Seamless supply chain management rescues Survivor SA

If you ever wondered about the logistics involved in filming a reality TV series such as Survivor South Africa, read this contestant’s account…

Supply chain management systems aren’t usually the focus of reality television programmes – but without them, shows like M-Net’s Survivor South Africa would have a hard time making it to the airwaves. That’s the view of Johannesburg-based educationist Toni Tebbutt, a developer of training and skills content for the supply chain industry, who last year took part in season six of the series.

Tebbutt, who spent 30 days as a contestant living on different islands in the Philippines, says she was impressed by the way logistics challenges were overcome to ensure that all aspects of the show were properly melded.

Sharing her experiences with delegates at the recent SAPICS Conference for supply chain professionals in Cape Town, she said: “People do not just appear on islands. Cameras do not just fall out of the sky. Props do not just materialise from coconut trees.

“I think it is safe to say that the show thrives and survives thanks to seamless supply chains. As someone who has been involved in the supply chain field for 15 years, there were times when I just stood back and was amazed by the logistics of it all.”

According to Tebbutt, transport management was vital to the Survivor SA supply chain. “A problem was the distance between various islands used for the show, the ones on which the different tribes lived and the ones on which challenges took place. We could get from place to place only by making use of a fleet of eight speedboats, which were supplemented by two bunker boats that also carried equipment and materials. The fleet consumed about 720 litres of fuel daily.”

In addition to contestants, there were 120 South African crew members and 160 Filipino crew members working on the show. Some of the statistics that Tebbutt shared in her presentation included a total of 426 flights booked for the duration of filming.

“Equipment (including cameras) was flown in from South Africa to Manilla. Audio equipment came from the United States. From Manilla, the gear was put into a container, loaded onto on a boat and shipped to El Nido. From there it was delivered by speedboat or car to crew members.”

Tebbutt said one of the biggest challenges was getting the gear to the various locations over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. “We all know how tricky this time of the year is in the world of logistics,” she commented.

Similarly, constructing sets – for challenges, rewards and tribal council meetings – proved to be a logistics test. “There were no hardware stores down the road, so planning for these builds, procuring the materials and getting them to the right place at the right time had to be meticulously thought-out to ensure that tight production schedules were not delayed,” she said. Equally, weather played a challenging role on occasions. The supply chain was affected by a number of cyclones, which, for a time, brought construction to a halt, she revealed.

Additionally, a new logistics angle featured in the show when South African quick-service restaurant brand Steers made an appearance to mark the merging of the separate tribes. “A memorable celebratory feast was organised,” said Tebbutt. “Steers even shipped in an ice cream machine for us. At the time, I hadn’t eaten for four days. It was a wonderful meal!”

In keeping with the growing global drive for greener supply chains, she said Survivor SA followed a strict policy of ensuring that all activities had zero impact on the location and environment. Reverse logistics came into play following breakdown of the sets, with some materials having to be sent back to South Africa. “The place that I had called home for a month suddenly looked as though I had never been there at all,” Tebbutt said.

So, given all the logistics challenges, why were the islands in the Philippines chosen as the location? Tebbutt revealed that a previous version of the show, filmed for Survivor USA, had been made there. “That meant the basic infrastructure had already been tested and locals who had worked on the American programme had experience of the show and its demands. Also, the financial viability of the location made the Philippines appealing, too. It was a cheaper option for Survivor SA in terms of flights, hotel accommodation and currency.”

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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