Entertainment Survivor meets Squid Game: Why global TV networks are racing to make this new series
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Survivor meets Squid Game: Why global TV networks are racing to make this new series

million dollar island
Survivor on steroids: Seven is hoping Million Dollar Island will topple reality TV giant Married at First Sight. Photo: TND
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On an island somewhere in the Philippines, a group of 100 Dutch men and women of all ages spent two months filming the first series of hybrid survival reality TV show Million Dollar Island.

Described as a “revolutionary new social experiment” from Dutch billionaire John de Mol (The Voice, Big Brother), the show, filmed entirely on location on the remote island of Palawan, premiered on March 6 in the Netherlands.

As it pits 100 hungry survivalists against each other for a $1 million prize – forcing them into teams, depriving them of food, forcing them to build shelters and vegetable gardens – it quacks like a 21st-century, adult version of Lord of the Flies.

Here, though, it’s all about money.

The competitors are all wearing a $10,000 bracelet which they can use to their advantage, and are forced to give away to someone they choose if they lose and have to leave the island.

A gutsy creative move, some would say.

This week, the Seven Network announced it has picked up the franchise and is commissioning its own production (set to air 2023), with promises of equal amounts of “game play, strategy, emotion and drama”.

“A key factor in this format is going to be the manipulation from producers encouraging contestants to lie and be deceitful against their fellow cast mates,” TV expert Kevin Perry tells The New Daily.

“With a big cash prize on offer, contestants will be under constant pressure to not only push themselves to the limit, but to convince other participants into surrendering the cash that they have rightfully earned.”

With filming completed late last year for the Dutch version, social media posts from one Dutch contestant, self-described “lifestyle expert” Fons Van Meeuwen, are now giving us a taste of what it’s all about when a group of hangry contestants confront each other.

“I still have the idea that I was on another island pffff what a bullsh-t … conspiracy … I’m glad I stayed close to myself,” he wrote on Sunday.

Reality television at its best.

‘Part Survivor, part Squid Game’?

A statement from Seven said each contestant [casting is now open] starts the adventure with a bracelet worth $10,000, and while they are on the island, “can gain and lose bracelets by competing in various games”.

“They can also receive bracelets from other contestants.”

That sounds a little like Survivor, particularly the endurance involved in the ‘games’ bit.

And here’s where it gets interestingly Squid Game-ish: “When someone gives up and decides to leave the island, they must give their bracelet(s) to a contestant who stays behind. Some contestants will become richer by winning games and inheriting bracelets, while those who lose and fail to collect new bracelets must eventually go home.”

What lengths will the contestants go to to ‘befriend’ another and manipulate the game so they win, and snatch the bracelet from their losing teammate?

No, there’s no getting fatally shot by a giant ‘Red light, Green light’ killer robot doll or Pink Soldiers killing off contestants in horrific deaths in a dark underground morgue.

But, says Perry: “This format relies heavily on the personal characteristics of trust, deceit and the will to survive.

“Expect to see bad people doing bad things, and there are bound to be plenty of emotional backstories from Australians desperate to take a risk to secure a new future for themselves.

“The success or failure of this series will come down entirely to the casting.”

Here’s a snippet from Dutch contestant Daisy, 31: “Very exciting … very cool … the game has really started, you don’t know who your friends are at the moment.”

Another contestant confronts the group in an episode which aired last week in a dramatic exchange. She said: “I don’t even need a team.”

However, Seven says “by the last day, only a few contestants are left on the island. In a thrilling finale, they will each get their chance to cash in their bracelets during an exciting test of nerves”.

“They can also lose everything at the last minute,” the Seven statement concludes.

Adds Perry: “This format is essentially Survivor on steroids, where contestants battling against starvation and mind games are forced to battle against their fellow contestants in a series of physical and mental challenges.”

Why networks in five countries are racing to make the series

The boss at de Mol’s Talpa Entertainment Holding, Maarten Meijs, says the show’s “lightning pace into the big territories is a testament to its hybrid capacity to strengthen both linear and streaming platforms in the quickly changing media landscape”.

In other words, the series is attracting huge interest across free-to-air networks where a program is on at a schedule time every day (or every week), and streaming services in several countries can readily pick up the program.

Studio Lambert, whose credits includes Gogglebox and The Circle, is producing the US and UK editions, with broadcast giant NBC commissioning the series for the US market.

The show has also been sold to the Middle East and Eureka Productions, the group behind Farmer Wants A Wife, is making the local version.

Seven’s chief content officer, Entertainment Programming, Angus Ross, said “the game play, strategy, emotion and drama – set in a beautiful, remote location – will make Million Dollar Island one of the must-watch TV shows of 2023.”

Eureka’s co-CEO Paul Franklin describes the show as “event television at its best”.

“Playing out in a stunningly exotic setting, this will be an unmissable series packed with intrigue, secret alliances and incredibly high stakes.”

Perry said the Seven network is “desperate to find the next big reality franchise that will finally defeat Married at First Sight.

Holey Moley was a massive failure. SAS Australia is now overexposed and has become tiresome to viewers.

“Seven has made a massive financial investment to secure this format ahead of the competition, however so far it has only premiered in the Netherlands and despite massive hype, television ratings have been soft,” he told TND.

Check out the 100 money-hungry contestants on the beach. Starts well, ends with one very clever millionaire. Photo: Seven

There’s only one question left to answer.

On which “remote desert island” will 100 Aussies get to spend two months and fulfil their dream of getting rich quick?

Australian Survivor has been shot in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu.

“Seven is promising a tropical location and it’s likely producers will [go] … where other international versions of the show are currently being produced.”

Back to Palawan?

Million Dollar Island will premiere on Seven and 7plus in 2023