When Australian Survivor host Jonathan LaPaglia heard that the new season of the hit reality show would be filmed in Australia, he was just about ready to wax up his surfboard – until he found out that, unlike in previous seasons, he wouldn't be spending two months filming in a tropical location.
This time, Survivor would be trading in the sea breezes and palm trees for the red dirt and blistering heat of the Queensland outback.
"When they said they were going to shoot in Australia, I naturally assumed it was going to be coastal – most people did," Jonathan, 51, tells TV WEEK.
"I thought it would be great that, if I had a minute off, I could catch up on my surfing – because I'm such a crap surfer – but no surfboards are required in Cloncurry, that's for sure."
Located 770 kilometres west of Townsville, Cloncurry is smack-bang in the middle of the Queensland outback. With soaring temperatures, the conditions were harder on the castaways and production team than ever before.
But Jonathan is adamant that, with a prize of $100,000 on the line, the red centre was the perfect location for the next iteration of the show, Brains V Brawn.
"It's a harsher environment – the temperatures are just so extreme," the LA-based actor shares.
"When we first got there, the temperature during the day was close to 40 degrees. An hour out in that just melts your brain – you can't think anymore, you're nauseous and it's really, really tough.
"But towards the end of the season, the temperature switched and at night it was getting down to six or seven degrees. That was a whole new challenge."
It wasn't only extremes of temperature the castaways had to deal with. They were constantly grappling with the dangerous wildlife, and food at the camps was scarce.
"There was a lot of wildlife that could kill you: snakes, spiders, crocodiles," Jonathan explains. "Snake wranglers were constantly finding snakes in their camp, the tribal [council] and at challenges."
For the two months Jonathan spent filming, he didn't get a lot of down time. With the sprawling landscape, he spent three to four hours every day travelling between locations. The demanding workload did take a toll, but the host declares there was nowhere he'd rather be.
After missing out on filming the finale for 2020's Australian Survivor: All Stars due to COVID, – Survivor super-fan Osher Günsberg stepped in to host in his absence – Jonathan was over the moon to reclaim his gig to film Brains V Brawn.
"The show was pushed back a bunch of times due to COVID," he says. "I was in lockdown for over 12 months in LA. I was so happy that we were eventually able to do it."
Jonathan lives in the coastal Californian town of Santa Monica with his wife, actress and writer, Ursula Brooks, and their 16-year-old daughter Tilly. With the COVID pandemic ravaging Los Angeles, the entertainment industry ground to a halt, leaving the star out of work. At times, the South Australian native considered moving his family back home.
"Australia has done incredibly well fighting COVID," Jonathan says. "At its peak in the US, it was over 300,000 new cases a day. If we knew it was going to go on this long, we would have gone back [to Australia]. But it's certainly much easier to say in retrospect."
Landing on Aussie soil to begin filming, Jonathan was taken aback by how different the atmosphere was to LA.
"It kind of freaked me out, because once I got out of [hotel] quarantine, no-one was wearing masks," he explains. "I could go into a restaurant and walk into a gym – it was the first time I'd been to a gym in 12 months!
"On one level, I have to chuckle when I hear on the news that five new cases have been discovered and there's a lockdown – if I went to the supermarket in LA there'd be five new cases in the supermarket alone. That's why it's not as big of a problem here in Australia, because they're taking it so seriously."
WATCH: Jonathan LaPaglia says Osher Gunsberg is 'gunning for his job'. Post continues after video...
Although life slowed down substantially for the actor, there was one benefit: being able to spend time with his loved ones.
"The flipside to it all was I got to spend a lot of intense time with my family," he reflects. "I think it created an environment that accentuated the bond we have. I really see that as a positive."
Jonathan and Tilly were in each other's company a lot, whether it was watching TV comedies such as Seinfeld, Friends and lots of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or dad giving driving lessons.
The star treasured the father-daughter time, but admits Tilly passing her driving test was a double-edged sword.
"I was secretly hoping she'd fail just so she had more time with me," he says. "Maybe I taught her a little too well, because she passed first time. She's been driving around and hasn't had any issues, so I think we're going to be good."