Ever wondered if Survivor is really as tough as it looks? Whether you could do it, or how much your real-world skills would actually help? We spoke to Australian Survivor: Blood VS Water contestant Samantha Gash about her experience on the show.


Last week we shared the news that Alone was casting in Australia, and you guys went absolutely nuts. But there’s another survival show that’s been doing the rounds for 15 years longer.

Survivor, which first aired in the US in 2000 (and was based on a Swedish show called Expedition Robinson) is a reality TV show that follows the same basic format: contestants are dropped in a remote location where they have to provide food, water, and shelter for themselves. They’re split into tribes who compete for rewards, and immunity from elimination.

And that’s the key – elimination. Players are progressively voted out, making Survivor a social game, one where performing well can be seen as a threat, as well as an asset.

I’ve always wondered though, how hard is it really? Would I even stand a chance?

When the opportunity came up to chat to legendary Aussie adventurer, ultra runner, and speaker Samantha Gash I jumped right on the phone.

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Samantha Gash is playing for the win

Back For More: Blood Vs Water

Big Survivor fans will know that this isn’t Sam’s first time on the show. She competed in 2017 in Samoa, but was voted out sixth, followed quickly by her now-husband Mark Wales, whom she met on the show. So what’s it like being back?

‘I think you come back a little wiser about playing the game. It’s been four years and we never really thought that we’d go back, so to have that opportunity, we just really wanted to make the most of it.’

‘It’s just like training for an ultra marathon, or prepping for an expedition. I really treated the lead in to playing the game like any of those projects, in terms of considering mindset, considering who I was as a person, considering the physicality that was specifically needed. And the fact that I knew roughly what the undertaking was because I played in season two, I think that put me in a better headspace.’


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Survivor’s a social game too, it’s not all about toughness, something Sam learnt pretty quickly the first time she competed


So Sam was prepping. She was thinking about how to play it differently, and how to play for both her benefit and Mark’s (who’d also been invited back).

‘You just have to think in layers – what I do can influence Mark positively or negatively. And that was probably the biggest thing I kept thinking about. I don’t want my actions to detrimentally affect Mark’s game, and the game that we thought about having as the unit of two going into it.’

But it wasn’t that simple. This year the Blood VS Water format put loved ones on opposing teams.

Despite the curveball, Sam and Mark stuck to their plan to focus on the social side, forming connections early on to help protect them from elimination. It’s not just survival of the toughest out there.

‘We wanted to play a very social game. We both left so early on season two, so we thought “Well, you don’t know how long you’ve got this. It can be in your control or completely out of your control. So let’s play from the beginning.” We were constantly thinking about our threat level.’

I was interested in this social side that they both had to play. Sam’s engaged in so much social work, fundraising, and public speaking – helping other people. Did she find it difficult competing, even being sneaky, to stay on the show?

‘On the first season I found it really hard,’ she says.

‘People tell me I have a terrible poker face. But I spent a lot of the beginning of the game really making genuine relationships, which allowed me to be myself. At some point though the game is about making sure that you’re there at the end. So you do have to manipulate and deceive, but you try and do it in the context of the game. So there’s a personal side, and your relationships are real. But when it comes to gameplay, you’re there to play the game, and so are they. And I just created a delineation between the two.’

How’s Survivor Compare to the Real World?

Both Sam and Mark (who’s ex SAS) are no strangers to pressures like sleep deprivation and the challenges of endurance. Sam’s run countless multi-day ultramarathons, many across deserts including the Simpson, as well as running 1968km across South Africa and 3253km across India in major fundraising efforts.


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Sam’s just under 5 feet tall, while Mark’s 6 foot 3, meaning they take different approaches to lowering their perceived threat levels


They were part of a team in the World’s Toughest Race, a televised 671km adventure race across Fiji, so they know how to work together too. But I wondered if being filmed changed things, compared to adventures out in the wild.

‘So the cameras, of course it’s a TV show,’ Sam begins. ‘But it’s also our real life when we’re out there.’

‘Your relationships with people are real and it doesn’t take long for the production side of things to fade away because they don’t interact with us. They’re very fly-on-the-wall. What we say is what we say. And the challenges we do, no one tells us to go against certain people. We have complete agency over our own game. And to me, the production side of it really faded into the background very quickly.’

What you see is what you get, in fact, according to Sam it’s probably even tougher than it looks.

‘We’re living in it 24/7. The show has to focus on the gameplay and social stuff too, but there’s no reprieve. What you see us eating is what we’re eating, it’s very minimal. There aren’t any showers, there’s a little stream that’s still dirty.’

‘We have to spend a lot of the time preparing our food and getting the fire ready. We’re self-reliant out there. And that’s why you build bonds, because through adverse situations, your connection to people deepens a lot quicker than it would in just everyday life.

‘Is that why Survivor often brings people back?’ I ask. ‘Because they’re a special kind of tough?’

‘Yeah. But on the flip side, I think more people are capable of it than they realise. I’ve had so many people say “There’s just no way I could do it,” but when that’s all you have, you don’t quit. [This season] you’ve got Chrissy, who’s never camped before! But with time people adapt really well, they appreciate the simple things like looking at the stars and having genuine conversations.’


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The stresses the players face together on Survivor can bring them closer together, just like adventures in the wild

The Australian Environment

Survivor is often played on lush desert islands, but thanks to Covid, this season (and the last) were filmed in Australia. The setting is Outback Queensland, the harsh landscape of Charters Towers, a location that I thought might benefit Sam, given all of her experience desert running. In fact, she’s the first woman and youngest person to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam, 250km ultramarathons across the driest, windiest, hottest, and coldest deserts on Earth.

‘I’ve actually done a 700km Adventure Race in Charters Towers,’ she says. 

But she kept this to herself on the show. People already knew about her endurance background, so sharing her knowledge of the landscape might’ve put a target on her back.


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Sam’s actually kayaked 70km through the region, but she didn’t let the other players know that


‘I love the Australian bush. It’s an incredible environment to live in. But you’ve got flies and snakes, and the biggest challenge, which is obviously the heat.’

‘But you adapt to your environment very quickly. And when we did get a blanket, it was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is incredible.” But you’re still sleeping on the hard dirt ground. And you’re trying to create a hip cavity in the sand [just to sleep] and I think that’s the element of Survivor that I really love. Being in nature. And obviously with my background of adventure racing and endurance sports, that was something that wasn’t necessarily so much of an adaptation for me.’

Lessons From a Life of Adventure

Being adaptable was a common theme Sam touched on, a strength she’s developed on her adventures that’s now helping her on the show. At the time of writing, Sam and Mark have survived the ‘merge’ and are one of four couples still playing, but anything goes! For someone who values structure in her everyday life like Sam, adaptability didn’t come easy.

‘Sometimes we think we need a schedule. This game is about the unexpected. And the more you can surrender to being comfortable with the unexpected, the better you’re going to be.’

‘It’s also not always about fairness. In everyday life, some people get hit with blow after blow. That’s not fair. We got hit by a storm before we went out on the show. Victoria got hit with a two year lockdown. Life’s not always fair and neither is the game of Survivor. And I think being comfortable with that means you just roll with all of the unexpected twists and turns that might come your way.’


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Adventures have taught Sam that being adaptable is a major strength, both in life and on Survivor

What’s next?

Maybe some chill time? Not likely! Sam’s already prepping for an expedition across Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail with UK adventurer and survivalist Megan Hine.

‘Our walls are filled with maps of a run across Nepal,’ she says. ‘We’re going super high, constantly at 5,000, 6,000 metres above sea level. There’s going to be some really technical passes that we go through as well.’

For someone who loves goals, the recent pandemic has been difficult, so Sam’s applying that adaptability back onto her adventures. She’ll prepare for the Nepal expedition with fastest known time attempts on trails and a trip back to the gnarly Western Arthurs in Tasmania, but she knows it won’t be perfect.

‘Creating your own adventures where you have a little bit more control is something that I’ve been leaning into as well. Not waiting for a race to happen, just hoping that the race organiser can put the event on.’

‘Creating my own adventures allows me to tick all the boxes and include everything I love about being an adventurer and endurance athlete.’

But for now, Sam’s story is still unfolding on our TVs. You can catch Australian Survivor: Blood Vs Water on Channel 10 at 7:30pm, Monday to Wednesday, or binge watch to catch up on 10Play.


Photos thanks to Channel 10