It’s even harder than it looks! See how this YOU journalist handled Survivor SA

2018-05-03 17:22

Cape Town - The Philippines usually conjure images of palm trees gently swaying in the breeze, white sandy beach, drinks served in coconut shells and balmy blue water reflecting seemingly perpetual sunlight.

So when M-Net invited me to visit El Nido on Palawan Island in the Philippines, where the sixth season of Survivor SA was recently filmed, I was ready to go get myself a golden brown tan on an exotic island.

Alas, my fantasy of a beach holiday in the sun was not to be. Just like the real contestants, I was part of a group of 12 journalists who had to build our own shelter, struggle to light a fire, and worry about all kinds of creepy crawlies – not to mention slitheries – waiting to pounce from the surrounding jungle.

The luxurious flight with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong did little to prepare me for the hardship that lay waiting in the Philippines. After 28 hours of travel we finally arrive in El Nido, where we spend one night in luxury accommodation.

But the next morning at 5am we’re up and ready(ish) . . . to survive.

Our cellphones, sunglasses, watches and any other contraband is confiscated for safe keeping. The only items we’re allowed are the clothes we’re wearing, chronic medication and a warm piece of clothing. But we’re not searched as thoroughly as the real Survivor contestants are – some of the journos manage to smuggle cigarettes in their socks.

We’re transported to the island – the same one features in the 2012 movie The Bourne Legacy – by boat. We’re told not to speak on the boat because the cameras aren’t rolling. Then we reach the island, and the now-abandoned campsite of a team of this year’s Survivor SA contestants.

Once the rules of the game have been explained, the cameras start rolling.

The survival game begins immediately – we’re told to retrieve basic supplies (rice, a pot, wood, fruit, a panga, rope and flint) from a makeshift plastic raft floating in the ocean and bring it back to land on a bamboo raft. All within four minutes. And it’s far!

Some of those in the group can’t swim and we’re forced to transport them on the float with us. There’s little sign of team work and fitness levels leave much to be desired – scarcely back on the island a few of us are already out of breath. One woman complains about scraping her leg on coral.

But, just like in the real Survivor, there’s a medical team who watches the game from a distance and are on hand to help if there are injuries – but only when it get really serious.

Usually contestants are divided into tribes, but we’re one big tribe. Unlike the contestants, we’ve also met each other on the airport beforehand and we weren’t accompanied by chaperones who saw to it that we didn’t speak to each other.

We’re each given a bandana with the name of our tribe, Araw, and the game starts.

First up is building a shelter and getting a fire started, as storm clouds are already brewing in the distance. Unlike the real contestants, we were given flint to help light a fire. But journalists are used to getting their way and the resulting arguing keeps the shelter from taking form.

Two contestants in particular are at loggerheads from the get-go. Each of them is constantly secretly trying to raise tribe members against each other.

Two other contestants decide to ignore the drama and focus on starting the fire. And a small distance away one contestant is sitting under a tree, doing absolutely nothing.

Every now and again the production crew call aside a contestant for a face-to-face with the camera.

Soon, small factions form and votes are discussed. It’s very easy to become paranoid – as soon no one’s talking to you, you start thinking you’re the one who’s next to be voted out. It’s a real mind game!

We’ve only been on the island for a matter of hours and already the cracks are showing. Complaints are heard about makeup that’s been washed off, the lack of social media, the heat and insects, and the discomfort of using the jungle or ocean as a toilet.

Thankfully we were given basic supplies – the poor Survivors who really play the game do suffer from hunger pangs if they fail to win a reward challenge or to catch food themselves.

A few hours later a boat arrives to take us to our first reward challenge. Again, no talking aboard. As the boat comes to a standstill we see a small group of contestants in the distance who’ve just completed the challenge.

They look like they haven’t eaten in weeks. We’re asked to look away, lest we give away anything about who’s still left on the island at this stage of the series, but I manage to count that there are still six of the original 18 contestants left . . .

Once they’ve left, the 12 journalists have to complete the same challenge. We’re divided into two teams of six each and each person is fitted with a microphone. The task involves see-saws, a mud pit and a few other hurdles, a memory game and a puzzle – all while Survivor presenter Nico Panagio comments from the sidelines and sees to it that we follow the rules.

The winner in each group receives an immunity symbol, ensuring that they can’t be voted out by the others in this round.

And indeed, true colours are shown at that evening’s tribal council. Each with a burning torch, we arrive at the tribal council – the same one that’s used by the real Survivor contestants.

Nico has been fully informed of who did – or didn’t do – what. Like a puppet master, he pulls all the right strings to illicit the most dramatic – and entertaining – response.

Very quickly tempers flare and accusations are made. With the cameras rolling, it’s nearly impossible to not be honest, regardless of what your tribe might think of you.

Then a spanner is thrown in the works when one of the holders of the immunity idol hands it to the contestant that’s most likely to be voted out, thereby ensuring their immunity. Apparently one of the other contestants had promised him a pizza afterwards in exchange for this move. Everyone’s upset now.

Eventually, two journalists have the same number of votes and unlike in the real Survivor, where only one leaves the island at a time, it’s decided that both these journalists’ flames will be extinguished.

By now it’s late afternoon and everyone is starving, dirty and tired. The thought of returning to our pathetic, roofless shelter fills us all with dread.

But then a near miracle occurs: A tropical cyclone is forecast for the next two days and the now calm waters could be turned into a churning mass, stopping all boat movement for the duration of the storm. Concerned that we might be stuck on the island for longer than a single night because of tumultuous weather, the production team decides to end the game for us. We’re saved by the bell, er . . . storm, it seems.

But the real Survivor competitors aren’t nearly as lucky. Those who play until the end, will have spent 39 days on the island.

Our boat ride back to the main is island is awkward, to say the least – a lot’s been said, either face-to-face or behind each other’s backs. Our media tribe may have only been on the island a day, but what a day! It took all our resources, physical and mental, to survive.

Good luck to the real Survivors – may the best man or woman win.

Whoever it is seriously deserves it.

The sixth season of Survivor SA airs Thursday at 19:00 on M-Net (DStv 101).

(Photos supplied: M-Net)

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.