If you were to multiply the number of Australian survivor Does a factor of four competitors get you four times the entertainment?
This is just that Million dollar island attempts to make in Seven’s ambitious new reality series.
As the title suggests, it’s also double the prize pool of the popular Series 10, but not double the entertainment.
Comparisons will come thick and fast on this new format, co-developed by reality kingpin John de Mol (Big Brother, The Voice, Deal or No Deal).
Yet I can’t help but feel that this is one of those occasions where someone came up with the title before the concept.
The crescent-shaped Malaysian island, with its azure waters, palm trees and limestone cliffs, seems escapist enough, though my Million dollar island would probably come with a luxury resort, a hammock and a pool on the horizon, thank you. Instead, these 100 contestants will be forced to fend for themselves like that other show I’ll try to avoid constantly mentioning.
The 100 arrive on long boats, from all walks of life in Australia, fighters, mothers, grandmothers, estate agents, carpenters and personal trainers. They jump into the water with their bags and make it to the arena, where host Ant Middleton reveals that the bottom three players will get a chance to play for a $1 million fee.
To get there, everyone is given a bracelet worth $10,000 and accumulated by winning challenges.
A giant spinning wheel, perhaps inspired by a Mayan temple, sees a player given power over challenges. The losers are sent home, but not without giving away their bracelet to another player.
There are 4 rudimentary campsites, just meters from the beach: Top, Vine, Rock and Log, assembled after an all-in run for basic food supplies that feels like 9:01 at a Myer yard sale. Civilization goes out the window.
“Even in COVID in supermarkets, that wasn’t the case!” insists a woman.
There is a beach tower with speakers, reminiscent Lostof the Dharma initiative, from which Middleton’s voice barks orders (possibly dubbed through post-production).
In Episode 1, #95 Mike, a 40-year-old personal trainer from NSW, wins the power to determine which 6 players will compete for survival in the physical challenges. But how do you choose who to play when you barely know someone’s name…and your decisions come back to haunt you later?
The first challenge involves swimming and stacking blocks, while an amphitheater of 94 other competitors cheers and cheers on them. Host Ant Middleton attempts to narrate the action but it’s no Jeff Probst or Jonathan La Paglia.
And while that other show has the losers scrambling over a tribal vote, Million dollar island it basically has its equivalents asking for a bracelet from those looking to drop out of the contest. With 100 to choose from, the producers have ensured there will be those who will have second thoughts, be homeless, hate the conditions in the camp, starve to death from lack of food or all of the above. I’m not so sure it’s a real drama, and history has shown that Australian viewers don’t like the compliant.
But it does add a social element, because your longevity in the game may depend on the relationships you build, if suddenly braceletless.
With such a rich cast, the producers also focus on the 6 challenge contestants, through fleeting relationships or conflicts and backstory about life at home. The problem is, after three episodes, I’m having a hard time remembering anyone’s name. Highlighting the six contestants also means there isn’t enough bottom line to cheer up the hero or hiss the villain. There are still cast members who have yet to have decent shooting time.
The episodes are too long too, stretched out by sloppy editing like having to watch each contestant walk up and throw their bracelet into a giant bowl. Or every contestant who reacts to Mike’s choice. Or, in episode two each contestant landed individual strikes to knock someone out. The director should have lumped some of these together and cut the running time down.
Ant Middleton, known for yelling at SAS Australia competitors, he’s thankfully more upbeat and supportive on this occasion, though as a host/narrator, his pronunciation of “60 fousand dollar/nuffing/anuver person” is hard to ignore.
With 100 casts and around 5 to bust out of each episode, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be a whopping 20 episodes, but fear not, there’s a twist coming that will quickly settle that question.
The final seven attempted a tropical reality contest with The great adventure in Fiji, (there is also a similar challenge here). This cast is more diverse, but for a John de Mol format I was expecting something more original than just reworking ideas widely used by others in the genre.
Sacrificing staples like character curation in favor of a large cast is quite a spin of the wheel of reality indeed.
Million Dollar Island is shown at 7:30pm Monday through Wednesday on Seven.