Working Crew on Survivor TV Show: pt 2- Life on Crew
So, what’s it like crewing ’Survivor’?
I suspect you’re all dying to hear how glamorous life is crewing one of America’s most famous and popular Reality TV shows…
So here you go:
Yes, I did in fact get to ‘hob-nob’ with directors, producers, cameramen, and even show host, Jeff Probst.
I did get to regularly ‘live-it-up’ indulging in superbly mixed cocktails most evenings at the well-stocked crew bar. Some friendly cameraman, grip or the other colleague was always buying me my favorite cocktails, to my great delight. For the 1st time in my life I took to drinking Singapore Slings, Pina Coladas, B52s and Black Russians.
We also enjoyed occasional lively beach parties and special events.
I befriended department heads, award-winning cameramen, lighting crew, gaffers, artists, prop makers, film editors and boat captains.
There were some pretty amazing characters on crew. One man used to be a personal bodyguard to movie stars whenever they traveled through Europe. One cameraman had been a journalist in Columbia for 6 years in the mid 1990s. (How did he get out unharmed?)
One guy in the marine department held the WORLD RECORD for free diving. Another man normally lived on a platform way out on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia.
The show electrician generally worked in remote N.E. Australia, often going out to jobs by airplane. Another guy normally delivered yachts. The Survivor crew were all for the most part gregarious, interesting and great fun.
Meanwhile, we all dined morning, noon and night on generous buffet spreads of gourmet cuisine, desserts to die for, and tasty espresso coffees. Survivor fed us all exceedingly well.
I barreled around the production area on a sturdy ATV like an Amazon Queen. I carried a bulky walkie-talkie to communicate with colleagues out in the field. The radios made us look really cool and important… Hey!
I helped the Art Department create The Challenge sets and the props for Tribal Councils, which were then seen on TV by the world.
That’s the glamorous side of a film production.
But all that glamour and fun were squeezed in between the overwhelming reality of a film production: a huge amount of work. ‘Work hard, play hard’ would be an apt phrase.
During the two Survivor episodes I worked on, most crew members worked a solid 12 hours/day, 6 days/week. But managers, supervisors, department heads, producers and directors worked much longer, generally 16-18 hours/day.
That seems about par-for-course for film work. Over the years, I’ve had many friends who’ve worked in the film industry: artists, prop makers, make-up artists, hair designers. Typically, they all worked non-stop for 2-6 months during film production, with little time left to sleep or eat, let alone do anything else. From what I’ve seen, during film productions personal life is just put to the wayside
From that perspective, my job on Survivor was relatively easy. I worked the minimal 12 hour day. My daily routine looked like this: Work 12 hours. Sleep 8 hours.
The remaining 4 hours of the day I used for personal needs. I used 1 1/2 hours in the morning before work to get ready, eat and maybe do one personal task like cleaning my nails or tweezing my eyebrows. In the evenings I had 2 ½ hours to shower, eat, and either relax, socialize, or exercise before bed. That was life on crew.
As a rule, all Survivor crew got one day off per week. However, an unexpected glitch robbed a few of us of our days off at the beginning of the Survivor Thailand production.
The head of my sub-department (i.e. my immediate boss) got sick and quit a few days into the production. Her assistant and I had to pick up the slack in her absence. We ended up running the entire sub-department on our own! As a result, for the first crucial month of production set up, we had no days off. For an entire month.
I proceeded to eat 5 meals /day– and lost weight. That’s a good indication of how much energy I exerted every day.
Needless to say, it was exhausting. I was much relieved after one solid month of 12 hour days to receive two full days off. I was so spent that I slept the entire first day. I recovered on the second day. Then it was back, full swing, into production.
So, what exactly was I doing 12 hours a day for three months?
I was hired as a Thai translator by the Unit Department, which is responsible for setting up all the housing, food, and daily necessities required by the crew to function smoothly. Survivor Thailand took place on Koh Tarutao National Marine Park, an undeveloped island just off the coast of western Thailand near the border of Malaysia.
Because it’s a national park, the island had no resorts, restaurants, shops or modern facilities. That meant the Unit Department had a massive job.
Essentially we had to set up an entire new modern town and a tent city, including housing, electricity, sewage, internet capabilities, air conditioning, laundry facilities, house cleaning and more. The company also installed a bar, a gym and other recreational facilities (As if anyone had time for that!)
Not surprisingly, building a new town from scratch required many specialists: electricians, carpenters, restaurant and catering personnel, technicians.
The electricians, carpenters, caterers, film crew ‘gofers’ were hired as full-time staff for the duration of the production. They helped unpack containers, set up the new town, tear it down afterward, and re-pack the containers. Other specialists like satellite, internet, and phone technicians were hired just temporarily to make their installations.
My particular department within the Unit Department was in charge of all crew housing. We had to set up over 300 tents to house the cameramen, camera assists, film editors, gaffers, lighting crew, restaurant staff, temporary specialists, journalists and ourselves.
We also had to equip the tents with beds, mattresses, cabinets, tables, chairs, linens, lights, torches, brooms, dustpans, and trash bins. And then of course we had to provide toilets and showers.
In addition, about 40 ‘VIP’s were set up in national park houses and bungalows, where they were provided with phones, internet access and air-conditioning. The Unit Department specialists took care of those accommodations. The poor electrician had to run miles and miles of electric lines to bungalows, tents, the restaurant, the bar and other facilities.
Once the extensive housing was completely set up, we were charged with keeping the town clean and functioning. We provided regular personal laundry service and linen changes, spare torches and light bulbs, and repairs or replacements for anything broken.
I was hired as a Thai translator to help get the Thai staff pitching tents, cleaning, and organizing. Tragically , I managed within a few days to have the entire Thai staff hate me and their jobs! It was a complete disaster! A near mutiny ensued.
Part of the problem was due to my minimal Thai language skills, part of it the southern Thai dialect, a lot of it cultural differences that I didn’t know about. I’d never worked in Thailand before and I quickly discovered it’s an entirely different ball game from traveling around the country as a paying guest.
In addition, everyone suspected the workings of one female Thai translator who simply hated me from the beginning. She had tried her best to prevent the company from hiring me. Once I was hired, she proceeded to make my life hell.
Fortunately for me, everyone in my department was already wise to her and consequently blamed her, more than me, for the near mutiny. Finally, our department director called a big meeting during which he put certain people in their place. After that things quickly improved.
Within a few days, not only did my Thai staff suddenly become co-operative, but they actually came to love me. From then on, we all have a great time working together. They bustled about singing, smiling, joking around and helping me improve my Thai.
It was a miraculous turnaround. And we all suspect the woman giving me trouble had been put in her place at the meeting. (She later befriended me, oddly, and even asked if I wanted to work with her in LA!)
As my department was busy erecting a full town, other departments were bustling around too. The art department was busy building props and sets at various locations. I helped them out in my spare time.
A large Marine Department (not military marines, but boat people) were preparing boats for sea transport between various locations.
The Transportation Department got busy chauffeuring people around by bus and truck. They were also charged with unloading huge barges and boats on a daily basis: food, drinks, laundry, equipment and machinery for the film.
All in all, it was a huge, bustling month-long production set-up in preparation for the film crew: cameramen, directors, producers and last but not least, the contestants. to arrive and begin filming Survivior Thailand.
Check back in two weeks when I bring my next installment of Crewing Surivor TV Show- Mishaps and Misadventures Behind Scenes!
Meanwhile, you might like to read How I Got Picked Up to Crew Survivor Thailand