I recently had the experience of a lifetime. An experience that moved me to tears – and one that made me feel so incredibly content about life. This website is in remembrance of that journey – I am looking to ensure notability so that I never forget how happy I feel at this moment in time.
Having friends in Hong Kong allowed me to plan a tour of Asia, using the Chinese province as a base. I visited numerous countries on this tour; Brunei, Macau, Singapore and of course Hong Kong. However, a dream was fulfilled when I visited the remote island of Pulau Tiga in Malaysian Borneo.
Pulau Tiga has been at the top of my list of places to visit ever since 2001 when I watched the first season of Survivor UK. I was instantly captivated by this stunning but dangerous island in the middle of the South China Sea. In later life, I discovered the US version of the show, the first season of which was also set on Pulau Tiga. At that point, I became a Survivor superfan.
I am so emotionally and spiritually connected to the Survivor concept, and this island. Perhaps this all sounds very silly as it is just a television show – but the show actually helped me through some really tough times. Growing up, I didn’t have a normal childhood; I had abusive parents, suffered regular beatings and had to fend for myself from the age of four. No child should have to endure that. One of the key factors that allowed me to keep my mental sanity was this brilliant Survivor concept, with a key principle of the show being that there is always hope if you keep fighting. I did, and I escaped the terrors of my childhood.
I love virtually everything about the show Survivor, particularly the two seasons (UK and US) set on Pulau Tiga. Every single aspect was superb from the casting, to the soundtracks, to the challenges – utter brilliance. Put simply, I have a complete and unadulterated love affair with this show. I feel honoured and humbled to have had the chance to explore this mysterious island and replicate some of the experiences that the castaways also had. I need to thank Pulau Tiga Resort for that, and in particular my guide Julius who made these opportunities possible. Some of these experiences included making fire and cooking on the beach, visiting the sand spit (seen above on the left) where numerous challenges were set, and seeing the numerous props left behind on the island by the production team. I was also able to play the final episode of Survivor US on my laptop, whilst sitting in exactly the same spot where Richard Hatch sat at tribal council when he found out he was the sole Survivor; “the winner of the first Survivor competition is .. Rich” .. that moment gave me goosebumps.
There’s an interesting story behind that Helang tribe chest. It was left behind by the production team, just like all the other props. This chest was originally used as part of an immunity challenge, but what was particularly compelling is that this chest was locked when I saw it. As it turns out, the chest had been locked since the series was filmed – that’s 16 years!! The chest did rattle, so something was clearly inside. We decided to open it. Sadly, nothing hugely exciting awaited to fulfil our curiosity, just some old bulb torches and batteries, as well as some degrading plastic bags. However, the anticipation of what could have been inside was exciting. My imagination was running wild at the time!
What ultimately convinced me to take the trip to Pulau Tiga was reading Justin Walter’s blog about when he made the journey. Justin was able to get a picture at Bird Island, where the famous “one survivor” shot was filmed for the opening credits, and I wanted one too. The “one survivor” shot is a key component of the opening credits for every single season – and to me, this shot depicts what the game of Survivor is truly about; fire representing life, being in an isolated area, and having to endure the experience with no-one to trust, against the elements, and against your fellow castaways. Each new season one of the aspects I look forward to most is the opening credits for this very reason; and the opportunity to get my own shot on Bird Island was just too good to turn down.
In order to get the perfect shot, you really need optimal weather conditions, and sadly the cloud cover was just too much on that day. However, I am still extremely happy with the result and do plan to go back in the next five years to have another try.
My second trip to bird island was on my final morning. I just couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. That tiny rock, surrounded by the South China Sea, is my favourite place on Earth, and I wanted to take some time alone there to just contemplate life and appreciate the location I was in; being there really was a dream come true. Sitting on bird island and feeling like the only person in the World was an extremely momentous occasion in my life, and I’m not ashamed to say it brought me to tears. It’s the only time that I have ever felt such a strong spiritual connection to anything at all, and I absolutely loved it.
This experience got me thinking, Bird Island isn’t easily accessible at all – first you need to get to Pulau Tiga itself (already remote!) and then climb onto the isolated rock – which is challenging. Based on this I would confidently say that less than 50 people have stood up there in the history of the World; and now, I’m one of those few. A breathtaking moment.
I do feel like the island of Pulau Tiga is somewhat under-appreciated with so little online notability. I plan to write some articles in the future to improve this; some things I am initially thinking are working out the number of people who have been up Bird Island (already started investigating), understanding the intricacies behind the perfect one survivor shot, and getting to grips with some of the mysteries of the island.
Speaking of mysteries of the island .. I’ll leave you with three surprising and relatively unknown facts I discovered about Survivor whilst on Pulau Tiga:
– At one of the challenges on the sand spit in Survivor US, Gervase Peterson ended up travelling back to the main Pulau Tiga island via boat with no other castaways on board. Whilst on the boat he sneakily ate some of the food for the crew and resort staff. He asked the staff to not tell the production team, and they didn’t. As far as I can tell, the producers of the show still don’t know this story.
– During the first episode of both the UK and US versions, the tribes were dropped off on a raft near Pulau Tiga, and they had to paddle onto the island. The show lets the viewer know how long this paddling took. However, what they didn’t tell you is that all four tribes (Pagong & Tagi – US, Helang & Ular – UK) had to be pulled a lot of the way by boat, due to the strong current of the water.
– The Matahari, the boat that carried all the castaways near the island before the marooning on both the UK and US versions of the show, unfortunately no longer exists. The boat eventually sank, probably due to degradation over time.