Earlier this year Channel24's Leandra Engelbrecht flew to the Philippines to try her hand at playing the game of Survivor. The show kicks off on 3 May at 19:00 on M-Net (DStv 101). Here's what it was like to get a taster of the most thrilling reality show on TV.
Cape Town – If I was ever going to enter a reality show it would be Survivor South Africa.
I always felt like I could handle the physical challenges as I lead an active lifestyle and mentally I’m not too bad. I did worry about the social aspect as I generally can't hide how I really feel. I have one of those really expressive faces.
In February this year I got the opportunity to put this theory to the test. I was part of a media group who was invited by M-Net to have the full Survivor SA experience in the Philippines where the sixth season was filmed.
Unlike the real contestants I already had an ally going into the "game" as one of the other journalists, also on the trip, is a very good friend of mine. (Meet the new cast here.)
In fact we met during a similar experience when we spent a night in the Big Brother house. (Read more here.)
I was determined to take this experience very seriously so pre-trip I upped my time in the gym, watched some Survivor episodes and even did some recon with another journalist who went on a media trip before.
I was as prepared as I could be for the experience and I was ready to go!
Unlike the real contestants I met the rest of the castaways at OR Tambo International when we embarked on our 19 hour trip to El Nido.
We arrived at our accommodation after 22:00 where we were briefed and told to be ready at 05:00 to be shipped off to the island.
In our rooms was a folder which held some important information about the island and some of its deadly creatures...
'TIED TO A ROCK'
I slept really well and was ready way before 05:00 the next morning. It was probably the adrenaline kicking in.
We had to hand over our phones and personal belongings and marched down to the beach to catch our ride to where we would be marooned.
We were placed under a gag order and climbed into our boats. We failed miserably at not talking, how can you tell a bunch of journos not to talk?
Suddenly the boats stopped some distance from the shore and we were introduced to our first challenge.
Those who could swim had to grab supplies from a boat and transfer them onto a floating raft. Once we had all the supplies on our raft we had to row to the shore. If we took too long we would lose some of our supplies.
Once I hit that cool blue water it was all systems go.
It was a mad dash as we grabbed as much as we could and then we started rowing.
Picture this: 10 people on a raft rowing furiously but going nowhere.
Yip that was us. It took us a while to figure out that the raft was tied to some rocks. One of my teammates hacked away at the ropes and once we were free we had to get coordinated with the rowing, which took some time too.
We eventually got it together and then we were off to the shore.
Near the shore I jumped into the water and cut my foot against the coral, one of my teammates had to carry me to shore.
Yes, I was that person. Not a great start to my stay on the island.
'A FOREIGN BODY'
Because we took so long to get to the shore, we lost the raft.
Once on the island we had to get working on the shelter, make a fire, and cook some food.
A medic was on the way to have a look at my foot.
The fire was going because we had some flint, the rice was cooking, but the shelter on the other hand was going nowhere slowly.
Our self-designated builder had no idea what they were doing and didn’t want to listen to anyone else’s ideas. Later on a group of us started making something of the wonky structure.
Meanwhile the medic and a doctor finally arrived.
While the medic was cleaning out the cut on my foot the doctor says to him; "There’s a foreign body."
Nothing like the words "foreign body" to make you start screaming internally. It turns out there was a piece of coral reef in my foot. (Nice)
With that taken care of I headed over to lend a hand at the shelter. I did a lot of bamboo stacking, securing them with a rope and tied a lot of knots.
I had no idea what I was doing. My strategy was just to look useful and help wherever I could.
It felt like forever working on that shelter, the sun was blazing, we were being bitten by all kinds of insects and the hunger pangs started.
On the other side of the island people started walking away in little groups, strategising while in another corner an argument erupted over an orange.
It’s amazing just how quickly the game became real at this point.
I heard through the grapevine that my friend and I were targets and they were gunning to break us up. We quickly formed an alliance which made our numbers solid.
IT'S NOT LIKE ON TV
The boats came back to take us to the next island for our immunity challenge.
I was a little worried our shelter wasn’t anywhere near done and if we had to return to stay for the night we would be screwed.
Once on the island we moved over to the game area where Survivor SA host, Nico Panagio explained the challenge.
We had to go through a small obstacle course: A see-saw, walk a balance beam and collect blocks which would we would use to complete a puzzle. We could only unveil the sequence of the puzzle once we collected all the blocks.
There was a deadly silence among the group as everyone put on their game face.
We were divided into two groups and while group one had their go the rest of us pondered quietly how we would face the challenge.
One thing was clear either my ally or I had to win – we weren’t safe, even though the castaway who won in the first group was part of our alliance. In the game of Survivor anything could happen.
And then it was our turn – We were mixed up, and then you heard Nico’s voice counting us down...and it was on.
Things look really easy on television...it’s another story when you’re out there doing it yourself.
I got the hang of the see-saw pretty quickly, had a fall on the beam but was up like a rocket.
I was up on my third return with my last set of blocks when time was called. I looked up and saw it was my ally who won immunity.
With the game in full swing we headed to the dreaded tribal council.
Listen it is every bit as nerve-racking as it looks on TV. I got a lump in my throat when my lantern was lit.
And then the discussions began, Nico pried and it wasn’t long until the gloves came off and everyone was fair game.
It was like a Spanish telenovela with twists and turns and just before we had to vote there was an epic blindside. Our alliance member had turned against us.
Our votes were cast and tallied (I even scored a vote) and two castaways were voted off the island. Seeing their flames get snuffed sent a chill down my spine.
Whether production had taken pity on us or if a cyclone was really forecast for the night we’ll never know. But we did not return to the island.
I breathed a sigh of relief...I’d be sleeping in a hotel bed that night.
It was a tense boat ride back. All of our masks came off during tribal council. We said some harsh things to each other and we had to still spend the rest of the week with each other. Imagine how much harder it has to be when you have to return to an island to continue the game with the same people who stabbed you in the back.
I NEED A BACK-UP PLAN
When I interview contestants who have been eliminated from the show I always ask this question; "What did you learn about yourself?"
A situation that is out of the ordinary whether just for make believe or for real makes you reflect a bit.
I learnt that I would probably not survive long in the game of Survivor. So I need to find another reality show as my default now.
I also learnt that I am afraid of falling, when I was balancing on that beam I was so scared of falling into the mud.
I am not going to get all sappy and deep about it but it did make me think about where this fear suddenly came from.
Being on that island for a few hours was just a snapshot of what the castaways will go through for 39 days. I have a new found respect for the contestants who enter this show.
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR SURVIVOR SA: PHILIPPINES HERE:
*Channel24's trip to the Philippines was sponsored by M-Net.
(Photos supplied: M-Net)