In Season 5, Episode 3, we chat with Leroux Botha, the executive producer who managed to revive the production of Survivor South Africa, largely through grit and sheer moxie, after it had been dead in the water. Leroux shares his journey from Survivor super-fan to content producer, to eventually creating his own version of the show. Survivor South Africa is really a fan love letter to the show. He pays homage to past challenges and prefers to keep twists and turns to a minimum. Instead, Leroux chooses to focus on engaging and straightforward storytelling instead of sneaky editing designed to maximize drama.
Leroux is a self-proclaimed geek at heart, and he shares some of the many Easter eggs he slipped into Season 9, Return of the Outcasts. Some of these are nods to Star Trek, Stargate, and even Magic the Gathering. (Be still, David’s heart.) He also shares some behind-the-scenes insights into the production and casting process. Peih-Gee talks about her experience during the casting process for Survivor China and how the producers ask leading questions to create more drama. LeRoux talks about how a much smaller budget has forced them to be more creative.
I really enjoyed hearing about Survivor from the producer’s side, especially when the producer is a scrappy fan who managed to create a compelling homage to the show he loves so much. Survivor South Africa is well loved in part because it reaches for the same magic that made old school Survivor so compelling. I hope this episode convinces you to give it a watch.
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Topics Discussed in this Episode
- [02:09] Peih-Gee talks about Survivor being the most immersive game on the planet. She and Leroux talk about Dino Paulo, our podcast guest from S4E6 who is an escape room owner from South Africa who also appeared on Survivor South Africa (Survivor SA.)
- [03:15] David explains that Survivor has grown from a survival show into a complex strategy game. He also explains that Survivor South Africa is a South African production of the American reality show Survivor.
- [04:01] Leroux tells a story about initially being a huge fan of Survivor and auditioning with a gimmick, a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself. He explains that despite making it deep into the audition process, they realized they couldn’t cast him because his partner works for the studio and it would have been a conflict of interest.
- [07:03] Leroux talks about pivoting to creating a Survivor podcast, doing exit interviews with the voted off contestants. This led to him getting a job as a content producer for Survivor SA.
- [09:05] Leroux talks about what a content producer – or segment producer – does. Their job is to follow the contestants and interview them to get the greatest soundbites to craft a story.
- [09:43] Peih-Gee talks about “producer interference,” when the producers ask leading questions and try to manipulate the contestants to create more drama.
- [10:30] Peih-Gee tells a story about when she was in casting for Survivor China. The people auditioning are asked to choose five other applicants who stood out. She talks about how 3 of the 5 applicants she chose eventually made it onto the show, and says she was also picked by other players. She concludes that there is a certain charisma or star power when seeing these players in person.
- [12:29] Leroux talks about the casting process from the producer’s side, and he references Jeff Probst’s new podcast On Fire where they discuss casting. His main takeaways were authenticity and knowledge of the game.
- [14:20] Peih-Gee adds that you must also be a good storyteller who can give an interesting, concise soundbite. She goes on to talk about authenticity and gives an example of what not to put in your casting video.
- [16:12] Leroux mentions Cirie Fields, one of the most popular players from the American version of Survivor, who was famous for being “the mom that got off her couch and played Survivor.”
- [19:16] David talks about how the Australian and South African versions of Survivor manage to run on a much smaller budget than their U.S. counterpart. Leroux talks about how they have managed to keep the production value high while running on a lower budget. He says that they have fewer producers doing more, and that they also have a few expert Survivor podcasters, Mike Bloom and Shannon Guss, who volunteered to help with consulting on twists and gameplay mechanics.
- [22:26] David observes that escape rooms in other countries seem to mirror the efficiencies of production by getting scrappier with their budgets.
- [23:08] Leroux talks about South African television series being compared to their U.S. counterparts, and talks a little bit about the economic differences.
- [25:20] Leroux says he knows they can’t compete with U.S. Survivor in terms of production value and budget, but he still wanted to create a better show through more straightforward storytelling.
- [26:42] Leroux continues, saying that he prefers to keep the game more simple with less twists and turns so the players can really shine when coming up with their strategies.
- [27:37] Leroux tells us about the process of deciding the challenge order in a season of Survivor.
- [33:07] Leroux tells us that the reason he starts planning the next season of Survivor at the merge stage of the current Survivor season is that it’s his way of manifesting the next recommission of a season. He tells us that it’s not a definite thing the way it is for U.S. Survivor, and they never know if they will get another season.
- [35:40] Leroux talks to us about designing Survivor challenges and using classic challenges, but also wanting to put small spins on them. He also encourages our listeners to send him ideas.
- [37:17] Leroux mentions a challenge involving giant wooden balls in a mud pit that was an homage to a challenge from Survivor China, Peih-Gee’s first season. Peih-Gee reminisces on what made that challenge so difficult and Leroux talks about why they wouldn’t use that challenge again.
- [40:00] David mentions that on Survivor SA Season 9, Return of the Outcasts, the aesthetic theme was infused with elements of sci-fi, including naming the tribes Yontau, Masu, and Salan, which are the Vulcan words for fire, water, and wind.
- [41:18] Leroux says he’s a big geek and that he’s also the one who designs most of the buffs and set design as well as choosing the tribe names. He tells us about a bunch of nods to geek culture in Survivor: Return of the Outcasts including the voting urn, which is based on the gold ship from Stargate SG One, a Magic the Gathering reference on the holder for the individual immunity necklace, and a Klingon bat’leth above a goal post.
- [43:51] David bemoans the fact that it’s very difficult to watch Survivor SA through official channels.
- [47:06] Peih-Gee mentions that their listener base consists of lots of game designers who are also Survivor fans, and Leroux says they can pitch ideas to him by sending a message on his Instagram or Twitter.
- [50:31] Leroux tells us a bonus story about his first time playing an escape room and why they emerged sopping wet.
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Article by Leroux Botha on how he revived Survivor South Africa
- REPOD S4E6 – Blacklights and Blindsides: Dino Paulo, Survivor South Africa and owner of Hinthunt Africa
- Podcast where Shannon Guss interviews Leroux Botha (and he mentions REPOD)
About Leroux Botha
Creative Producer @afrokaans & #SurvivorSA series director/ Executive Producer (aka LB)
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