Leroux Botha has a palpable love for Survivor South Africa. This is his tenth year with the franchise and he is at the helm of "Survivor SA: Island of Secrets," which airs on M-Net on Thursdays at 7 pm.
During our interview, the Series and Creative Director lifts his sleeve to gleefully show me his tattoo. The ink is of the show’s famed tagline. “First and foremost, directing Survivor has always been the goal I was working towards,” Botha starts.
“I’m such a big fan of the show, I have got a tattoo on my arm that says Outwit. Outplay. Outlast,” he exclaims. “I got it in 2009, when I started working on season three of Survivor SA in Mozambique.
That was my first season and it was also Nico’s (Panagio, Survivor SA host) first season. I’ve known Nico since 2001, since we worked together on 7 De Laan. We shared our love for Survivor way back then. But, by the time we got to Santa Carolina, we were kindred souls. Survivor has always been the show I want to work on.”
Botha previously worked on shows like Masterchef South Africa and the MTV VJ Search and has drawn on small aspects of them to make his vision come to life. “With regards to other shows, I was always on the content side and the technical and edit levels of a Masterchef and the VJ Search were where I got ideas on how I wanted to make Survivor SA different, just in terms of shooting styles,” he explains.
And it shows. In addition to how Survivor SA is shot, what makes it remarkable is how much time and creativity goes into producing the content and bringing the ideas of the art department to life. For instance, the area where Tribal Council for Survivor SA: Island of Secrets takes place feels like you’ve just left Samoa and entered into a whole new world.
A larger-than-life octopus head, made of what looks like cement, is surrounded by jungle leaves and its tentacles wrap around the trees. The art department began building this set in December 2018 and the circular space where the chat before voting takes place is surrounded by bowls encasing gas-lit fires. The attention to detail is breathtaking.
Before they decided on Samoa, the South African team had three locations to choose from. “We were looking at Shabu Shabu in Fiji, Papua New Guinea - which is a brand new location that hasn’t been used by any Survivor franchise - and Samoa.
”This South Pacific island was picked and so was the theme that literally allows castaways to be placed in a different, secret area during the game.
“When we pitched season seven to M-Net, we were still in post-production with Survivor SA in the Philippines,” Botha recalls. “To be honest, the Island of Secrets theme idea started last year in season six when Katinka blabbed about Werner wanting to vote out Tim. Then Werner aptly said: ‘loose lips sink ships.’”
“The idea was born from: if you got a secret in Survivor, would you be able to keep it and if you couldn’t keep it, how would you use it everyday? So we created a place where a person or people are sent to and whatever happens there is so secretive and positive for their game that they have to keep it a secret.”
It’s no secret that Botha loves Survivor. So is it hard for him to be privy to what’s happening on the show and not allow his love for it to spoil it for those partaking in it? “The most difficult part of this job is to stay impartial because we have to tell an impartial story in the edit,” he says and then laughs.
“That’s why we were unapologetic with how we portrayed Tom (who won Survivor SA last year) in the last season. The editors didn’t know how he was winning while editing. They showed him as he was.”
“For us, behind the scenes, you want to shout and say: ‘don’t do that’ or ‘there’s a better move out there.’ But that restraint is what makes the show work. The trust we build with the contestants. Production will never interfere with their process so we just trust the process and they play the game, not production.”
Survivor SA: Island of Secrets airs on M-Net (DStv Channel 101) every Thursday at 7 pm.