Nico Panagio on hosting #SurvivorSA: ‘I immerse myself in the game’

The dining area roars with cheers and applause. There aren’t that many people present, and some of them enjoy a self-service dinner. Most of them, though, have their eyes fixed on the Polynesian dancers on stage.

We’re in humid Samoa, where it didn’t stop raining in the three days that I was there. On stage, with the dancers, are a few guests that are also staying at this hotel.

They include two South Africans. There’s a cute competition to see who can pull off the dance moves the best, under way.

The South Africans win. The winners are gracious to their competitors and literally look up to them. They are, after all, only kids. Unbeknownst to some of the guests, until he and his wife go up on stage to take snaps with the winners, they are actually Panagios.

That’s right, Nico Panagio’s two daughters won the competition, and it wasn’t because their dad is a famous actor and presenter. He is as present when having a fun dinner with his family as he is in front of a plethora of cameras, shooting Survivor.

And that’s why we’re in Samoa. The seventh season of the South African franchise is being shot on this island. Called Survivor South Africa: Island of Secrets, the series started on M-Net on Thursday, May 16.

I ask Panagio if he’s ready to weather the storm that will come with his kids starting in showbiz so early, in Samoa.

“Well,” he pauses to laugh. “I think most parents who are in showbiz say they don’t want their kids to go into showbiz but we’ve always been of the mind that we want our kids to do whatever they’re passionate about that is realistic, and they can make a living from.”

Watching Panagio “on set” on the island is a marvel. Because Survivor is the kind of reality show where anything can happen, he can’t rely on a prepared script. He ad-libs a lot, riffs on the castaways and, on occasion, the director tells him something in a “scene” and he makes it his own when he delivers it to camera.

It’s not as easy as just saying “the tribe has spoken” and putting out someone’s torch. After watching him during an immunity challenge that lasted just under three hours, I’m not surprised that he catches some sleep on our drive off one part of an island and we drop him off in another part so he can shoot some more segments of the show.

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Nico Panagio. Picture: GRAHAM BARTHOLOMEW

This season of Survivor SA is subtitled Island of Secrets. The theme is carried through from a geographic standpoint down to secrets in the various tribes. Secrets that Panagio may be privy to. “I’m very good at keeping secrets,” he said.

“It’s a skill one learns as you go on Survivor. For instance, Tribal Council takes a monumental amount of concentration because I have cues happening in my ear, I have castaways speaking to me, and I’m thinking about what I can and cannot reveal, what I do and do not know and how I should get about getting more information without divulging anything they haven’t first told me.

“But after a while, it gets easier, and it becomes easier to read people. I’m very careful about not messing with people’s game plan though. They talk to alliance members and lie about it to one another.

“It’s my job to make sure they’re thinking about and considering the various elements. So, yeah, I can keep a secret very well.”

Panagio has hosted Survivor SA since season three in 2009. Watching the synergy between him and the production team, it’s clear he’s not the only one invested in the success of the show.

He says: “Survivor is collaborative because we’ve worked together a lot over the years, and the producers have gotten to trusting me. I immerse myself in the game.

“Survivor is not contrived. You pit people against one another, you pit them against the weather, and you pit them against the game – which is when production throws things at them. And of course, they throw things at one another. It’s what makes the show work so well.”

Survivor SA: Island of Secrets airs on M-Net (DStv 101) at 7pm.

IOL

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