A: How has it been dealing with the Gabonese government?
JP: The government here has been as good to us. Gabon is just beginning to embrace tourism, and they see Survivor as a great platform to get the word out. They actually went so far as to give us their military engineers. No one had ever done that. They built 100 kilometers [62 miles] of road and 11 bridges. We showed them what we wanted [to film] and then we worked so that we would all benefit from this building. After we leave, these roads will give tourists access.
A: The president of Gabon is a vocal supporter of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Do you have any misgivings about providing positive press for a country that supports a less than savory regime?
JP: Mark [Burnett] and I and the other executive producers spoke early on about going to countries where we don't agree with the politics. We decided we were going for one single purpose: to make the show. My own personal views are probably more in line with rational people, and at times it is a bit of a quandary. We dealt with it in China, where the interpreters wouldn't talk about Tiananmen Square. It is always a strange situation.
A: Wonga-Wongue has obviously never played host to a similar production. Aside from a lack of roads, what sorts of difficulties did your crew face?
JP: We had a cargo ship pull up to base, and we were offloading a container of about $100,000 worth of food. It was 20 feet from our camp. The crane was at camp and the operator tried to move the food. When he did, the crane tipped over. The food, the crane, and even the crane operator went into the water. It was a big hit to the production budget, but it was a season of preproduction mishaps.
There was also the issue of the set. We based our tribal council on local villages, so we were building these adobe thatch-roofed huts. We hired pygmies to build the thatched roofs and ship them to us. But when they tried to get the roofs on the train, they got dumped because the space was needed for a dead guy. Then, the next time, they got dumped for a container of the president's food. After that, the pygmies went on strike. When the roofs were finally shipped the train workers wouldn't offload them for a week. We even tried to bribe them but they said, "No, it doesn't work that way."
A: What sort of wildlife were you dealing with around the set? Do you have concerns about the survivors being near hippos, gorillas, and other highly territorial animals?
JP: Well, there is some leopard that really likes the smell of what we've been eating. We've had leopard prints in our catering tent. We see animals but I wouldn't say we have had any dangerous encounters. But two weeks ago, a 12-foot python slithered into camp. It didn't take long for the rangers to control it. Then I—never waste an opportunity—shot a promo with it. The money shot for us is to have the survivors and wildlife in the same shot. We actually got that with some elephants, which was very exciting.