that she didn’t start that group and that it’s “like the wild west”.
“I’m a moderator in the Big Brother group, and I literally go in there for the season, and then I leave, because it’s just crazy in there, and I can’t control it!” she laughed. “Someone else is admin, and I just let it go — this is not my baby. All the other ones are my baby.”
With so many groups, most of which have thousands of active members, Michelle’s social reach is undeniably huge. But unlike an influencer, she doesn’t see it as a platform for self-promotion.
“It’s not a platform for myself or [co-admin] Jewls to put our own things forward,” she said. “We don’t need a platform. It’s for us to connect and join people together. We’re not there for ourselves.”
But How Did Michelle Get Here?
“The ball just started rolling, and more shows started coming out,” Michelle said.
With so much crossover between the fandoms for these shows, there were calls for her to start more Facebook groups. Over the years, Michelle’s approach to leading with kindness has led to cast, crew, and even show creators joining in the fun. In the US Amazing Race group alone, the show’s creators — Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster — are in there, as well as host Phil Keoghan.
“Because I keep it congenial and fun, the cast then started joining,” Michelle said. “[Executive producers] are in there, film crews are in there, and then because of that, more people wanted to join.”
She continued: “And then it got out of hand, and then next minute, there’s over 25,000 people and I’m like ‘what am I doing?!’ and then people wanted me to start other groups.”
Now, she — along with a co-admin — will start the Facebook group before a show even premieres, as you can see with the Rush Australia group above. Often, they’ll set the group up as soon as the casting call is announced.
But Michelle’s reach goes beyond the Facebook groups. She’s also hosted podcasts for the UK and US versions of Hunted, and appeared on The Nullified Take as well.
“At the moment, we’re doing the second season of Amazing Race Australia [on Reality TV Warriors], which is widely seen to be the best Amazing Race season in the world, of any franchise,” she said.
Why These Shows?
For Michelle, it’s all about the competition.
“I love competition. And strategy!” she said. “I love trying to work with people, getting an alliance, trying to get to the end, and of course, I love winning. It’s hard to get to the end of Survivor!”
In fact, her love for them extends beyond the groups and the podcasts. Michelle also participated in online games and the fan-organised Sydney Survivor.
“I’ve played Survivor online, they’re called orgs, I’ve played that for years, and I’ve done an Amazing Race game, and I’ve done something which is similar to Traitors online, it’s usually called Werewolf, something like that,” she said.
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“When I had the chance to play it in real life for Sydney Survivor, I jumped at the chance, because look, I’m either going to go out first because people know who I am — and that happens a lot in online games for me — or I’ll make it to the end,” she said.
I noted that this was exactly what Australian Survivor: Champions Vs Contenders 2 winner Pia Miranda said in her season.
“That’s what I was thinking when I said my first confessional!” Michelle exclaimed with a laugh. “I was like ‘oh God, I’m Pia Miranda!’”
Life As an Admin
With so many groups to manage and maintain, I wondered if this was like a full-time job for Michelle. On our call, she assured me that wasn’t the case.
Rather, Michelle is a full-time teacher who considers her admin duties a hobby.
“It’s not a second full time job,” she said. “It’s just like someone who goes to the gym or reads books — this is my gym, this is my reading books, this is my downtime, and I do enjoy it.”
Outside of the live chat threads for each episode, Michelle keeps all the groups “totally quiet” until 3.30pm AEST the following day.
“I like to have the international fans and the interstate fans not be spoiled, and there’s a lot of international fans, especially for Australian Survivor,” she explained.
After her students leave for the day, Michelle will log on and approve pending posts, admit people to the groups and reply to people.
“Just before I came on with you, there were people joining every group, except for The Bridge,” she said.
After that, it’s “mostly at night time” that she’ll engage with the groups.
“Look, I used to read, I don’t read anymore!” she laughed. “When a show’s on, I like to be on, chatting with people, so that’s just like anyone watching a TV show, except I’ve got a screen in front of me.
“If it’s a Survivor finale, usually I need two screens, or a phone and a screen, because something actually breaks down,” she continued. “I remember one time, my screen, Jewls’ screen went down, all the comments were out of whack, it was just crazy!”
Keeping Things Congenial: Building Community
“Because I’m a teacher, I don’t like bullying. I don’t like all the sites that talk down to the cast — they’re real people,” Michelle explained.
When it comes to the groups, Michelle is adamant that they remain a friendly, accepting, safe space for anyone who wants to join.
Of course, as with all reality shows, the fans often hold passionate opinions. If it’s about a contestant’s gameplay, that’s fair game. But Michelle makes it a priority to maintain a friendly, congenial group, and that means no commenting on people’s personal lives, bodies, speculating about contestants’ health, or anything of the sort.
“You don’t talk about people’s personal lives,” she said. “Unless they’re promoting something, doing something for charity — something like that, we’ll promote it. But personal lives, no. We stay out of it.”
The result is an environment where fans, contestants and crew can all come together to celebrate the shows they love so much. Sometimes, they even get to do so in person.
“When we had the watch party going in Sydney, everyone would come up and say hello to me, and I’d be like ‘okay, I need your full name!'” she said. “And I could see their profile picture [in my mind]. It was nice to have that, and some people met at the party and then went to something else together.
“I love that I’ve made communities, and connections, and friendships that wouldn’t normally have formed,” she said. “I’ve got people who now travel between Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and visit the people who they’ve met in the group, I love it!”
Expressing Opinions As an Admin
Shows like The Amazing Race, Survivor and the like are known for having passionate, opinionated fans. As the admin for so many Facebook groups, clearly Michelle is passionate about these shows, but I was curious to know whether her role as an admin ever led her to withhold her opinions.
“Sometimes I might have really strong opinions about something someone’s done, but I know that they’re in the group, and I might… tone my comment down a little bit because I know they’re in the group,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that I’ve lessened my feelings, I just write it differently than if I was in some random group.”
She added: “I’m okay with putting all my opinions out there. Sometimes people ask my opinion and then I do give it truthfully — I don’t lie just because I’m an admin — but I will word my words properly, like I would with a school report.”
Michelle said that while she might “tone down” her anger if she has strong feelings about something, it’s not something that comes up often.
“I don’t really have anger about these games, because I know how hard it is,” she said. “I’ve played them online, I’ve played once in real life, I’ve done races, especially in The Amazing Race — people say ‘why are they making stupid mistakes? Why are they doing this, why are they doing that?’.
“I’m like ‘I’ve misread a map before. I’ve misread a clue before — I’ve read a clue and done the total opposite. I have done the silly things that they have done, and I’ve learned from my mistakes’,” she said.
As for what gets her heated in these shows?
“I really hate quitters,” she said. “Quitters in the game really drive me crazy.”
Conflict. It’s a Facebook group inevitability, and something that Michelle is very equipped to deal with.
“Because I’m a teacher, and I have demanding parents, I know how to talk people down,” she said. “I deal with kindergarten children all the time, so I’ve got patience in spades, but it’s basically because I’ve known how to talk to parents for decades and how to bring an irate parent down, so I can tend to bring anybody in a group and calm them down.”
She and the other admins find that they “don’t block [people] very often”, because they’ll try to resolve the conversation first.
“We give people warnings, and we chat to them on private message, to see if there’s something we can work through with them, because some of them might be long-standing members,” Michelle said.
“If they are really argumentative in the group, I might [private message] them offline, off group, and we’ll have a chat,” she explained.
The result, she’s found, is that people will either calm down and return to the group, or they’ll come to a mutual agreement that this group is not for them.
“My groups don’t accept bullying,” she reiterated. “If they really want to be mean, I’ll ask them ‘look, do you really want to be in this group, there’s lots of other groups, you can join another group, and generally, those people do leave.”
A PSA to Casting Agents: Put Michelle on The Amazing Race!
Of all the shows that Michelle enjoys, The Amazing Race remains her favourite. It’s the show that began her journey to becoming an admin for all these groups, and it’s the one she really, really wants to be on.
“That’s my favourite show, and I’ve applied for it so many times!” she said. “Even the creator, Bertram [van Munster] in America, said ‘why aren’t you on the show yet?’ — it’s just crazy.
“I had an interview last year, but I didn’t get on,” she added.
So here is our plea to any casting agents, producers, contestants, camera operators, publicists, network executives who happen to see this: Put Michelle on The Amazing Race. It’s what she deserves.
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