I'm a Survivor! YOU journalist spends a tough 36 hours checking out reality TV series taster

By Charlene
03 January 2014

You’re stuck on an island. Supper is a handful of rice and there are no toilet facilities. The sun beats down on you and the red ants bite. In the afternoons there are thunderstorms – which means you go to bed in wet clothes. And you’re among strangers with, um, divergent personalities . . .

Welcome to the Survivor South Africa: Champions island.

Four seasons of the popular M-Net reality series, in which 20 people compete against one another for a month to win R1 million, are already done and dusted. And now, just before the fifth series airs on 19 January, it’s my chance to try to survive – with 11 other journalists.

Believe me, it’s every bit as tough as it looks on the box.

Before we depart to our unknown destination we get injections against all sorts of diseases and we pack medicine for malaria and seasickness.

At Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport I meet the other participants. Among them is actor and Pretoria radio station Groot FM presenter Hykie Berg (35), who won Survivor South Africa: Maldives in 2011, and Durban’s Vuma FM presenter Vanessa Marawa (34), winner of Survivor South Africa: Panama in 2006. They’ll be the two tribe leaders.

We fly to Singapore, where we stay overnight. Early the next morning we travel by bus to Malaysia. Here we board a boat heading for the South China Sea. My stomach knots when I spot the island – the brilliant white beach edging the bright blue water.

How will I cope for 36 hours without any facilities?

We’re not allowed to take along anything that could give us any advantage. “Take out your hairclips,” someone commands. “They can be used as fish hooks.”

We’re dropped off on a raft at sea. On it are ropes, frying pans, wood and coconuts. You can take and use any of it – provided, of course, you can make it to the beach with it.

I arrive empty-handed on the beach, where Survivor presenter Nico Panagio and a camera crew are waiting for us. For the next 36 hours the cameras are on us. Initially I’m self-conscious about it: will I look fat on TV; should I be careful of what I say? But very soon you forget about the cameras.

Vanessa and Hykie choose their tribes. Green and red, six each. I’m in Vanessa’s tribe, red.

In the first challenge you and an opponent have to lie on your stomachs, 200 metres apart. Then you have to jump up and dash to fetch a wooden stake. “I’ll do it,” I offer. I make a dive for the stake – too late. The green guy was quicker.

Disappointed, I get up and dust off the sand. Never mind, next time, I comfort myself. But things wouldn’t improve for the red team. On that island I had to learn how to lose. From childhood it’s drilled into you: everyone’s a winner. But that’s a lie. If you come last, you’re a loser. Green win everything. They’re rewarded with a packet of rice, pans, a tarpaulin, a cleaver and flintstone.

'Red have nothing. Late afternoon I’m starving and exhausted. Tried of being hot, of aching feet, of losing. And that’s when the deceit starts'

When a green opponent and I go swimming, one of the camera crew whispers to me there’s a clue tucked away in the green team’s rice. In the real series the crew may not talk to the contestants at all. The clue points to where you can get an immunity icon to protect you against being voted out in the next round.

The two of us scratch around in the rice – and all hell breaks loose. There are accusations and insults, threats and tears.

I learn another lesson: when the survival instinct kicks in, friendship and loyalty fall by the wayside. At least the greens share a few mouthfuls of rice with us.

That evening I sleep badly. I’m hungry, wet and the sand is hard. Late that night I get a call of nature but I fight it to keep my spot between the warm bodies.

In the morning the green team win again, their prize a few apples which, mercifully, they share with us.

Elana Marais and Loren find a clue for an immunity idol in the green team’s rice. Elana Marais and Loren find a clue for an immunity idol in the green team’s rice.

The greens keep winning and that evening, at the dreaded tribal counsel, nerves are shot. One red has to be voted off.

I almost end up being the one, because of my very first defeat . . . two votes against me, four against my teammate. Apparently losing a challenge wasn’t as bad as shirking your duties and the teammate’s flame was doused.

My thoughts when our 36 hours are up? Not for a million rand would I take part for real. Losing’s not for sissies.

& Survivor South Africa: Champions, with former Springbok rugby captain Corné Krige (38) and former Bafana Bafana player Mark Fish (39) as tribe leaders, starts on 19 January on M-Net at 5.30pm.

- Loren Pienaar

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