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LaPaglia on surviving his toughest TV role

AAP logoAAP 12/08/2016 Danielle McGrane

Jonathan LaPaglia turned his back on a career in medicine to enter showbiz, but it's come in pretty handy for his first presenting gig as the host of Australian Survivor.

"In a way you're like this amateur psychologist. There's a lot of psychology involved," he says

It certainly helped him throughout Network Ten's first season of the reality show.

With 24 people fighting to outlast each other in Samoa, LaPaglia found himself sidestepping mind games he'd never experienced before.

Split into three tribes, the contestants also have to compete in difficult obstacle-course-style challenges for rewards such as food, comfort items, tools, things that will be useful on the island, and immunity.

If a competitor fails a challenge, they're brought before the tribal council, who vote to decide who stays and who goes.

"You'll need to vote one of your own members out but that's where the game play comes in. The game is in keeping people on side until the time when you need to vote them out," LaPaglia says.

It's at these meetings LaPaglia's background in psychiatry comes in handy.

"I go into the tribal council knowing what's going on with all of them, but I have to pretend like I don't know what's going on with them, so the questions have to come from the periphery," he said.

LaPaglia has been studying the work of Jeff Probst, the host of US Survivor, which has been running for 32 seasons.

"It seems like it's easy when you watch Jeff, but it's really not because you're on the spot," he says.

"You have to come up with these questions that can pry open these subjects without making it too obvious that you know what's going on, without pointing the finger at someone. So they kind of have to be hypothetical in nature.

"That's the pressure of the show, to put all kinds of pressures on them and see what it does to human behaviour, and it certainly twists the contestants into a knot for sure."

The concept of the TV show tends to go against the idea of mateship.

"I think the Aussies really struggled with it," LaPaglia says.

"I think for the Americans it's a little more acceptable to be cutthroat."

Many of the contestants were caught off guard when it came to voting each other out.

According to the host, it makes for interesting struggles as they grapple with their own values.

"It's refreshing to see someone who doesn't have an arsenal or game plan stumbling their way through it," he said.

Unlike many other reality TV shows, the villains and heroes aren't as easily defined.

LaPaglia says those who you find horrendous in the beginning might actually become favourite character as they grow through the show.

"That's one of the interesting things about this show is that people have journeys," he said.

"Someone who starts out as a villain ends up being a hero and vice versa. So that's what makes it, for me, that's what makes it so fascinating to watch."

The other part of the show that's truly fascinating to watch is the challenges.

The producers of the Australian show cherry-picked some of the best ones from the US series and tweaked them to make them their own.

At first there are the obstacle courses that the three tribes tackle but as the show nears the end, and just a few people are left, the challenges change.

"When the game comes down to the individuals, then there are a lot more endurance type challenges, like hanging on to the top of a pole for hours, things like that," he says.

"That can be gruelling."

The experience has certainly been a challenge for LaPaglia himself. He spent 68 days in hot conditions on the island and worked 67 of them.

"It's a massive, massive show but it was a crazy, wild, woolly ride that was a great experience for me but it was a pretty fascinating and rewarding experience too."

*Australian Survivor starts Sunday, August 21, 7.30pm (AEST) Network Ten

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