Trio survives reality TV, Mother Nature's worst

SURVIVORS ALL: Michelle Thatcher, Melissa Ramirez and Dax Pointon have been around the world for their art. They recently held a joint exhibition at Maroochydore. Below are shots from their time on the TV reality show, Survivor US.
SURVIVORS ALL: Michelle Thatcher, Melissa Ramirez and Dax Pointon have been around the world for their art. They recently held a joint exhibition at Maroochydore. Below are shots from their time on the TV reality show, Survivor US. Contributed

SWATTING away acid-spraying beetles, checking beds for scorpions and enduring the wrath of Mother Nature are not usually occupational hazards for artists.

But then Dax Pointon, Michelle Thatcher and Melissa Ramirez are not ordinary artists.

The trio spent many years working in the art department for the ground-breaking reality TV show Survivor US and it's left them with plenty of stories to tell.

While Panama-born Melissa spent 15 seasons as a scenic artist, Michelle was the arts purchaser for 12 seasons and Dax has worked his way up from art assistant to art director by working on 20 of the show's 26 seasons.


The Sunshine Coast-based trio met while working on Survivor in some of the most hostile environments in the world.


Everything you see in the show, from the tribal council setting, to the immunity idols and even antique-looking artefacts, has been designed and made by the art department.

They arrive on location a month before producers and contestants to design and build sets and often spend another month there after the 39 days of filming to pull everything down.

But it's not as glamorous as it sounds.

When Dax started, the budget was tight and crew slept in two-man tents.

Now they at least enjoy the small creature comfort of working in an "air-conditioned box".

He said working on a set where cameras were rolling 24 hours a day on a rigid schedule of challenges and tribal councils that could not be altered meant artists had to draw on every ounce of skill and ingenuity to bring things to life within the confines of their time and resources.

"It is amazing what people can do with their hands," he said. "In an age where everything is becoming more digital, it is refreshing to work with people who can, say, weave a basket to fit around some bottles using the native trees."


This interaction with highly skilled, like-minded people helps them overlook the typhoons, earthquakes, severe lightning storms and unruly wild animals they have encountered.


Michelle said despite the gruelling schedule on location, she was still inspired by what she experienced and spent all of her free time on personal art projects.

"You spend so much time bringing to life the creations of other people, it is nice to be able to work on something that is your own," she said.

After filming wraps up on each season of Survivor, the crew holds an auction of artworks to raise funds for the villages where they have worked for months.

The money has helped to fund improvements to schools and hospitals for

remote, often Third World, communities.

Closer to home, the trio are no strangers to the art scene, having exhibited individually in cities all around Australia.

Their collaborative exhibition, Output, was held on the Coast recently, where Dax has lived since the '70s and Michelle since the early '80s.

Worst behind-the-scenes hazards

1. Poto Beetles in Brazil, 2000. They came in plague proportions for a week and would secrete acid on to your skin.

2. Typhoon in Philippines, 2012. Travelling to the set by boat battling three metre waves.

3. Intense lightning storm that struck Tocantins in Brazil, 2000. Hearing a tickle in your ears before each strike, which would almost knock you off your feet on impact.

4. Earthquakes in Samoa, 2009. Crew and contestants evacuated to higher ground after tsunami threat.

5. Gastro outbreak in Nicaragua, 2010. More than 40 people were struck down at the same time.

Topics:  reality tv survivor

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