He may be the face of Australian Survivor, but host Jonathan LaPaglia credits the intense game-play of 2023’s Heroes V Villains castaways for making the show such a knockout for fans.
“They were firing on all cylinders, so it was fun to watch all the creative ways they approached the game,” Jonathan, 53, tells TV WEEK. “The gameplay was definitely turned up to 11.”
It paid off, with Australian Survivor winning last year’s TV WEEK Logie Award For Most Outstanding Reality Program. It was the show’s first win in the category since 2019.
Last season, half the contestants were returning favourites from previous seasons, while the other half were newcomers. The returning favourites were placed in “hero” or “villain” tribes depending on how they played the game previously, or how they believed they would see themselves playing it.
Unlike the original American version, Jonathan believes the format of the Australian show has remained true to its roots.
“I think US Survivor has changed significantly over the past four seasons,” he says. “They’re trying a bunch of new things to really shake up the format – our version is much more old-school.”
The series saw the return of well-known villains George Mladenov, otherwise known as “King George of Bankstown” and Shonee Bowtell – as well as likeable heroes Hayley Leake and Nina Twine, the “Princess” of Survivor.
In such a high-stakes game, Jonathan says the gameplay was key to the show’s success.
“It’s become significantly more sophisticated over the past eight seasons,” the former star of Love Child and Underbelly: Badness explained. “I like to think the show has strived to keep pace in terms of twists, storytelling and production values.”
Jonathan’s presence has also been part of the evolution of the reality hit.
“I’ve always strived to establish a genuine, organic relationship with the players, which is easier said than done,” he says. “I feel it’s paramount to extract the best from them, especially at Tribal [Tribal Council]. So far, we’ve managed to produce a show the audience loves. As long as they keep watching, I’ll keep making it.”
The Adelaide-born star, who has settled in Hollywood with wife Ursula Brooks and their daughter Tilly, has other projects in the works, having returned to Sydney recently to film the Binge drama Strife.
“I haven’t seen it [the finished product] yet, but I hear it’s great,” Jonathan said at the time. “It’s a comedy about a fashion magazine editor [played by Asher Keddie] who starts a women’s website after being fired from her job, but struggles to strike a balance between her life, family and career. It’s very funny, but also very topical.”