Reality TV

Is Australian Survivor fake or real? Former contestants and crew speak out

Get all the info here from those who've lived it.
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If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably sat back on the couch and thought ‘I could do that’ while watching the contestants of Australian Survivor battle it out.

But despite the cameras, it’s one tough gig both physically and mentally. So for anyone out there who’s wondered whether it’s real or totally fake, these past contestants and Jonathan LaPaglia himself have some insights for you.

Do the contestants secretly sleep in hotels?

Host Jonathan LaPaglia deals with a busy schedule but always comes back to a nice and comfortable hotel room. As for the contestants, you can bet they’re living it rough if they want to win that half a million dollar prize.

Speaking to TV WEEK about the 2019 season, JLP revealed the Champions and Contenders were hit with a lot of rain and bad weather.

“It was hard on the contestants, because it was always at the most inconvenient time, which was at night when they were trying to sleep. So there were a lot of late nights for those guys, and it was pretty intense at times.

“I mean, I get woken up in my hotel room and I’d hear all the noise, and I’d think, ‘Those poor guys are out there!'”

JLP may get a good night’s sleep in a hotel, but the contestants are all sleeping on the beach.

(Image: Network Ten)

Cut off from the outside world

Once you join the cast of Survivor, you can kiss the outside world goodbye. Until you get eliminated of course.

According to a report from, season three’s Rohan MacLaren said that he and his fellow contestants arrived in Samoa in vans with blacked-out windows and weren’t allowed to talk to any of the other competitors until they’d landed on the island.

“It felt like I’d been abducted for the first five minutes, it was just missing the bag over my head,” model Rohan said. “Then it got quite serene. It was a nice time to sit and think. I prefer the blacked out van. You really feel like you’re in the wild.”

Australian Survivor 2023 winner, Liz Parnov reflected on the isolation she experienced during her time on the show, and told TV Week just how much she struggled.

“When you are disconnected from all your friends and family and there’s no contact, it’s challenging. Just not having communication with my partner, [or] my family, it was really difficult for me. When there’s absolutely no contact you don’t realise how much you miss people until you are in that position.”

Former contestant Rohan said he and his fellow contestants arrived in Samoa in vans with blacked-out windows.

(Image: Network Ten/Instagram @rohanmaclaren)

Do the contestants really eat rice and beans?

If the weight loss transformations of Survivor contestants are anything to go by, you can bet their food supply is well and truly limited.

Monika Radulovic, who competed on the show in 2018, previously told Now To Love that aside from rewards, their diet consisted of a small portion of rice and kidney beans a day, plus whatever they can forage near camp such as fish, papaya and coconut. And the portion size was the real issue.

“After a while, the beans and rice especially with some toasted coconut on top of it tastes good. We just didn’t have enough to satisfy us, we had a cup per meal.”

Brains V Brawn contestant Joey McCann told Now To Love that the restricted diet really “takes its toll, even from a strength perspective”.

“You rock up to these challenges and you’ve just got no petrol in the tank,” he explained, before joking: “I think I’m going to go on the rice and lentil diet before summer hits, I want the abs back!”

WATCH: Monika talks about her elimination from Australian Survivor 2018. Article continues after video…

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Kez McGee, also from the 2021 Brains V Brawn season, told us she would go to extreme lengths to get any extra food.

“Everyone said I looked like Smeagol because every time we cooked, without fail, I would be eating out of the pot with my hands because I did not want anything going to waste,” she said.

“Doesn’t matter what it tasted like, I would eat it.”

Meanwhile 2018 runner up Sharn Coombes told TV WEEK, “In terms of appearance I was certainly shocked at my weight loss, I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself that thin ever. I was also amazed at the muscles underneath there! That was kind of cool.”

Is the show scripted?

While everything the contestants say is real, like any reality show, there is some editing to spice things up when some drama is needed.

In 2018, Contender Benji Wilson was eliminated as a result of a re-vote where the contestants were only allowed to vote him or Sharn Coombes out.

Viewers were made to think that he was voted out after he was caught in an awkward lie when he told fellow contestant Brian Lake that Sharn was planning to vote him out, apparently forgetting Brian was wearing the immunity necklace.

“I don’t think that moment was my downfall, that was a little bit of TV magic for you,” Benji told Mamamia.

“That conversation didn’t actually happen that way. I was actually saying that Sharn would come for Brian if he let me go.”

It may not be scripted, but crafty editing plays a hand.

(Image: Network Ten)

What do the contestants actually have to help them?

When you play the game of Survivor, you really are stripped down to basics.

“We had the clothes that we wore and then you could only have five other items. Five other clothing items!” 2018 Champion Steve ‘The Commando’ Willis previously admitted to NW .

“You couldn’t take a pocket knife or a torch or a book or a pillow or any comfort items. You had your clothing items, and a little bag to carry your stuff in, and a water bottle.”

Shane Gould, who won Australian Survivor in 2018 but was the first eliminated in 2020’s All Star season, also confirmed the five item limit in an interview with Now To Love.

“What they do is you have your “first day” clothes. So they set the scene like you’ve been on a ship or you’ve been marooned on an island and you’ve only got the clothes that you’re wearing. And you’ve got only those clothes for three days.” Shane revealed.

“On the third day, you get five other items, so you have to choose which five items you want to take. And you have to choose wisely, because they have to last you for up to 60 days in all sorts of conditions.”

WATCH: Hayley Leake wins Australian Survivor: Brains V Brawn in 2021. Article continues after video…

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Even survival expert Andrew Ucles, who appeared on the show’s 2021 season, admitted the limits on the show made survival incredibly challenging.

“Survival and Survivor are two completely different things. To be completely honest, there weren’t many things I could parallel [the show] against,” he confessed to Now To Love.

But former Miss Universe Monika admitted she revelled in the fact that she was out of her comfort zone and didn’t have anything when her season was filmed.

“We didn’t have shampoo, soap, toothbrushes or toothpaste, all I had was the ocean and some sand to exfoliate and that was the extent of my beauty routine and I loved it.”

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