Speaking to Deadline a few days prior to launch, reality TV vet Paul Osborne said Survivor’s producers have leaned into high-production values and high-stakes gameplay in a similar vein to the U.S. team behind the Emmy-winning CBS smash, which has run for 45 seasons and 650 episodes over two decades.
“It feels a long time coming,” Osborne said of the UK version, which is hosted by Masked Singer presenter Joel Dommett and launches on Saturday. “I’m hugely excited to see how the audience responds to British gameplay which they might not necessarily expect. Anyone expecting a polite, apologetic version of Survivor will be completely surprised.”
Having Banijay format consultants based around the world has helped shape the series, Osborne added of the show that has been produced in more than 50 territories. He said there were “lots and lots of things we learned from other territories while we were also able to put our own stamp on this,” citing the way in which the Australian version approaches challenges as one example.
Survivor UK aired on ITV two decades ago but ran for just two series, although ratings at the time weren’t far off Big Brother, which has aired virtually uninterrupted since on three different networks.
While Survivor is considered “the big bang of reality in the States,” Osborne said British commissioners have tended to opt for less adventure-driven shows such as Big Brother, which “made reality TV over here.” “When Survivor didn’t do very well back in the day it was very social experiment driven and was hosted by a newsreader,” he said. “There is a little more strategic gameplay [with the new version] that is palpable for a modern audience.”
Kalpna Patel-Knight, the pubcaster’s Head of Entertainment who commissioned the reboot, added: “I don’t know why [Survivor] didn’t catch on two decades ago but our version feels fresh, relevant and contemporary.”
Pondering whether the team has given Survivor a “BBC spin,” she said the priority was first and foremost to entertain. “Sometimes the perception of the BBC means producers self edit their pitches to what they think the BBC is about, but we are here to entertain people and we need to get the biggest audiences for our licence fee payers,” she added. “There was no strict ‘this is the BBC’ policy but this was about making the best show.”
Patel-Knight rejected the notion that the plethora of recent reboots, which includes Big Brother, Gladiators and Deal or No Deal and has been a hot-button TV confab topic of late, is negatively impacting British creativity, finding that “reboots are 1% of the 3,000 hours on our unscripted slate.”
“We are not preventing new IP,” added Patel-Knight. “For our licence fee payers we need to back the best ideas and if we have new IP coming up then we back that too.”
According to Patel-Knight, the team behind Survivor sees it as a “renaissance rather than a reboot.”
Staging a British Survivor is, unsurprisingly, proving to be a mammoth task. Filmed in the Dominican Republic, the production is utilizing 100 UK behind-the-camera crew, 80 Latin Americans and 370 locals, with 16 episodes filmed across 34 days.
“The challenges for us are the same challenges for every territory,” added Osborne. “It’s boiling hot, you are living on remote beaches and there are no paved roads. And you are working very very long hours.”
Thousands applied, with a mix of those who were fans of the U.S. Survivor and some who were unfamiliar with the show, Osborne said, adding that those who truly didn’t realize what they were getting themselves in for fell away long before the audition stage. Contestants include a singer-songwriter from Wales, a professional boxer from Ireland and Pegleg, a 54-year-old surfschool owner who was born with no ankle in his left leg.
“What we were looking for from our cast was that drive and determination because this is not an easy experience,” added Osborne.
Patel-Knight said Survivor showcases “representation from all over the UK, people from different ages and from all walks of life.”
The team was influenced by BBC hit The Traitors, which has been warmly praised for its diverse casting since launching last Christmas and was greenlit several months before Survivor – preceding a wave of guessing game formats.
The Traitors also influenced Survivor in terms of scheduling. Two episodes of Survivor will be released per week on Saturday and Sunday nights, with Sunday episodes made available on iPlayer from the night before, giving audiences the opportunity to catch up at will while also creating watercooler moments. “And the exciting thing about launching shows at the BBC is that suppliers get the whole of our might promoting their show,” added Patel-Knight. “The Traitors trail went out at half time in the World Cup and was all over the radio. You couldn’t get away from that.”
ITV has already unveiled a second season of Big Brother and is working on a celebrity spin-off but Patel-Knight was coy over whether the BBC will do the same with Survivor. “We need to wait for the show to go out and see what the audience thinks first,” she added.
Survivor launches on Saturday. It is produced by Banijay-backed Remarkable. Osborne is EP with Natalka Znak, who runs Survivor producer Remarkable, Big Brother maker Initial and Znak TV.