Self-proclaimed regular bloke Jericho Malabonga is far from ordinary. He's a Sole Survivor.
* Note: Jericho Malabonga will be part of 'Australian Survivor: All Stars.'
"Trust me - I'm not that great in real life," he laughs, "Just an average, normal person."
Jericho Malabonga takes pride in being "average" and "normal"; but while he sees himself as just a regular bloke, this extraordinary 27-year old is actually one of only three who have so far been awarded the coveted title of Australian Sole Survivor.
Adventures start with the decision to try. No words have rung truer for Tarlac-born Jericho.
"I was about 4 or 5 years old [when] my family decided to move to New Zealand because it was a perfect opportunity for my parents to make a living. I lived in Auckland - that’s where I grew up and spent the majority of my life," he shares.
From New Zealand, Jericho moved to Melbourne five years ago. And while Jericho still considers himself more of a Kiwi than an Australian, it was in Australia where an adventure of a lifetime would begin for him.
"I grew up watching the American [version] of Survivor. I thought, if the opportunity arose, I would give it a crack," he shares, adding, "I actually applied for season 1 [of Australian Survivor] but didn't get through. I tried again for season 2. I think it was just meant to be."
It was surely kismet for this flight attendant to be part of season 2 as he beat over 21,000 applicants for a spot on the 24-member cast.
"Auditions started from a phone call, then a Skype interview and a group interview and then having to do a mock mini Survivor challenge," he says, adding, "I was already grateful that they saw something in me."
Jericho was working in Los Angeles when he got the call that he was part of season 2.
"I didn’t believe it because I always just watched the show on TV. For them to say that I was a contestant - it was just unreal," he admits.
"Survivor is its own little pocket"
While getting into Survivor felt unreal for Jericho, reality hit hard once he stepped into Upolu, Samoa as a castaway.
"There were so many unpredictable things that came our way," he shares, adding, "For example, we had no control over the weather. We were in Samoa where the weather was extremely cold and extremely hot. There was even a time where we were receiving the aftermath of a cyclone that was coming from Vanuatu."
The aftermath of the cyclone would sometimes leave the castaways shivering and going without fire and food.
"We would literally go for nine hours of just pure rain all the way throughout the night and all the way to the next morning. That had a massive impact on how we lived during our entire time in Survivor."
While the weather had a massive impact on the way the castaways lived, their strategies and social game became determining factors as to whether they stayed or got voted off.
While Jericho excelled in challenges and in strategic play, he shares that the highlight of his experience was the relationships he developed and maintained from the show.
"I have my best mates [outside of Survivor] who I dearly love and will always care for, but Survivor is its own little pocket. When you go through such traumatic moments with others, there’s this camaraderie built on that. Those are some of the things that your best friends [outside] won’t ever ever understand."
When it comes to best friends, Jericho found a kindred spirit in fellow contestant Luke Toki. Luke has returned to the current season of Australian Survivor as part of the Champions tribe.
"I'm currently watching [season 4].Obviously, I'm still close friends with Luke but I'm one of those fans that I don’t want to be spoiled anything; so I even tell his missus, don’t tell me anything. I just want to watch it from the TV," he laughs.
Jericho believes his best mate on the show has leveled up in the game, sharing, "He's definitely sharpened all his strategic moves. Watching him now - it’s not me being biased - even if I wasn’t his friend and I didn’t know him, he would be my pick to win."
While Jericho gained friends during his 55 day-stay in Upolu, what he did lose was kilos.
"I went in there already quite small. I was maybe 67 kilos and I finished at 54 I think," he shares, laughing, "After we got out of the game, I ordered a lobster seafood plate, thinking it was a side plate so I ordered beef brisket [too]. The seafood dish was actually a massive platter and on top of it was this massive lobster. My stomach had shrunk so much that I ate one claw and that was it - I was full. It's weird because your appetite changes."
Aside from his appetite changing, Jericho's finances also shifted significantly after Survivor. Winning the game meant becoming $500,000 richer.
"I never went on the show to win the prize. I went there because I was a massive fan. When I won the title of Survivor, I was more grateful for that. I just saw the cash as a bonus but I was also intimidated by it. For a 25-year old to receive that, it was a bit daunting. I was just like, Let's pretend its not mine."
Unsure of what to do with the money, Jericho kept it in the bank until only a few months ago when he finally figured out how he wanted to spend it.
"I finally bought land and I’m building a house. It’s such an adult thing to do, hey? But I guess I have to grow up at some point," he laughs.
At some point after the season as well, Jericho had to wrap his head around the fame that came along with being a part of the show.
"To each their own I guess, but I never went on the show for [publicity]. I played for the actual game. Being in the public eye, also comes with a bit of me, me, me. [Being famous is] awesome but I find it kind of cringey," he admits, adding, "But thing is, once your season passes, you're no longer the 'it' thing. It's a great chapter that I've done but I'm more than just Jericho the Survivor winner."
And he has certainly proven that more than just a Survivor winner - he's someone with the heart to help.
"I wanted to steer the attention from myself to where it was more needed. While people were watching my Instagram stories, why not show them what's more important? I got together with a group of Survivor contestants [to do outreach in] Cambodia."
This act of kindness wasn't just an outlet to help others in need; for Jericho, this was his way of returning to his Christian view of the world after being deceptive and "self-centred" in the game.
"It's so weird, but being kind to one another [is a big lesson I learned in Survivor]. Just be kind to one another," he shares.
And for anyone who feels like "just an average, normal person", Jericho advises to go beyond what is comfortable and to "never underestimate yourself".
"I wasn't even half of some of the dudes on the show. They were giants. I was a short Filipino who came from Tarlac, who grew up in New Zealand, moved to Australia and then next thing you know, I'm being crowned [Sole Survivor]," he shares, adding, "Survivor really stretched my capability. I came out of the other end feeling limitless."
ALSO READ / LISTEN TO