Survivor Borneo, which premiered on CBS in 2000 and was shot in Sabah’s Pulau Tiga, took the theory of “survival of the fittest” and packaged it into fiendishly addictive TV. The American version of Survivor is set to embark on its whopping 29th season this September. For brothers Feisal and Iskander Azizuddin, they can only hope that their brainchild, Kampung Quest, can find the same long-term popularity as the show that inspired it.
The independently produced reality series debuted on their website and YouTube in January. The concept is simple: ten young urban Malaysians are plucked from the comforts of city life across Malaysia and dumped unceremoniously in the middle of an idyllic Gombak kampung, take on various challenges, survive the great outdoors and ultimately vote each other out of the weeklong competition.
Ten young urban Malaysians are plucked from the comforts of city life across Malaysia and dumped unceremoniously in a kampung.
“We won’t stop after one season,” says Iskander, who produces Kampung Quest along with Feisal. “This is a long-term project and we’d like to make a movie at the end of it all.”
Iskander’s plans might sound overambitious, but it’s only because the brothers feel that they have stumbled upon a bite-sized format that is fun and enthralling, yet educational and unabashedly Malaysian. The shtick that sets Kampung Quest apart from its stateside counterpart is the inclusion of Malaysian-inspired reward and elimination challenges that resonate with local audiences.
“Survivor is all about survival; for us, we implement culturally themed challenges which educate our viewers about Malaysia and being Malaysian,” explains Feisal, who adds that the brothers pick a cultural element before constructing a task around it. “For example, we wanted to feature the sumpit [a traditional blowgun hunting weapon used by the natives of Sabah and Sarawak] and decided to have the urbanites use it in a shoot-the-target challenge.”
Some of the other more memorable “quests” that took place over the course of the seven 30-minute episodes incorporated galah panjang, a bygone-era childhood game of tag that is played within a self-drawn court, as well as our inherent love of food – contestants were blindfolded and tasked with tasting and then identifying local culinary favourites like apam balik.
It wasn’t all fun and snacks though. The more physical challenges involved hanging onto a rope while being submerged, below the shoulders, into a treacherous and icy cold river (the winner of that particular challenge clocked in an impressive three hours). “We tested all the quests ourselves, so they are all doable,” reassures Iskander.
The Urban Bubble
Judging from the encouraging numbers – the most-watched episode garnered over 13,000 views on YouTube – and positive YouTube comments, Malaysians were compelled to see just how removed we are from nature and the no-frills kampung way of life. “Nowadays, urbanites are detached from local culture,” laments Feisal, “So we are reconnecting with and bringing back local culture in an exciting new way through the show.”
The 28-year-old continues by explaining that the idea of Kampung Quest came about when the nature-loving brothers had to rely on a GPS after they lost their way while jungle-trekking early last year. “It got us thinking about how reliant we are on technology, so we wanted to see how urbanites would fare if we put them in a rural setting without their gadgets.”
“We wanted to see how urbanites would fare if we put them in a rural setting without their gadgets.”
Whilst the show’s wry exploration of living in an urban bubble is something the KL-born, KL-bred brothers can relate to all too well (“KL is our kampung,” shares Iskander with a laugh), they suggest that there is more to Kampung Quest than the simple premise of transplanting city kids from a concrete jungle to a real one.
“We wanted to show that Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, can get along really well,” says Iskander, who points to the multiracial camaraderie as reason to be quietly optimistic about our country’s perceived lack of unity.
“They didn’t vote someone out because of race; it was all about survival and strategy in the game. There came a point when an entire team had to share food from the same bowl and there were no complaints – we wanted to showcase today’s modern face of Malaysia. We don’t need a slogan to tell us that we are all Malaysians.”
Kampung Quest Versus the World
The next step in the brothers’ quest for world domination is Kampung Quest’s second season, which is slated for production in August. Iskander reveals that viewers and contestants can expect a bigger cultural experience and more twists in the upcoming series. “We’re expanding to 13 episodes, three locations and three complex challenges per day,” says the 30-year-old, with a palpable hint of excitement. “The urbanites are not going to be as pampered this time around too.”
Prospective contestants don’t seem to mind. When the deadline for submissions arrived in mid-July, the brothers received nearly 200 entries, over double the number of applications from the previous season. The fact that the first season’s contestants went into the competition without knowing what prize they were playing for merely reinforces the brothers’ belief that urban Malaysians are raring for a kampung-style adventure.
“The contestants were not driven by money,” opines Iskander, who reveals that a small cash prize was eventually awarded to the winner. “They were very competitive and merely wanted to prove to themselves more than anyone else that they could survive in the wild.”
The duo produces the series under the banner of their fledging company Feisk Productions,which they established four years ago. Feisal used to work in a local audio-visual production house’s music department, and Iskander was previously an investment banker. Graduating from making wedding and corporate videos to single-handedly churning out a quietly impressive reality show, the brothers aim to build on the debut season’s success by selling the follow-up season’s rights to a local broadcaster and securing additional sponsorship.
“We tried everything last year – applying for government grants, knocking on the doors of big companies and trying crowd-funding on pitchIN – to no avail,” says Feisal, “so we ended up self-funding the entire series and doing almost everything ourselves, from editing and post-production to driving the contestants and cooking for them.”
There was some limited sponsorship, mostly in the form of prizes from start-ups like FashionValet, Greenroom136 and BakedKL. Reebok also came on board as kit sponsors. But for their second season, Feisk Productions are thinking big.
For the industry bigwigs who initially failed to see the potential in Kampung Quest, Iskander is already throwing down the gauntlet: “Our second season will be even better than Survivor.”
Visit www.kampungquest.com to watch the first season of Kampung Quest.