Chris, Robyn and Tim Barker have learned what it takes to outwit, outplay and outlast.
Working behind the cameras, they’ve watched dozens of people compete for the million-dollar prize on the reality TV show Survivor.
The family affair started four years ago when Chris was selected as a member of the “Dream Team” on Survivor seasons Gabon and Tocantins. This group of young adults – many of whom return for future seasons in other production jobs – help the art department build, set up and test challenges. After hearing about Chris’ experience, Tim joined the crew a year later on seasons Samoa and Heroes vs. Villians. Robyn has since worked with her brothers on Survivor: Nicaragua, Redemption Island, South Pacific and One World, which premiers on Feb. 15.
“The Dream Team is a really unique perspective because you get to see all the different departments that are involved in the show,” said Robyn, whose job is to help crew members where needed and provide craft services.
Chris and Tim both work as camera assistants setting up, putting away and cleaning the gear. The experience has helped them learn more about the industry for their own company Art of Living Productions, which they launched in 2007 with a friend.
More than 200 people from around the world, including Emmy Award-winning cameramen, move to Survivor locations every year to spend four months filming two seasons. In addition to getting paid, the show covers transportation, housing and food expenses for all crew members. Everyone is required to work six shifts a week, averaging 10-12 hours a day. Only four per cent of what is shot airs on TV.
“It’s really exciting to be part of something so big and popular,” said Chris. “It’s very much like a family. Jeff (Probst) always has an inspirational talk about how this is his family. He makes a note of knowing everyone by name and he’s really personable.”
Survivor takes several measures to keep contestants secluded during the filming process. They live in a locked down area away from the crew base camp, and are not allowed to communicate with crew members. Cameramen also have to turn their watches around while filming so contestants don’t know what time of day it is.
“There’s no interaction,” said Tim. “You’re basically a fly on the wall. You want to be invisible as possible so it’s natural reality. It’s pretty accurate what you see on TV.”
Chris said one thing cameras can’t capture is how bad contestants smell, adding “you can smell them coming.”
“Salt water doesn’t clean them,” said Robyn. “It looks really tough. They’re very hungry. It’s a lot of mental games and they get paranoid thinking so many different scenarios.”