We Asked The Australian Survivor Team How The Hell They Come Up With Those Hectic Challenges

australian survivor challenges interview jonathan lapaglia david forster

Every season of Australian Survivor brings with it new challenges — and I don’t just mean trying to exist on plain rice and no sleep. With each visit to the deserted beach (or the outback) from our couches, we watch dozens of haggard but determined contestants push themselves to their absolute limits for immunity, food, survival gear and sometimes even just flint to make fire. But how are these (sometimes quite elaborate) challenges created? We went to the island to find out.

Sitting under the shade on a hot and humid afternoon in Samoa, Survivor host Jonathan LaPaglia and executive producer David Forster tells PEDESTRIAN.TV just how the show’s daily immunity and reward challenges go from an idea to being on TV.

An entire “challenge team” made up of producers and assistants works throughout the year to come up with and pitch ideas that eventually turn into what we see on our screens.

These ideas are sourced from numerous places, including other challenge-based TV shows around the world and the US version of Survivor, which is gearing up for its 44th season.

“A lot of our challenges we’ve done straight from the US show, like the classic Survivor challenges,” Forster said.

“But then we’ve taken them and modified them for our game as well. We’ve also invented challenges that they’ve taken as well. There’s a bit of an exchange of ideas between all [Survivor] franchises.”

The challenge creation team also look for inspiration in other shows around the world that aren’t Survivor but put contestants through similar trials and obstacles.

“We have around 40 challenges [per season] based on how many episodes we have,” Forster said.

“So we come up with a range of different things that fit every type of skill so it’s not just all puzzles.”

Those 40-odd challenges come from a wider pool of around 60 ideas — so most of them make it to the game — but around 75 per cent of the approved challenges are modified in some way before they’re on the air.

“There are times when we will test them and they don’t quite play out the way we anticipate,” LaPaglia said.

“They’re more difficult or not difficult enough, so they’ll modify stuff along the way. You know, add more to it [or] take something away. There’s definitely a lot of testing that goes into it.”

When it comes to individual challenges beyond the merge, the modifications become more intricate and individualised to each contestant.

Weekly medical tests not only keep the production team aware of how castaways are health-wise, but it also informs if and how they need to adjust challenges so everyone is on the same playing field.

“Every challenge in the game is calibrated so that everyone faces the same problem,” Forster said.

If you’ve ever wondered if Jonathan LaPaglia tests out challenges himself, he absolutely does. Not only that but it seems there’s a bit of healthy competition within the Survivor team while testing out the show’s courses.

“When you actually do them, you get a real understanding of what [the contestants] are going through, so you can identify with it,” Forster said.

“What I’ll say is… I’ve beaten Jonathan at a fair amount of challenges.”

I put David’s claim to JLP, who quickly smacked down the idea he’s been beaten while testing Australian Survivor challenges.

“Well, he’d be a liar,” he laughed.

“We have tested a few together and I always win. David and I would agree that balance is not our strong suit. So the challenge we did today, David was terrible — despite what he told you — and I wasn’t great, but [I was] still better than David.”

Australian Survivor is on Channel 10 Sundays to Tuesdays from 7.30pm and you can stream or catch up on 10play.

The writer interviewed Jonathan LaPaglia and David Forster in Samoa as a guest of Australian Survivor.