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Survivor

EXCLUSIVE: Jonathan LaPaglia reveals he sacrifices precious moments with his family to host Australian Survivor

Spending months in Fiji comes at a personal cost.

By Thomas Mitchell
As soon as Jonathan LaPaglia answers the phone, there's a symphony of traffic noises in the background: beeping horns, angry cars, bored motorists stuck in the gridlock.
"Sorry, I'm just driving out to my daughter's soccer game," Jonathan says by way of apology.
He's navigating the busy highways of Los Angeles – a jungle of sorts, just not the one he's used to.
JLP hosts popular reality show Australian Survivor - but it's not without its downsides. Image: Network Ten
The 50-year-old has some rare downtime between Australian Survivor's brutal production schedule, so he dedicates each moment to spending time with family, making memories that he can pack up and take with him when it's time to go once more.
"I try to make every single event when I'm back, because I miss out on so much stuff," Jonathan says with a sigh.
"It's two-and-a-half months on the island [in Fiji]. I work every day, and there's no chance to leave.
"That can be tough when you have kids; there's so much going on, I end up missing so much stuff. So when I'm back, I do everything I possibly can."
WATCH: Jonathan LaPaglia is in his element hosting Australian Survivor. Story continues below...

A father’s pride

As we continue to talk, Jonathan scolds other drivers, his voice brimming with Tribal Council intensity. It's a conversation peppered with "Where are you going, mate?" and "Use your indicator!"
He's desperate to be on time for kick-off, to ensure his daughter, Tilly, will see him on the sideline and know he's watching. Soccer has become a bonding experience for the father-daughter duo, a shared love.
Doting dad! JLP plays soccer on the beach with daughter Tilly. Image: Instagram
"Tilly enjoys the game so much," he says.
"And it's getting so big in the United States after the women's team won the World Cup in 2019] – it's just exploded.
"I was able to watch a lot of that tournament with Tilly, and I could see how much she enjoyed it. That raised the profile [of women's soccer] for girls, which is great to see."
While their shared love of the world game has delivered quality time together, it's also been a stark reminder of the moments he's missed.
"I missed my daughter's first goal because I was away filming Survivor… Tilly is a midfielder, so it's not often she scores a goal," he says.
"She called me, and I started crying on the phone. I felt like I'd missed a big moment there; I miss a lot of important family moments."
The words hang in the air, and for a few seconds the only audible noise the tick of the indicator.
"When I got back home, I asked Tilly if anyone had a picture or a video, but she said no," he says.
"But then for my birthday, my wife Ursula gave me a framed picture. I opened it up and it was a photo of Tilly celebrating the goal – they had tracked down a photo! It was the best gift I could have received, and I look at it all the time now."
JLP with his wife Ursula Brooks. Image: Getty

On the move

Wherever it hangs, be it his office in Fiji or at home in Los Angeles, the photograph speaks to the sacrifices made to stay employed in an often-fickle industry.
For Jonathan, sacrifice is no stranger. Having given up a career in medicine to chance his luck as an actor, he left Adelaide in the mid-1990s and moved to New York. He found a steady stream of work, mostly on police procedurals and crime shows, and, like his older brother Anthony, built a life in the US.
In 2011, he returned home to star in the ABC's adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas' novel, The Slap. That role kick-started a series of Australian jobs before he was eventually tapped to host Network 10's Australian Survivor.
In 2011, Jonathan returned to Australia to star in The Slap. Image: ABC
But with each step of his career, the doctor-turned-actor-turned-host has been acutely aware of how much he's given up and the toll it's taken on his wife and daughter.
"Each time I'm in Fiji, I'm off the grid for two-and-a-half months," he says.
"Any moment I get to call my family, it's either inconvenient for them or vice versa because of the schedule or the time difference. You have these stilted and frustrating Skype calls, and you end up feeling further away than when you first started."
It's clear Jonathan is suffering a little Fiji-fatigue, undeniably a result of spending more than usual in the South Pacific.
The production team took the unusual step of filming the past two seasons, Australian Survivor: Champions Vs Contenders and Australian Survivor: All Stars, back-to-back.
"There was a six-week break between the two seasons; it was brutal – everyone felt it," he says.
"That's a lot of television to make, and you could tell people were struggling. It was taxing – by the end of it, our eyes were hanging out of our heads. Personally and professionally, I struggled with the two seasons' shooting."
Jonathan sends rugby league great Andrew Ettinghausen home in 2019. Image: Network Ten

Learning all the time

While the gruelling schedule is an obvious downside, the adage that practice makes perfect seems fitting.
Australian Survivor has gone from strength to strength since returning to screens in 2016, with the 2019 season, won by actress Pia Miranda, was the best yet.
"I can tell how much better we've gotten since that first season," Jonathan admits. "Most of us hadn't worked on Australian Survivor before. We had a few key people from Survivor in the US, but the majority were newcomers, so we're learning each season. I think the product is finally clicking."
The shifting Australian Survivor shoot may have been tough at the time, but now that Australian Survivor: All Stars is in the can and set to premiere, Jonathan is in the unusual position of having time on his side.
While he's enjoying a successful stint as Australian Survivor host, JLP hasn't given up on acting. Image: Network Ten
It's no surprise that family will come first in 2020, but could we also see a return to acting?
"Yeah, of course, I always have it on my radar," Jonathan says. "My agents in the US are forever chasing me for my dates, and whenever I'm away [with Australian Survivor] I'll get offers. But then I come back home [to the US] and it's just crickets."
I flag the crunch of gravel and realise Jonathan has finally made it to the soccer field. Dad duty calls.
"Sorry, mate – kick-off awaits!" he says, and just like that, he's gone.
Fingers crossed his daughter scores a goal, and that this time, he'll be there to cherish the special moment.

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