Australian Survivor is coming in red hot on January 31 with the spicy Blood V Water format, an approach fans have seen play out on the original American iteration of the show. With contestants playing the game with a loved one before eventually having to turn on each other to become the Sole Survivor, we’re clearly in for a big season this year.

Ahead of the new season kicking off at the end of the month, PEDESTRIAN.TV got on the blower with Australian Survivor host and the one person we’d want to be stuck on a remote island (or out in the sticks) with. It’s Jonathan LaPaglia, and we chatted about the challenging format, the move to the country’s first gold mining town Charters Towers from the harsh outback of Cloncurry, what fans can expect from Season 9, and how Survivor queen Sandra Diaz-Twine tackled the Aussie show.

The new season sees a shift from the unforgiving red dirt of Cloncurry in Queensland’s far north-west to the unforgiving red dirt (and a bit of water) of Charters Towers about 130km inland from Townsville. But being a bit closer to the Far North Queensland coast only made the conditions more oppressive, and Jonathan found he could barely be out in it for too long.

“The biggest obstacle, I think, for us, for the players and the crew was the temperature,” Jonathan said.

“It was so hot. It was… it was just unbelievable. Twenty minutes in that heat and I couldn’t think anymore.

“I mean, it was so hot that we had several players and crew this season collapse. Yeah, it was pretty brutal.”

That heat combined with this season’s Blood V Water theme — which “complicates an already-complicated game” — it’s no surprise that some of the cast found Australian Survivor particularly trialling this year.

The biggest name of the Australian Survivor contestants this year is Sandra, who joins the local game with her daughter Nina Twine this season. If you’re yet to meet her, Sandra is arguably the best of the best. She’s won the US game twice, mentored contestants with Rob ‘Boston Rob’ Mariano, and played in the US season 40’s Winners At War against 19 other Survivor champions.

If there’s anyone who knows the game inside out, it’s her.

This year marks her fifth run at sole survivor, and Jonathan said she largely “took a backseat” and used her skills of working her way into the group to dismantle it from within.

“[She] really got to understand, you know, the Australian culture and the differences and use that to integrate herself with her tribemates,” he said.

“It is quite remarkable what she does, how she, you know, worms her way into her Aussie tribe. And I think that’s her greatest skill. She’s very, very good at reading the room and adapting.”

But is her daughter Nina the second coming of Queen Sandra? Jonathan reckons their playing style is different enough for Nina to not be a carbon copy of her mum.

“I think Nina is a different person to Sandra,” he said.

“But she is whip-smart. And she’s either been taught well by her mother or, you know, she’s really been paying attention. So she knows the game well, but she has her own style.

“I think she’s a great player and I loved having her on the show.”

With the American show just clocking its 41st season — an incredible feat for reality competition TV as a whole — it brought in new twists, advantages and elements that have divided the show’s fanbase. Notably, host and producer Jeff Probst consistently broke the fourth wall to speak directly to everyone watching at home, usually only reserved for the premiere and finale episodes to set up and close the season.

So is that something we might see filter through into the Aussie version? Jonathan LaPaglia doesn’t seem to think so, and personally prefers a more “straightforward show”.

“I cannot see me breaking the fourth wall. I love Jeff, but I was not a fan of that,” he said.

“You know, a lot of the twists that they used on Season 41, some of them didn’t really, you know, pay off. So, look, we’re always open to new ideas, and we tried different things, and some of them work and some of them don’t.

“Personally I like a little more of a straightforward show, and I want the players to take the format and I’m excited to see what they can do within that framework. The best players really are quite inventive with the things they can do.

“I like that. I like less producer interference.”

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Grab your buffs, Australian Survivor: Blood V Water premieres on Ten, 10Play and Paramount+ on Monday, January 31.

Image: Supplied