Australian Survivor Recap: The Des Dispenser

Is the world ready for an Australian Survivor? This question, and many others just as stupid as it, is what Channel Ten seeks to answer with its new series, developed by an executive who owed Jonathan LaPaglia a favour.

The first castaway we meet is Conner, a young man born to Roseanne fans who claims to love Survivor so much that he has “watched every season of every episode”. If Conner hasn’t gone missing inside the first week I’m a poor judge.

On the other end of the age scale is Des, who is three hundred years old and believes his IQ is “higher than the number of hot dinners you’ve had”, but gives off a strong “wanders the streets naked and disoriented” vibe.

There’s also Phoebe, who is a lawyer and thinks people are going to be shocked that she is a lawyer; Andrew, who hates the outdoors and has dressed specifically to hammer this fact home; a former Gold Coast metermaid who is willing to flirt if you can believe it; and a floppy-haired drama teacher who thinks he’s struck on a brilliant strategy — not telling anyone he’s a drama teacher. “I don’t want them to know I can ACT,” he says cunningly, it not having occurred to him that if he could act, he wouldn’t be a drama teacher.

As I may have already suggested, I don’t know all these people’s names. I don’t really expect this to change for several months, if at all.

The castaways gather on the beach in Samoa to be grilled by Jonathan, who asks them tough questions like, “How old are you?” and, “Are you excited?” This latter question is directed at Conner, who confirms that yes, he is excited — he’s read Lord of the Flies, you see. The other castaways should be extremely disturbed by the presence of a man whose reaction to Lord of the Flies was to get excited about the idea of being stranded on a desert island. Someone’s getting murdered tonight.

Jonathan splits the castaways into teams: red, yellow and blue. The teams have Samoan names too, but I have no idea what they are: it’s no easy task staying focused when Jonathan LaPaglia is talking.

The teams’ first task is to race out into the water to compete for fire and supplies. The yellow tribe scores a coup by getting hold of the rice, which will really give them an advantage in terms of complaining about having nothing but rice to eat down the track.

The great thing about this first challenge is that everyone keeps falling in the water, which is classic Survivor action. Jonathan keeps up the commentary in vivid style: “Kylie working furiously on her knots!” he yells. “Barry working furiously on his knots!” he adds. It’s a regular furious-knot-working-athon out there.

Having gained whatever food they can, the teams begin making their way out to the fire. Then the red team decides that fuck fire, they want more food, so they turn back. Some of the blue and yellow castaways jump in the water and begin swimming for the fire. Sam from the blue team gets there first, and just like that, the blue team has fire and is in an excellent position to burn the other teams to death.

And now, what I have to say seems to be an extremely tardy set of opening credits, in which we see the names of all the castaways, which we will not remember.

Then it’s time for everyone to get to know their teammates. Des introduces himself to the rest of the red team, but holds back the fact that he is essentially a modern-day Rambo who has spent basically his whole life sleeping in hollow trees and killing bears with his bare hands. Also on the red team is Rohan, who thinks we’re going to think he’s just another dumb model, but in fact he’s not: he’s a dumb model who is on TV.

The boss of the red team is Kat, who is a team leader at home and therefore pretty sure that she should be in charge of everything ever. She gets to work ordering people around and pretending she has any idea what she’s doing. This irks Des, who babbles something incomprehensible in his ludicrous Aussie accent at her. He explains that being 60, he’s not going to spend his time on Survivor “listening to some 30-year-old girl” — instead he plans to be like Kung Fu Panda. In some way. It seems irresponsible of the producers to put someone like Des on an island without some kind of panic button.

Next we see the yellow team, standing around on the beach trying to decide whether they should have a plan or not. On the yellow team is Craig, a proud gay man who listens to Beyonce, but also is good at being on Survivor, so how’s THAT for shattering stereotypes?

There’s also Nick, who considers Survivor to be his “Olympics”, in that just like an Olympian, he went to a hypnotist to get over his fear of mice. Nick takes charge of the yellow team, causing outdoors-hater Andrew to point out how stupid it is to take charge of things on Survivor. Luckily for Nick, he takes charge in a very feeble and ineffective way, and after several minutes of failing to light a fire, the yellow team decides to just go for a swim and forget their worries for a while.

And so we go to the blue team, where Sam holds the flaming torch with pride, and Conner is hoping, unrealistically, that he won’t embarrass his parents. The blue team also includes Kylie, who is a firefighter. Everyone is very impressed by this not-very-impressive fact, which delights Kylie, who asserts that if the others think she has a cool job, “I’m living the dream”. There is a moment of deep sadness as we contemplate just how small Kylie’s dreams are.

Then the shock of the episode as we find out that Bianca, who says she sells insurance, DOESN’T sell insurance! Take a moment to recover from that, readers. In fact, Bianca is a private investigator, a fact she intends to conceal by the cunning stratagem of repeatedly telling everyone over and over how boring her job is. “Selling insurance…so BORING!” she will yell in their faces, until they couldn’t possibly suspect her of dishonesty.

Bianca is therefore sticking solidly to the trend that is already establishing itself on Australian Survivor: people thinking that the best way to win is to lie about your job.

The Ultimate Survivor

We’re still reeling from Bianca’s bombshell when Kylie’s firefighting skills are called upon, as Conner, his wish to not embarrass his parents coming back to haunt him, decides to find out what fire feels like, and surprisingly burns himself.

Meanwhile, back at the red team, nobody knows how to make fire and Des can’t be bothered helping.

And we’re back to the blue team, who are swapping stories about how ignorant they are of how to do anything. Despite an almost total lack of knowledge, they somehow figure out that if you cut down a tree, you can get wood. They get to work on a shelter while Conner sits in the ocean contemplating the mysteries of heat. He comes out of the water to meet Flick, who wishes to form an alliance with him despite the fact that he will at any moment be airlifted to hospital.

On the yellow team’s beach, the castaways come back from their refreshing swim for a fun session of wondering what to do next. Against all expectations they build a shelter. In line with all expectations, it collapses. The yellow team bursts into laughter, because you can’t take life too seriously when you are laughably inept in all areas.

At night, the red team huddles together for warmth. “That’s not really my cup of tea,” says Des, who prefers to sleep alone, drawing heat from his own irascibility. Freezing in their shelter, the team heads down the beach to see if it’s warmer down there, only to find to their consternation that tides are a thing. Even more unexpectedly, the water keeps on coming in the morning, flooding the shelter and throwing the whole camp into chaos as the castaways are forced to come to terms with the hitherto unsuspected existence of the ocean.

It’s blessed relief that we now move on to an immunity challenge, as like all seasons of Survivor, watching them faff around camp is mind-numbing. Meeting Jonathan, the teams discuss fire. The yellow team emphasises just how hard they tried to make fire, and therefore just how hopeless they are. The red team confidently tells Jonathan how they succeeded in making fire, a story that falls apart when Rohan tells Jonathan that they didn’t. The LaPaglia interrogation: so intense that everyone cracks in the end.

Runs in the family

The immunity challenge requires teams to run over some A-frames, climb a net, build a bridge, and solve a puzzle. The usual It’s A Tropical Knockout stuff.

The challenge begins, and it becomes clear that the red team is as bad at obstacle courses as it is at…well, everything else. The blues, on the other hand, are excelling, mainly due to Sam, who lives up to the Spider-Man principles embodied by his should tattoo by hauling all his teammates over the net. There is then a surprise twist as the red team moves into second and it’s the yellow team’s turn to be as bad as we already knew it was. Then another surprise twist as the yellow team proves to be really good at laying down planks, and moves into second. It’s a dizzying whirl of action and uninformative camera angles as both yellow and blue teams set to on their puzzles. The red team has a lot of ground to make up, but their big advantage is that one of their solvers is Des, who is years past giving a shit about anything in his life.

The blue team, benefiting from the disproportionate number of brains that have been included on their side, finishes the puzzle first. The yellow team, benefiting from not having Des, finishes second. The red team is going to tribal council, and we kind of saw that coming. Des is furious: this means he’s going to have to do more walking.

The red team has a big decision to make: vote out Des, or drown themselves en masse? This is definitely the point at which the old man’s strategy of refusing to do anything around camp and being rude to everyone will have its ultimate test.

As the red team discusses who to vote off (Des), Des says he has a feeling everyone is avoiding him, a feeling that by his stage of life, he must surely be used to. “I need to scramble fast and hard,” he says, a revolting image. He makes a last-ditch bid for likeability by supervising the construction of a shelter. It’s a lot like the battle-plan montage in Ernest Goes To Camp. Des has suddenly become useful, which might help him, but on the other hand, it also shows that the horrible freezing wet first night they had was entirely due to Des refusing to help. And also, he’s awful.

The red team arrives at tribal council and Jonathan almost immediately starts trying to put everyone to sleep with his personality. Naturally before we get to voting we have to have a “conversation”, which is a pretty good opportunity to get some biscuits. Jonathan asks Des why he was such a dick in not helping with the shelter on Day One, and Des tells him that he thought that the others would probably enjoy not being helped. It’s all part of being a fat lazy shit on an island. Asked about the immunity challenge, Kat explains that Des fucked up the puzzle, which makes Des pull a face like someone just took the last piece of pork crackling. There follows some general conversation about teamwork and camaraderie and how crap Des is. Then a thunderstorm starts — the gods are angry that Jonathan LaPaglia has found employment.

So, voting. Kat votes for Des. Des votes for Kat. Everyone else votes for someone else. Jonathan reads the votes out, as slowly and dully as he possibly can.

It turns out it’s Des. Yet again we see Icarus fly too close to the sun, Alexander extend his empire too far, an unpleasant old man act like a prick to everyone. In the end, Des’s reach exceeded his grasp. Or maybe it was just that he was lazy and stupid. Only time will tell. Tune in next week when it will rain or something.