Australian Survivor: Champions vs. Contenders Season Preview – 50 Days, 24 People, One Survivor!

Welcome to the Purple Rock’s coverage of Australian Survivor 2018, aka Champions vs. Contenders, aka David vs. Goliath before David vs. Goliath was cool. I assume that in addition to the core dozen or so PRPers who’ve been following coverage of the international editions over the past couple of years, there will be some newbies joining us this season because of a) all the acclaim for last year’s Australian Survivor season (easily a top 10 season) and for the current seasons of Survivor South Africa and Survivor Maryland, b) some of the post-Ghost Island Survivor fatigue wearing off, and c) curiosity about a certain fan favorite bandy-legged troll rumored to be among this season’s contestants. With that in mind, veteran international Survivor watchers can pretty much skip to the next section.

First things first: Network Ten has posted the first 14 minutes of the premiere online, and it also posts the episodes soon after they air. However, their videos are location-restricted to Australia. Non-Aussies can view the excerpt of the premiere here: I have to say that it’s less impressive than the amazing opening minutes of last season.

The least sketchy method to watch the episodes themselves from outside Australia is to use Dailymotion. The first two episodes are scheduled to air from 7:30-9: 00 pm on Wednesday, August 1 and Thursday, August 2. With the time difference and the International Date Line, that means they will air from 5:30-7: 00 am on Wednesday and Thursday on the US east coast. Given the time it takes to encode and upload videos, I’d expect episodes to pop up on Dailymotion at around noon EDT at the earliest. Dailymotion user Survivor New Zealand ( 2017 ) – note the superfluous spaces – has historically posted episodes quickly. Searching for “Australian Survivor s05eXX” with XX the episode in question should do it (note that episodes are often in two parts).

Yeah, that’s right newbies: Australian Survivor airs two and sometimes three episodes a week. It’s a commitment. However, the reduction in the number of days from 55 to 50 could mean fewer three-episode weeks and fewer non-elimination episodes (“wait, what, non-elimination episodes?” Just roll with it).

My Take

I simply don’t have much pre-season analysis to contribute. For one thing, I’m a bit burned out of endless pre-season cast assessment based on two minutes per contestant of preview video. For another, the Champions tribe is quite Australia-centric, with one major exception. I don’t really know anything about any of them that isn’t on their Wikipedia page if they even have one.

I normally don’t get too bent out of shape about season themes and twists, no matter how dumb they seem in advance, simply because the quality of the season almost always comes down to the quality of the cast. In the case of Champions vs. Contenders, however, I have some qualms. I don’t know whether it’s a matter of national culture or small sample size, but both Australian Survivor and Survivor New Zealand have historically been marred by “mateship” and players determined to play “the right way” (with the notable exception of Australian Survivor 2017). For the most part, this just makes them sitting ducks for the contestants who came to play Survivor, or the mateship reaches a critical mass, the real players end up outnumbered and getting the surround-and-drown treatment, and the season turns into an unwatchable slog (looking at you, Survivor New Zealand 2017). With one tribe comprised of public figures purported to be real-life heroes of one sort or another, the mateship could be off the charts. As superficially similar as the Champions vs. Contenders theme is to the David vs. Goliath theme, the fact that the Goliaths are for the most part, not actual public figures will probably make a huge difference.

The Cast

Four things jump out at me, two good and two very bad.

  1. Because the Champions tribe has a large number of retired athletes, it appears that the Contenders tribe has also been stacked with incredible physical specimens so that they don’t get wiped out in the pre-merge challenges. This, combined with the imagination that Australian Survivor production always brings to challenge design, should make this aspect of the season outstanding.
  2. The cast ranges in age from  24-61, with an average age of 36.5 and a median of 35.5 (compared to 18-42, 28, and 26 for Ghost Island). It’s awfully refreshing to have a cast of grown-ass people.
  3. However, there’s no getting around this: This cast is super-white. I could be wrong, but as far as I know, there’s one Chinese-Aussie on the Contenders tribe and one part-Maori on the Champions tribe. That’s it. That’s some Survivor Guatemala-level whiteness. The 2017 cast was quite a bit more diverse than the 2016 cast, and this is a big step backward.
  4. OK, the elephant in the room. Russell Hantz is indeed in the cast. On the one hand, putting him in a tribe of probable recruits who are determined to play Survivor “with honour” and who very likely haven’t seen any of his seasons is probably the only scenario in which Russell can get far into the game anymore. On the other hand, Russell could hardly be more of a misfit on this tribe. The chances of the Champions throwing a challenge Zapatera-style to get rid of Russell are essentially zero, but when (if!) they lose a challenge, Russell should be the easy first boot (unless he can still find idols without a clue).

Here are the names, ages, and hometowns of the cast, along with what few notes I have.

The Champions (l-r)

Lydia Lassila, 36, Melbourne  (Olympic athlete 2002-2018, freestyle skiing, gold medal in 2010, bronze medal in 2014)

Moana Hope, 30, Melbourne (Australian rules footballer)

Shane Gould, 61, Bicheno (Olympic athlete 1972, three golds, one silver, one bronze)

Russell Hantz, 45, Houston (not Australian, not a champion)

Mat Rogers, 42, Gold Coast (former dual-code rugby footballer)

Sharn Coombes, 41, Melbourne (criminal barrister; the Breaking Bad reference should be obvious)

Commando Steve Willis, 41, Sydney (former Australian The Biggest Loser trainer)

Monika Radulovic, 27, Sydney (Miss Universe Australia 2015)

Jackie Glazier, 44, Melbourne (professional poker player; this should go well)

Brian Lake, 36, Caroline Springs (former Australian rules footballer)

Sam Hinton, 26, Brisbane (astrophysicist)

Damien Thomlinson, 36, Sydney (former Special Forces commando, double amputee)

The Contenders (l-r)

Paige Kerin, 24, Adelaide

Tegan Gasior, 32, Derby

Benji Wilson, 26, Melbourne (brother of Australian Survivor 2017 r.obbed g.oddess Anneliese)

Shonee Fairfax, 26, Tewantin

Robbie Skibicki, 26, Adelaide

Fenella McGowan, 33, Melbourne (Blurry Denzel alert)

Heath Davies, 33, Brisbane (Jesus, this dude is seven feet tall!)

Anita Berkett, 50, Sunshine Coast

Steve Khouw, 58, Sydney

Zach Kozyrski, 39, Perth

Jenna Austin, 28, Perth

Matt Dyson, 35, Brisbane