A word of warning: When I say “hidden secret” here, I truly mean it’s one that only absolute rank-and-file Survivor nerds, very much like me, will find interesting. It’s a production quirk that’s been staring me in the face for decades. Does it change the game in any real way? Absolutely not. Is it still cool as hell to me, a diehard Survivor tragic? You bet your ass.

Though some may view Survivor as a game largely of physical endurance, which is certainly true for part of it, the game itself is really played at Tribal Council.

Tribal Council is the thing that sets Survivor apart from other competition-based reality shows. It’s a gripping, dramatic, at times baffling and chaotic forum in which people must turn on each other and brutally oust one another from the game, all in the service of keeping themselves alive in it.

And while many secrets have been spilled at Tribal Council, the setting itself is home to a few of its own. Perhaps nothing quite as dramatic as, say, Adam Klein attempting to reef a part of Jeff Probst‘s pulpit off during the US Winners At War series after convincing himself that it was an Immunity Idol hidden in plain sight. But secrets nonetheless.

The Australian Survivor Tribal Council is certainly no exception. And in some ways it’s been a far more dramatic place than its US counterpart. From Chaos Tribals, to idols hidden inside the voting urn, to all-time greats orchestrating multi-layered blindsides with Bach-like artistry, the AU Survivor Tribal is a sacred arena through which the game is, quite literally, won and lost.

With Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn now well on the way, a recent trip to the set – and to Tribal Council – revealed one reasonably well-hidden secret.

The set for this year’s Tribal Council, filmed in the outback of rural Queensland, is spectacular.

Set against a towering rock monolith, the Brains v Brawn Tribal Council set is, in a very real sense, unlike anything else that Survivor has put together.

And while just being there was a massive freak out moment for a Survivor nerd like me, one thing leapt out.

The voting confessional, where players cast their votes, always looks something like this.

Contestants approach, write a name down on a sheet from a small stack of paper, put it in the urn and say something witty to camera.

Only here’s the thing: There’s only ever one sheet of paper on that table.

It’s a bit of TV magic, but the seemingly endless pile of paper that never rises in height is, in actuality, one lone sheet of paper.

When players hold their vote up, there appears – on camera – to be another sheet of paper underneath. Observe thusly, on this hastily edited screenshot:

But in reality, that’s a flat surface set into the voting table that’s been made to resemble a piece of paper.

The benefit there is that it a) makes it look like an endless stack of paper, and b) gives players a flat surface to write on, on what’s otherwise a very tactile tabletop.

So there you have it. Is that a secret that changes the game forever? Absolutely not. But is it deeply cool and did it make my Survivor nerd brain do flips to see in person? Hell yes. Hell yes.

Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn is set to premiere on Sunday July 18 at 7:30pm on Ten.


The author of this article travelled to Cloncurry as a guest of Network Ten.