I’m thoroughly enjoying this season of Australian Survivor “Brains vs Brawn“. Endemol Shine Australia, Executive Producer, Keely Sonntag, and her team have really delivered a world-class production. It’s tense and slick – and full of all the best strategic gamesmanship proving Australia can outwit, outplay, outlast the best of them.
The thing about shows like Survivor is they are hard to make. Producers get no second chances. It’s not just the cast who need to be on their game. This is a real test of any producing team’s imagination, character insights, and forward-thinking.
Because the game is played for money, the stakes are high. You can’t just let the action play out for whatever it’s worth as you might in some other shows. You need entertainment absolutely, but you need results- fair winners and losers first time around. It takes a mammoth effort of modelling and testing. When you’re in the middle of shooting a critical immunity challenge you don’t get a chance to say “Oh no. We didn’t realise that might happen. Let’s pick it up again.” It’s a single take – the result must hold – so you don’t get to do it twice, and you don’t get to pick up any underwhelming aspects of how the challenge might play out.
To achieve your editorial goals, everything must be plotted and planned in meticulous detail. All outcomes must be taken into account before you press “go”.
Whether a challenge favours “brains” or “brawn” for instance is just a basic consideration – from there, all sorts of variables need to be weighed. What kind of intellect could figure out the key to this puzzle and which of the survivors has it? What kind of brawn could have an advantage? Will it take a light person, quick on their feet, and agile, or will it take pure muscle and weight? What happens if someone falls? What happens if someone cheats? Have we rehearsed it in wardrobe? What could go wrong? What happens if someone just gives up mid-rope, or mid-cliff, or mid-sail. Don’t make it too hard, but don’t make it too easy. Don’t make it too slow, but don’t make it too fast.
The producing teams that plan these challenges think through not only the actual challenge from top to bottom, they also have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of every competitor, and in the planning stages, they have no idea who will still be left in the game by the time they get to play. Producers have to make key decisions about the location, the terrain, the time of day, the rules, the props, the structure, and sets. Is it going to rain? How’s it going to look on-air? Will viewers get a sense of the scale, the degree of difficulty, the stamina required?
Then there’s the directorial and editorial questions…how do we shoot this action? What camera positions? Nothing would ruin the tension and authenticity of a Survivor challenge like a camera shadow in shot or a chocolate wrapper in the distance leftover from crew lunch. If this team wins, what will that mean for the rest of the series? Who will be pissed off with who? Who will have an opportunity to be team hero? Who will drive people crazy? Who are viewers barracking for and why? Would anyone have motive to lose deliberately in order to get a chance to knock someone out of the game?
In some shows, there is an opportunity to shoot take after take, and shoot across many hours what in reality, is cut down to not much more than a five-minute sequence on air. You can shoot until you get it right. But a challenge in a show like Survivor, when the game is played for money, is shot in real-time, one take. They might do some pick-ups of the top and tail, and some closeups, but the game itself is live and real, and the number of correct decisions that go into getting the moving pieces right is extraordinary.
Teams like Survivor Australia are embracing digital transformation to help them do their jobs. Every team member in this reality “orchestra” has an important part to play and we’re proud that our platform is helping each to be their best.