Survivor SA's Dino: 'I had a massive target on my back that never went away'

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Dino Paulo on Survivor SA: Immunity Island.
Dino Paulo on Survivor SA: Immunity Island.
Photo: M-Net
  • Puzzle guru Dino Paulo became the seventh castaway to be sent packing by the Zamba tribe on the latest episode of Survivor SA: Immunity Island.
  • After another tribe shuffle, the 30-year-old found himself on the chopping block as his tribemates viewed him as someone who 'pivots' too much.
  • "They just misread that approach from me. I don't blame them for it because I gave them so many things to consider that it could appear like a flip-flop play," said Dino.

After yet another tribe shuffle, live-escape game owner Dino Paulo (30) eventually couldn't unlock a way to keep his torch lit in Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island when his tribemates decided his exit.


In this Q&A, Dino tells us about his long journey to Survivor SA, about that moment he asked Paul for help, and how he handled the pressure of being the puzzle solver.

You entered several previous times for Survivor SA. Can you tell us about the process and how you felt when you were told that you'd been chosen?

I'm so glad that you've actually started with that because it's something that I feel so strongly about. It's such a huge part of the journey, and it's such a fun part of the journey.

I started back at season 5 of Survivor SA: Champions auditioning. I auditioned twice that season and then auditioned for seasons 6 and 7, and I didn't progress very far, but something in me knew that I was cut out for this game at some point. That my time would come. I wasn't right then, but eventually, I would fit the mould.

I was never deterred, and I always enjoyed every single audition process and even when you get the rejection and go, "Arg," and you've got this weight upon you and think, "My world's come to an end, I'm rejected," and then you have to wait another 365 days until they open applications for the next season and you thought so much about how you're going to do things differently. I think for season 8, I finally cracked it, and it was everything I hoped it to be. The process is quite a long one, but it's so much fun.

You said at the end of the episode that you didn't feel that you had played as well as you wanted to. What did you feel you didn't do well enough?

It's interesting. I'm generally a cool, calm, collected person. My friends and family would be the first ones to say I'm not someone who gets bothered by things.

But I was put on the backfoot so early on in the game when people realised that I was a superfan; they recognised me from videos and things I've done. I had this massive target on my back that never went away during the whole game. And that put me on a bit of a backfoot where I ended up scrambling, whereas I would have liked to be more of that cool, calm, collected centre that could make and build relationships freely.

So I really felt a little bit let down by my social game. Not to say that I was bad socially, I mean I got on really well with everyone; we had a good time.

It was always a good laugh around camp, and I am good friends today with lots of the castaways, but the social game part is a little bit different – it's about building mega trust and building alliances that you can use long term, and I just didn't quite get that, you know.

Survivor SA: Immunity Island
THE PUZZLE MASTER AT WORK: Dino and Kiran completing a puzzle during a reward challenge.

You were selected every time to solve the puzzle. Did you tell anyone about your profession, and was there pressure to take on the role of puzzler solver?

So, early on, I came out about what I did and because I realised that some people had recognised me so I couldn't lie about my profession.

I would have been like this skydiving instructor that's there for adventure, but I couldn't carry that lie, so early on I said, "Guys, I do own a live-escape game," and people know what that is and said, "Oh cool, you're our puzzle dude," and I said I'm happy to be that.

I was relieved to do the puzzles because the puzzles form an important part of the challenge that they're often the make or break. I've always felt that at least that part of my game would be in my hands where I could go out and determine whether we'll win or lose this. If we lost a challenge on somebody else's inability to win it and I went home that night, I'd feel very aggrieved. I always felt that my fate was in my own hands.

In the first episode, and I still don't know what to make of it, but you can elaborate, when you whispered to, I think, Mike or Shaun from the other tribe during a challenge "Help me", but some of your tribe saw you, and you also volunteered to tell them all. Do you think that was a mistake, or did you think it would build trust?

I'll answer this in two parts – the decision to reach out to Paul and the subsequent decision after that.

I recognised Paul from rowing days, I used to row against him, and I recognised him. And that's why I tried to help him get the immunity necklace in the first challenge. I've also been thrown immensely under the bus by superfan-dom, and I had this massive target on my back where I was told that if I didn't have the necklace, I'd be going home.

At that stage, the challenge was going so poorly for us that I thought we're going to tribal council and I would be safe, but if we go to the next one, I'm going home, but I know this guy on the other side, let me try and connect and that's when I tried to ask Paul for help to send me to Immunity Island to get an advantage or to prolong my life in the game.

I don't regret that decision at all because I was playing, and I was fighting for my life in the game.

The decision to tell the tribe was because Shaun saw me reaching out for help to Paul, and before the end of the challenge, he had already spread the word around to the tribe members that I had reached out. I thought, well, I might as well open up about it and say I messed up and I'm sorry about it. I thought that was a better approach than just letting Shaun continue telling everybody and putting his spin on the story as to why. So I don't regret those decisions at all.

Yes, it did impact my game negatively, but I'll never regret playing hard and fighting for my life in the game, ever.

Survivor SA: Immunity Island
ZAMBA BACK AT TRIBAL: A tense tribal council.

Do you feel that you were blindsided? Looking back, did you realise that you might be a target?

So, I knew the tribe swap hadn't worked out particularly well for me.

But I've been working with Tyson and Kiran at Vuna 2.0 for some time to the point where – you even saw Tyson going, "I've got the idol, and you can put my name down," and we've already discussed those things before tribal.

I felt very much I was working with them and particularly building a relationship with Kiran. I did know that Tyson was a bit emotional, but I didn't think he'd have it in for me, so when they said to me, "Hey Dino, look, it's Santoni," I knew the backstory about why Wardah wanted Santoni out, I knew there was bad blood. It was very genuine, and you can see it on screen. I thought, okay, I might just escape going home this tribal council.

The one thing I've asked Tyson was to split the vote on Qieän and Santoni in case Santoni had an idol, and I think that raised a few red flags for them. I felt pretty comfortable the first day, and then just before tribal council, I started feeling uneasy, but I figured that it wasn't worth my while scrambling; I needed to build trust.

During tribal council, right before we went into the vote, that's when it sunk in, and I thought it's going to be me. I could just sense it. I was looking around; my head was in a swivel, looking for a potential place where an idol would be because, in season 6 and 7, there was an idol at tribal council. I just had this weird feeling - I was looking all around frantically and looking and looking and looking.

That's part of the reason why Santoni actually ended up playing the idol because she thought that I knew that there was an idol there. Meanwhile, I was just grasping at straws. So there was a part of me that knew that it would be me, but I hoped that it wouldn't be me.

Some of your tribemates said Dino "pivots" too quickly. Do you think you gave that impression?

Although I got on well with my original Zamba tribe, I was always number 6 or 7 in the original alliance, you know.

Even being separated from some of the original tribe members, I knew that I was still further down in the pecking order. It didn't always come across like that at camp. Thoriso said to Tyson that I was the kingpin of Zamba; she had misread that, and that raised questions in their minds as to if I've got such good relations with and such a good alliance, why would I try to work with Kiran?

I felt very much on the outs with Zamba, and I was looking for a home. I was looking for an alliance that I could commit to, and I was hoping Tyson and Kiran could be that alliance. They just misread that approach from me. I don't blame them for it because I gave them so many things to consider that it could appear like a flip-flop play when in actual fact, I was really looking for a home.

Survivor SA: Immunity Island
THE TRIBE HAS SPOKEN: Dino's torch is snuffed.

ALSO READ | 260 crew members, 3000 hours of footage - the making of Survivor SA: Immunity Island

Survivor SA: Immunity Island airs Thursdays at 19:30 on M-Net (DStv 101)

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