REPOD S4E6 – Blacklights and Blindsides: Dino Paulo, Survivor South Africa and owner of Hinthunt Africa

Attention: Survivor Spoilers in this post. We recommend you watch Survivor SA: Return of the Outcasts before reading on if you don’t want to be spoiled.
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In Season 4, episode 6, we chat with Dino Paulo, owner of escape room company Hinthunt Africa, located in Cape Town, South Africa. Dino also happens to be the winner of the reality show Survivor South Africa: Return of the Outcasts. In his first season, Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island, Dino was voted out early on. However, he established enough of a presence to return for an all-star returnee season, eventually winning the title of Sole Survivor.

This turnaround from downtrodden underdog to eventual winner is echoed in his experience as an escape room owner. Dino candidly shares the story of an early business partner who committed financial malfeasance, lessons learned, and how ousting the ex-partner was a bit like blindsiding someone in Survivor. He shares some of the difficulties in working with an escape room franchise. We also spend some time exploring the differences between American and South African Survivor.

Dino is a charming guest and extremely self-effacing despite his impressive achievements. He speaks from the heart, is guided by an analytical brain, and radiates boundless enthusiasm. It’s easy to see how he won Survivor (and our hearts).

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Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Peih-Gee and Dino chat about meeting because of escape rooms and their shared experiences of being on Survivor. [2:00]
  • David and Dino chat about his Survivor win, especially comparing it to his first run on Survivor, where he was eliminated pre-merge. [4:36]
  • Dino talks about how, at the age of 25 in 2015, he became involved with Hinthunt, a Hungarian escape room franchise that was one of the first global escape room companies. [5:52]
  • Dino talks about some red flags he first started noticing with the head office of Hinthunt. [8:54]
  • Dino shares his struggles dealing with financial malfeasance from one of his ex-partners in the business. [10:18]
  • Dino shares some advice for business owners to help prevent this type of fraud and financial mismanagement. [12:51]
  • Dino talks about the sacrifices he had to make to keep the business afloat, and how his investigation of the company was a bit like playing Survivor. [14:15]
  • Dino talks about how he eventually broke ties with Hinthunt because of tech support bottlenecks, lack of new games, and ultimately due to the pandemic. [15:44]
  • Dino talks about the benefits of joining a franchise and how he outgrew it. [17:55]
  • Dino talks about the location of his escape room. [18:56]
  • Dino talks about wanting to level up his games, in part because he wants to grow the community of enthusiasts in South Africa, but also to set a standard of expectation for players and stifle bad experiences from becoming the norm in his market. [22:53]
  • Peih-Gee talks about an experience she had playing an escape room where the gamemaster absolutely refused to help new players, and how this type of bad customer experience will taint the industry at large. [25:41]
  • Dino talks about shifting his mindset from creating “challenge rooms” to being a “fun factory.” [26:32]
  • David talks about an odd couple pairing from a recent escape room tour that ended up being a lovely symbiotic relationship. [27:33]
  • David talks about escape room partners that compliment your own skill set, while Peih-Gee talks about her FOMO in escape rooms. [28:48]
  • David and Peih-Gee talk about some of the ways to be good teammates when playing in an escape room. [30:34]
  • Dino talks about buying Escapetrix and having the former owner of Escapetrix join his team at Hinthunt to help create new experiences. [31:51]
  • Peih-Gee and Dino commiserate about the difficulty of capitalizing on Survivor fame. [33:31]
  • Dino talks about the intense imposter syndrome he still feels, even after winning Survivor South Africa. [35:34]
  • David mentions the Self-Starter podcast, which Dino was a guest on. Self Starter podcast is hosted by Kiran Naidoo, who was a fellow contestant on Dino’s first season of Survivor. [37:33]
  • Dino tells us about some of the differences between Survivor South Africa and its American counterpart, including a smaller crew and budget, but tells us that the production crew behind Survivor South Africa are really passionate about producing an authentic show. [41:28]
  • David, Dino, and Peih-Gee talk about what made Survivor South Africa so good, and part of it is the focus on storyline, character development, and not blindsiding the audience solely for the sake of drama. [44:08]
  • David mentions that Survivor South Africa films over the course of 39 days, and he noticed that it is also aired over the course of 39 days. [48:12]
  • Peih-Gee talks about an embarrassing Twitter interaction between her and the host of Survivor South Africa [49:02]
  • Peih-Gee and Dino compare the two hosts of Survivor, Jeff Probst and Nico Panagio. [50:42]
  • Dino talks about building an outdoor Survivor-style experience using Clue Keeper. [53:32]
  • Dino talks about possibly having an international All Star season of Survivor. [55:39]
  • Dino shares some of his favorite escape rooms in South Africa including Brainwaves Escape, Hashtag Escape, and Escapetrix, which is now part of Dino’s Escape room Hinthunt. [57:01]
  • Dino talks about his new game, Marble, a superhero spoof game of Marvel. [58:14]
  • Dino shares a bonus story about the time he nearly drowned trying to make it to an escape room on time, and still managed to escape in 30 minutes. [1:01:41]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Update May 2, 2023: For more about Survivor SA on REPOD, check out Season 5, Episode 3: Leroux Botha, Executive Producer of Survivor South Africa.

About Dino Paulo

caucasian man smiling, with neat brown hair, wearing a black t-shirt, in front of greenery.

Soon-to-be-married (now married), 32-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa:

  • Escape Room Business Owner since 2016 (Hinthunt)
  • Multi time National Rowing Champion
  • 2-time National Skydiving Champion
  • 5-time applicant, 1-time Pre Merge Boot, 1-time Sole Survivor 😜
  • 3rd most interesting person on the podcast in this episode

(Bio provided by Dino, and we disagree about his placement on the interesting person list.)

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