‘Raw, authentic’: Why audiences find their reality TV hit in survivalist shows

One of the current stars of <I>Alone Australia</I> (centre), as <I>Million Dollar Island</I> (L) and <I>The Summit</I> (R) are set to hit our screens.

One of the current stars of Alone Australia (centre), as Million Dollar Island (L) and The Summit (R) are set to hit our screens.

Alone Australia has become the latest reality TV show to crack the ratings threshold, with more than one million viewers tuning in for the first two episodes on SBS, as rival free-to-air networks prepare to launch their own survivalist show.

Nine’s The Summit, filmed on New Zealand’s South Island and Seven’s Million Dollar Island, both with $1 million prize money at stake, are about to hit our screens.

Wildlife biologist, expedition leader and TV survivalist, Kate, 41, who is part of SBS’s Alone series filmed in Tasmania’s rugged west coast wilderness, tells The New Daily people love watching this show because it’s real.

“Watching modern-day humans jump back into how our ancestors lived … and the psychology is what I find so fascinating … the different approaches people take,” she said.

“It speaks more broadly to the human condition and how we approach situations … being the armchair critic and watching and understanding how they’re going, it’s fun trying to put yourself in their shoes as a viewer.

“I like the realness of the show. You can’t copy this format. There is nothing like it.”

The ‘ultimate’ in survival shows

Alone Australias premise, based on the US and Scandinavian series, sets itself apart from the typical survival series with 10 contestants dropped into the wilderness, completely alone.

There are no scripts, no camera crews, no engineered challenges, no voting, no gimmicks, and no help from the production team.

They have to self-document their respective adventures in total isolation, relying on themselves completely for food, water, shelter and warmth, to stay alive using nothing but what’s in their pack and what the habitat around them provides.

The last one standing wins $250,000.

With five episodes gone (there are 11 all up), ACT-based Kate is one of five remaining in the wilderness.

She was a perfect candidate for the show, she spent five years in the Australian Navy and now works in remote parts of the country to discover new species of plants and animals.

She has practised bushcraft since she was a little girl on family camping trips; building shelters, finding water, making spears, weaving baskets and lighting fires, frustrated that the scouts would not accept her because she was a girl.

“[It] is the ultimate in survival shows,” she said.

“It’s not fake, like who can eat the grossest food, who can balance – it’s pure living and survival.

“It strips away all the gimmicky hoo-ha. It’s people on their own. It’s raw. It’s beautiful.”

SBS head of unscripted Joseph Maxwell agrees, describing Alone Australia as “raw, authentic and truly unique”.

“At its core, it’s about people – what it is that challenges us, drives us and motivates us as human beings,” Maxwell said.

“The relentless effects of nature, hunger, and solitude result in a very real examination of who we are as people.”

SBS recorded a massive audience for the first episode, which aired on March 29, clocking in 1.03m viewers (second ep was 1.01m), cementing its place as SBS’s highest-rating program for 2023 to date.

For Kate, isolation has been her biggest challenge, not having access to the things we take for granted like email, the internet and television.

“It’s both beautiful and a deadly silence when you’re out there on your own for a significant period of time,” she said, adding she was living off “tubers, roots and other edibles” found underfoot.

Million Dollar Island

Based on a Dutch format and filmed in South-East Asia for the first Australian series, Seven describes the show as “a revolutionary new social experiment where the rules of society don’t exist”.

This show has 100 people competing to stay on the unnamed island, and the prize money is, you guessed it, $1million.

Yes, living conditions are harsh, but they have the company of each other, and can form themselves into mini Lord of the Flies packs and “do whatever it takes” to win.

Will the ‘garbo’ have what it takes to sort through the trash? Photo: Seven

Hosted by SAS Australia chief instructor Ant Middleton, contestants start with a wristband worth $10,000 and as they compete in various games, can win or lose the valuable wristbands.

“To win their fortune, contestants must get it from someone else – and be willing to do whatever it takes. Stealing, deception and disorder quickly become the rules of engagement,” Seven says.

The Summit

As for The Summit on Nine, it has had to find a new reality show after  The Block, Married at First Sight and Lego Masters.

But the teaser trailer has definitely captured our Sylvester Stallone Cliffhanger imaginations.

There are 14 contestants, unknown to each other, all carrying bags of cash. They appear super fit, good rock climbers who are not easily scared while hanging onto the sides of sheer cliffs.

They are also competing for $1million.

Filmed in the snow-capped alps of New Zealand’s southern island, Nine says this survivalist show is “a thrilling tale of endurance, survival and greed, morals will be tested, physical limits pushed and bonds broken”.

Hosted by actor Jai Courtney (The Suicide Squad, Terminator Genisys, The Terminal List and the Divergent series), these 14 strangers have to race to a checkpoint together, and get there before a deadline.

What happens if one falls behind?

Will they cut them loose and press ahead to cash in on the big prize?

“You hear about other reality shows where they corner contestants and interview them periodically to get them to say things, as they’ve already cast them [a certain way]. We just went out there on our own, did our own thing,” said Alone‘s Kate.

“It’s the ultimate experience in terms of pushing yourself outside your comfort zones and challenging yourself to see how you’ll do in that environment.

“To have a crack at it is pretty wild.”

Topics: Reality TV
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