Working Crew on Survivor TV Show: pt 1- How I Got Picked Up to Crew
Walking along the shady road of a Thai National Park island one lazy tropical afternoon, an Australian man I’d met two days earlier caught up with me and asked, “Would you like a job?”
He proceeded to explain that a film production was in full swing there on the island. They wanted to hire me as a Thai translator for their Unit Department’s field director. She desperately needed help communicating with her local Thai labor force.
Yes, I could speak conversational Thai. But was my Thai good enough to work as a professional translator on a film crew? I seriously doubted it. In contrast, Kevin insisted that he’d already seen/heard me speak well enough with locals to help them out.
I had to admit that working on a film production sounded quite intriguing. And I could certainly use an income. Quite ironically in fact, I’d just spent the past two weeks pondering how/when/where I could wrestle up some work for myself. If Kevin was bent on testing out my language skills, why not? I accepted.
Little did I know that I’d just been recruited to work on one of America’s most famous and popular reality TV shows!
You see, I’d never even heard of ‘Survivor’. I’d left the USA way back in 1991 and had been backpacking around rural SE Asia since 1998. Moreover, I had stopped watching TV way back in high school. But like I said, working a film crew, any film crew, sounded like fun to me.
How did one of the ‘Survivor’ Unit Department’s directors ‘discover’ me as a Thai translator?
Roll back the calendar three weeks…
I’d been happily cycling and island hopping through Trang and Satun Provinces on the west coast of southern Thailand. I caught a ferry out to Koh Tarutao National Park Island, where I set up my tent on the beach and proceeded to explore the large, hilly jungle-clad island for a week.
Every day I enjoyed sunrise from my tent on the beach, ate breakfast from my stash of foods, explored the island by bicycle for a couple hours or wandered along the beach and park trails, ate lunch at the park restaurant, suntanned on the beach, took a swim, ate another park restaurant meal, watched sunset, read a book, fell asleep to the soothing sounds of crashing surf. Got up the next morning, repeat. And so my lounge-y travel days passed.
After about one week I had thoroughly explored Tarutao Island, so I caught a ferry out to remote Koh Lipe Island, leaving my bicycle behind at the National Park office. Koh Lipe and nearby islands were much too small for bicycle travel.
I spent two weeks exploring the gorgeous islands, beaches and reefs at Koh Lipe, Koh Adang and Koh Rawi. Then I returned to Koh Tarutao to reclaim my bike, camp on the relaxing beach again and prepare to travel southward.
On my first morning back at Tarutao, following my usual routine, and quite hungry, I headed to the park restaurant to eat lunch. I was startled to discover that the restaurant seemed to be closed. What was going on?
I nosed around, calling out “Hello” and “Sawadee Ka”. Eventually I found some locals in the kitchen preparing food. I told them I’d like to order, to which they replied they couldn’t serve me. The restaurant was closed. How odd.
Time to start panicking. I get very sick if I don’t eat regularly (every 3-4 hours) and could potentially end up in the hospital. There I was out on a National Park island that had no commercial resorts or restaurants available. There was only the park restaurant. And at that point I was already becoming worrisome-ly hungry, verging on shaky. I needed to eat. And soon.
So I pressed the kitchen staff to give me some food. Any food. They told me I’d have to talk to ‘the boss’ and pointed over to a nearby park bungalow. Over I marched. To my utter surprise, I found myself talking to two western men. Why the heck were western men ‘bosses’ of a Thai National Park Restaurant?
I could have cared less, to be honest. I just needed to eat. I explained the situation to them, stating that I was hypoglycemic and would be in serious trouble soon if I couldn’t eat. They looked at each other for a minute then declared, “Well, in that case I guess we’d better give you some food.”
Quite luckily, I was talking to a film crew paramedic! The other man (the ‘boss’ – aka Kevin) walked me over to the restaurant to ‘give the ok’ to serve me some food. I ordered myself a meal, speaking Thai to the staff.
I thanked Kevin profusely before he wandered back to his office at the park bungalow. I gratefully ate my meal and avoided slinking into disaster. And that had been that.
I still didn’t know who Kevin was or what they were filming. I only knew that their film production had taken over the park restaurant while I was visiting Koh Lipe. Later that day I found a small park canteen where I could eat, so there was no rush to leave the island.
Two days later Kevin approached me with a job offer. One week later I began the most interesting job of my life… Before I knew it, I was driving a hunky ATV; setting up hundreds of tents; mingling with cameramen, directors, and producers; helping create Challenges with the Art Department and watching a film production get set up, shot and disassembled…
Find out what it’s like working behind the scenes of ‘Survivor’ in my ongoing series. Check back next week for part 2: Crew Life .
What was your favorite Survivor Episode so far?
Do you know anyone else who’s crewed Survivor? If so, what did they have to say about it?