reality tv

No toothbrushes and constant backstabbing: Three former Australian Survivor contestants on what it's really like on the island.

This article was originally published in August 2019, and was updated in February 2020. 

Ever since my brief stint on Big Brother back in 2013, I’m often asked whether I’d consider going on another reality TV show.

The answer is yes, of course. But it would have to be the right one.

In saying that, you couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to sign up for Australian Survivor

No, thank you. Absolutely not.

That show, in my opinion (and believe me, I’ve watched a lot of reality TV) has to be up there with one of the toughest reality TV shows to participate in.

Mamamia meets The Bachelor. Post continues after video. 

There are so many arduous, exhausting layers to it. The living situation alone (wet, damp, uncomfortable) is enough to drive even the most level-headed person insane, let alone the grueling challenges and mental mind games.

I barely made it through 10 weeks of sunbaking by the Big Brother pool, I don’t like my chances of catching fish with my bare hands.

It is still, however, one of the original reality TV shows and this year’s season is proving to be just as great as the last.


So, I spoke to former contestants – Lee Carseldine, El Rowland and Matt Tarrant – to find out absolutely everything there is to know about being a contestant on Australian Survivor.

What happens in the audition process?

Season 3 runner-up and all-round sexy silver fox, Lee Carseldine, told Mamamia the audition process is basically a game of Survivor in itself. 

“15,000 applicants whittled down to 24 through a lengthy process of audition videos, group casting days, individual castings, psych testing, blood tests, physical tests… and a lot of paperwork”, he said. 

Sounds like a lot of admin to try to end up stranded on an island. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What kind of preparation is involved before the show starts?

So what about before you leave for the island? Do you pop up a tent in your backyard and starve yourself for a week just to get a feel for what’s about to come?

For Lee, he knew the physical challenges were going to be his strength.

I trained really hard physically for it which also put me in good stead mentally,” he told Mamamia

Okay and what about the mind games? Do you just try to perfect your poker face in front of the mirror?

“As weird as it sounds I tried not to think about the game at all going into it,” Lee explained. “I knew that once I hit that island, all preconceived ideas about strategy were going to go out the window.”

For El Rowland (season 3), she tried to prepare her body with a serious detox.


“Because you are stripped to bare essentials, personally I detoxed from caffeine, lip balm, sunnies, alcohol and tried to put on weight,” she told Mamamia.

Who would have thought a lip balm detox was required?

Matt Tarrant’s (season 3) preparation sounds much more aligned with my own personal brand. 

“I was told that I was – specifically – the least prepared contestant in Survivor history,” he said. 

“I did no working out, I went for one run around the block once, I did a quick lap of a swimming pool, and I spent the weeks before the show eating KFC, McDonalds and Hungry Jacks.”

Same, Matt, same.

Do they watch previous seasons to try plan their strategy?

This season’s contestant and walking six-pack, Shaun Hampson, said that he and his fiancee Megan Gale would sit up late at night in the month leading up to the show, trying to smash as many episodes of the US version of Survivor as they could.

Mamamia recaps the first week of The Bachelor. Post continues after podcast. 

For Lee, it was just the basics. 

“The only season I watched going into the first season was a season of US Survivor as I had never watched it before,” he said. 

“Basic things like alliances, tribe swaps, idols, challenges and of course blindsides.”

Ahhh blindsides. There’s really nothing like a good blindside on a Monday or Tuesday evening. 


Are they taught any skills?

Surely, the producers don’t just drop a boatload of everyday people on an island and expect them to know how to start a fire with wet wood or hack open a coconut sans machete? Surely!

Apparently… not

Peter Conte (season 4) told Mamamia in 2017, that all contestants get a bit of a crash course before being abandoned.

“Before you go in you do get a crash course in like, survival,” he said. “They’re like ‘don’t eat this… you will get sick’. So you kind of know what’s around in a very basic sense… but for the most part, it’s on the individual.”

Lee added, “Skills like building shelter, starting fire, catching fish etc you either YouTube it before you go on the island or learn it while you are out there”. 

I can’t even learn how to apply liquid eyeliner via YouTube, so I’d pity the poor souls who would end up on my tribe. 

How long before going to air is the show filmed?

Unlike Big Brother, the Australian Survivor contestants are already safely back in the comfort of their homes before the show goes to air.

They get to watch themselves be back-stabbed at the same time as the rest of us. Lucky them. 

 “It’s normally a couple of months after the end of filming that the first episode airs,” Lee explained.  

How much do they get paid?

This is one of those questions I’m often asked too. Let me tell you right now: you do not sign up to reality TV for the money. Because there is none. 

“We only get paid $90 a day,” Lee explained. “So apart from trying to win it (and take home $500K) you aren’t doing it for the money. It’s a whole lot of hurt for not a lot gained if you don’t win.”


$90 a day? When you consider I’m blowing $42 on ribs from Meat & Wine Co. every Friday night via UberEats, that’s really not that much.

You’re basically being paid less than $100 to be wet, cold and hungry. 

What do they eat?

A lot of… coconuts. And whilst coconut water might be every influencer’s “go-to” drink of choice, you can, apparently, have too much of a good thing.

Janine Allis (season 6), recently revealed the high amount of coconuts in their diets had some disgusting side effects. 

“I mean, look, coconut gives you diarrhoea if you eat too much of it. I think all of us dealt with that the whole time, and farting and burping,” she told Ten Daily

The contestants also get the bare minimum to keep them alive.

“We are given rations of rice and beans which equates to two small bowls of rice a day (so you don’t die) but the rest you catch or gather yourself,” Lee told Mamamia

What about hygiene? Where do they shower and go to the bathroom?

Be prepared to feel all kinds of queasy in the tum-tum because it really is as dire as you’d think. 

“In terms of brushing your teeth you don’t get anything,” Peter Conte told Mamamia in 2017. “Sometimes you can get charcoal from the fire and brush your teeth and your mouth just looks like an absolute disaster for a while and then you’re like ‘oh my teeth are slightly cleaner, I hope this did something, but I’m not really sure’.”



“Yeah, no toothbrush, no hygiene, they don’t really give you anything for hygiene, you just stink. No soap, I wish there was soap,” Lee added. 

The gals, however, had a few more things to worry about. Like that super-inconvenient monthly menstrual cycle we have absolutely no control over.

Felicity Egginton (season 3) told Mamamia in 2016 that it was a big hormonal mess on the island.

“It was completely messed up. You might have got your period for like a week straight, and then you might not have had it the whole rest of the time. Everyone was having problems with that,” she said. 


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But an irregular menstrual cycle wasn’t the only problem Flick faced while on the island: she found herself very insecure over her body hair.

“When my armpit hair started growing, I was very insecure about that. I felt like I couldn’t even raise my arm up,” she said.

What’s the hardest thing about filming Survivor that we don’t see on air?

Considering it all looks pretty damn hard to me, I was interested to see what the people that actually went through it thought.

“The nights… they’re long, uncomfortable, cold, wet and miserable. Spooning is very important,” Lee said. 

El agrees that the nights are the worst.

Being so uncomfortably cold during the night hurts. Add mosquitoes, non-stop rain, missing your loved ones at home and having people trying to get you kicked off the show and there you have the perfect Survivor cocktail,” she said. 

Do they REALLY only have that one outfit for the entire time? 

To be honest, this question is basically the entire reason why I volunteered to write this article.

It’s something I’ve spent wayyyyy too much time thinking about.

I struggle to squeeze everything I need for Bali into a 32kg suitcase, let alone having to pick one outfit, ONE outfit for my entire time on the island.

What about the various weather conditions? What happens when your shoes get wet? Surely they have to give you a seven pack of undies from Big W? At LEAST!


Nope. It really is as grim as it looks.

You arrive with your day 1 outfit and after 4-5 days you have another 5 approved pieces of clothing that are given to you,” Lee explained. “Every piece of clothing chosen is so vital. When you think undies and socks take up two pieces, it doesn’t leave you a lot left.”

Even reading that gives me anxiety. No thank you. Unsubscribe. 

Do you get to pick what you wear?

This is another question I slipped in personally, mainly because when I was on Big Brother (did you guys know I was on Big Brother?) the producers tried to “suggest” I wear certain things that fit into the “character” they wanted me to be.

Basically, they wanted me to dip-dye my hair pink and wear lots of leather.

Apparently, the Survivor producers aren’t as “persuasive”…

We get to pick but the producers obviously want you to wear what you would wear in everyday life… otherwise there would be 24 Bear Grylls lookalikes out there,” Lee said. 

Fair point, Lee, fair point. 

Where do they record their one-on-one pieces to camera?

These pieces to camera always seem to be in a private, more picturesque spot on the island. But how do they manage to record them without the other contestants listening in to their tea?

Apparently wherever it is, it’s not comfy.

“We do them away from the tribe so they can’t hear your strategy and nearly always in a very uncomfortable place to sit,” Lee explained. 


We record rain, hail or shine and it’s usually on a really uncomfortable rock or log which doesn’t help the sore butt situation,” added El. 

Rock up the ass, anyone?

Where do the camera crew guys stay?

The camera crew seem to be hanging around well into the night, so that they can grab all that juicy footage of people putting out fires and secretly searching for clues and hidden immunity idols. 

So do they just snuggle up on the bamboo bed base next to the contestants when they’re done? 

No. They get to leave the damp, insect ridden camp and return to their fancy hotel. 

Lee reckons it’s well deserved, “They are pulling some hectic hours each day on the island,” he said. 

Ahhh… so are you buddy? And you don’t get to go back to a king size bed and order room service. 

How long do Tribal Councils usually take to film?

In my head, the Tribal Council probably takes about as long as a rose ceremony would take to film on The Bachelor.

Jonathan always has a hundred questions, one minute it’s raining… then it’s not. So how long do these ceremonies around the fire pit really take to film?

“A couple of hours normally. It’s so mentally draining and you don’t normally start till 8pm as you have an immunity challenge and then head back to camp for strategy scramble during the day,” Lee explained. “After tribal you normally get back to camp by 11pm absolutely stuffed.”


And once again, Australian Survivor seems like the hardest f*cking reality show to ever exist.

What happens immediately after someone is voted off?

So everybody has written your name down on those cute little bits of parchment with that weird stick pen and Jonathan has snuffed out your torch.

Now what?

“For me, I immediately did a one-on-one interview, and then had JLP come up and shake my hand and give me a quick hug. I then got raced off to have a chat to the heads of production and went straight to Ponderosa/Jury Villa to see the rest of the Jury,” Matt explained. 


They film you having your first meal, sitting on your bed, looking at yourself in the mirror and having your first shower,” added El. 

Wow, sounds super private and relaxing.

During the challenges that drag on, what are the eliminated contestants up to?

While we get this beautifully edited, polished version of all the best, most exciting bits of the challenges, some of these bad boys can take hours to complete.

So what the hell is everyone doing while they wait?

According to Lee not… a lot.

“Chatting, resting, encouraging. There is a lot at stake so they all keep very interested in the result,” he explained. 

How chatty is Jonathan in real life?

Let’s be honest. Jonathan is half the reason most of us tune in. There is no such thing as too much Jonathan LaPaglia on our screens. And when it starts raining and his t-shirt is suddenly glued to his perfectly chiseled… oh sh*t where was I?


“He isn’t really allowed to socialise with players. He is professional, kind and a great guy but he keeps his distance. I was lucky to go to the Logies with him after the show ended and he is such a great bloke. Very down to earth and humble.”

Great so, as suspected, Jonathan is a gift sent from the Survivor gods.

I can barely wait to worship him (and the rest of the contestants) next Monday.