Whenever a new reality TV franchise opens up in New Zealand there is a lot of complaining. One of the loudest and most consistent is from a group of people who give off a strong impression that they yearn for the days when radio serials were the dominant dramatic form, and thought Last of the Summer Wine a bit risqué.

Their furious denunciations of the format tend to centre on how awful it is that public money is spent on shows like The Bachelor and Survivor.

So it seems a timely moment to remind everyone that public money is definitely not spent on shows like The Bachelor and Survivor. Repeat, not a cent of your tax dollars were deployed on these definitely hyper-realistic quests for love and life respectively.

So what entertainment they provide, and what they reveal about New Zealand is just a gift falling from the TV heavens.


The chief reveal of episode one of Survivor, the oldest and most successful reality show of them all, was that we are, as one bleak but accurate tweet put it, "some fat phobic turds" for casting out at the first possible opportunity Hannah, a plus size model and roller derby enthusiast.

It was all the more transparently malign an action because as well as being a model and skater Hannah is also a freaking powerlifter, and spent much of her brief time on the island carrying giant boulders, each of which weighed around the same as some of the slighter competitors, into place for the group's camp.

Hannah was voted out of her tribe but returned to the show to challenge Dee after a night on Exile Island.
Hannah was voted out of her tribe but returned to the show to challenge Dee after a night on Exile Island.

The ejection happened around halfway through the sprawling debut episode, and had the unfortunate effect of making everyone else in the group, known as Hermosa, seem totally horrible.

It was a rocky start, revealing more than we'd like to have known about Mogaton, the tribe which cast her aside. But then that's what the phenomenally successfully show is all about - taking ordinary people, testing the limits of their mettle and ingenuity, and seeing what happens.

The group of 16 New Zealanders - admirably diverse in terms of age, gender and ethnicity - was swiftly divided into two (the other tribe is known as Hermosa), and they opened by having to empty a boat of supplies to start their 40 days in Nicaragua. While some of the group seem well-qualified to spend a month in a tropical jungle, others had alarm bells ringing from the jump.

"I didn't know where Nicaragua was," said one, which is understandable, then "I actually didn't know where North America or South America was. I'm just from a small town." A small town without a school, any books, any maps or the internet. A national scandal for which this government should be held to account.

After the frantic dash to empty to boat, the teams surveyed their bounty. Unfortunately for Hermosa, a Mogaton member named Isabelle had spent the whole time thieving everything they'd taken from the boat.

As a result Dee, the most intriguing member of Hermosa, had to defiantly defend their truly awful haul by saying "I got a squished melon, I'll be fine."

Only, she wouldn't be fine. Dee was rather too eager to prove her knowledge of the game, immediately trying to build an alliance to send home one of the group's hottest guys.

Hermosa responded by voting her off the island at the first opportunity. Her last hope was a duel with Hannah for the chance to cling to the show by a thread, staying alone elsewhere and fighting weekly for the chance to remain a part of the show.

She botched that too, before emotionally revealing that she is a "Survivor superfan", who has viewed every episode at least three times, and listens to "40 hours of podcasts a week". She seemed an absolute winner, and yet she's already banished from our screens.

Hannah lives to lift another boulder though, leading to much tense conversation with the group about how happy they were about her win.

It's a microcosm of the kind of tense, compulsive viewing we'll get from the show, one which appears an able execution of this most devious and brilliant of reality formats: New Zealanders under immense pressure to survive, revealing far more of themselves than they hoped.