Reality TV

Jonathan LaPaglia enjoys keeping one foot on the Australian Survivor island and another in the acting community he loves

''Survivor is such a machine!''
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Barely existent. That was the state of Jonathan LaPaglia’s social-media presence prior to becoming the host of Australian Survivor four years ago.

The actor, who has steadily shown his range on television from his 1996 debut in US cop drama New York Undercover to his turn as Dr Patrick McNaughton in 2014’s Love Child, has instead let his work do the talking.

But now, he’s gleefully live-tweeting during every show, teasing contestants with unflattering screen grabs and hashtagging #SurvivorAU like a boss.

It’s conduct becoming of the host of the series that won the 2019 TV WEEK Logie Award for Most Outstanding Reality Program.

“Did I ever expect to be swept up in it? Uh, no! Not at all!” Jonathan tells TV WEEK with a laugh. “I mean, it’s one of those things, right? It doesn’t feel like there’s any kind of middle ground. You’re either part of the community or you’re not, and I guess what I didn’t appreciate was how deep the community really is.”

“I don’t think I will ever be satisfied by what I’ve done!”

So immersed is Jonathan in Australian Survivor that he remains invested in the action for the whole run of filming, even if that means ignoring the sun and the sand of a tropical paradise such as Fiji.

“I mean, every season, I take books with me to read and I never read one word,” he mock laments. “All I do is Survivor! It’s such a machine. Except for my hotel and the location, I haven’t seen any of Fiji whatsoever.

“There is no holiday, I’m serious. “Once I hit that island, it’s all work. Then, honestly, once I finish, I’m kind of done with being out in the sun and I just can’t wait to get back home to get back to my sad little routine.”

On a roll, he adds, “It’s like, I want to sit in traffic again! You know, that’s not normal. But once you’ve been out on that island, you’re like, ‘I just want to be in my car. I want to be stuck in traffic. That’s what I want to do.'”

OK, that’s not all he wants to do.

In his everyday existence in Los Angeles, where Jonathan lives with his wife, actress Ursula Brooks, and their teenage daughter Tilly, the star from Adelaide resumes the process of auditioning for roles and reading scripts.

“This business is very unforgiving,” Jonathan explains. “The minute you’re gone, they forget about you. And so whenever I come back, I feel like I’m starting over again.”

JLP snuffing ET’s torch on Australian Survivor.

Factoring in pre- and post-production for Australian Survivor, Jonathan jokes, “It comes back to what we were saying before. Did I ever think I’d fall into the Survivor community? Well, you know, by default, I’m dragged into it for a good six months of the year. It’s the Black Hole of Survivor!”

One place Jonathan will pop up this spring is in cinemas, where he will be part of the James Mangold racing epic Ford V Ferrari.

“I have a tiny role in it,” he says of playing scenes opposite Oscar winner Matt Damon. “The director is a friend of mine, and I love that story, and I love the script so much.”

To land the part, Jonathan says he told his pal James, “‘Look, I’ll be the orange boy. I’ll hand out oranges on set. I just want to work on it!'”

In good spirits, Jonathan, who turned 50 on August 31, puts all joking aside to convey his outlook on the next half of his life and career.

“A lot of my stuff is TV work, so I’d like to do more movies,” he says. “I like the grittier stuff. I did Underbelly here. I loved doing that role, I really enjoyed creating that character. I’ve directed in the past and I’d like to get back into that.

“I’m a Virgo,” he adds, as if by way of explanation.

“I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with what I’ve done. I always want to do more.”

Jonathan with US host Jeff Probst.

AUSTRALIAN SURVIVOR airs Monday and Tuesday, 7.30pm, on 10.

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