Whether it's specific behaviour or an apparent bad edit, there are various reasons that lead to women often being villainised on reality TV. However, being a 'villain' on this year's Australian Survivor: Heroes vs Villains was actually empowering for female contestants. No mean girl remarks or questionable storylines came into play, but rather an opportunity for women to speak up and unleash their ruthless competitiveness without necessarily being criticised for it.
"[Being a] villain can encompass a lot of things. I don't think villains are necessarily bad people," the show's winner Liz Parnov tells Refinery29 Australia.
"I think it's more so character traits and personality, and I'm a villain because I'm fiery, I say it how it is and I don't hold back."
The former pole vaulter became a fan favourite over the past few weeks, with many viewers commending her for her unapologetic facial expressions during immunity challenges and tribal councils. She's not afraid to let her true feelings show, and it's what makes her an entertaining villain to watch on TV.
"As you can see throughout the season so far, my facial expressions also give a lot away. So, being a villain was a perfect cast for me," she says.
the face liz makes at the heroes after they tried to trick her #SurvivorAU pic.twitter.com/8zSRzPSZtc— scott 🏻 (@scottconnell_) February 27, 2023
it's so funny that whenever Liz makes this face you know she's scheming heavily lmfao #SurvivorAU pic.twitter.com/Ww4bRIAQyO— Phernz (@Phernzz) February 26, 2023
As an athlete who's competed in pole vault at the Olympics, Parnov has a high level of physical strength that's clearly advantageous in the game of Survivor. But it's also helped her with the strategic elements of the competition, which involve forming alliances, devising plans and battling harsh conditions without access to everyday amenities.
"Pole vault has given me a lot of tools with my mental strength as well, which is obviously so handy in Survivor," she explains. "I think having that pole vault background definitely put me in a good position going into the season."
After being a professional pole vaulter for over a decade, Parnov announced her retirement from the sport in December. It was actually filming Survivor that helped her re-evaluate her life and where she wanted to take her career next.
"I went into the show with a bit of confusion about my career and didn't really know what I was doing," she says. "Being out there and having a lot of time to myself and bit of peace and tranquillity, I think I found a lot of answers as to what I wanted to do and people I wanted to have relationships with."
Based in Western Australia, Parnov now works in marketing and says the jump from the field to an office has been a welcome change, despite it being new territory for her.
"I'm really enjoying just slowing down," she says. "It's funny, people tend to hate that nine-to-five constant structure. Whereas it's exactly what I needed, where I could just slow down and do normal things."
As she progressed in the competition beyond the 'merge' stage, the stakes were higher as each contestant began looking out for themselves. But maintaining strong alliances was still important, and Parnov's greatest connections were Shonee Bowtell and George Mladenov.
"We really formed an organic friendship from the start, and that relationship has really blossomed," she says of the trio's dynamic, adding that compromises can still be required, even if you're good friends.
"When you work in an alliance, it's definitely a case of push-pull. You need to have compromises because it's not every time you're going to get the vote that you wanted.
"Coming into merge where I was on my own, I really grew some confidence and navigated through that hard situation on my own."
Parnov made it through to the grand finale alongside Matt Sharp and Gerry Geltch for the chance to win $500,000. The trio were joined by the jury who had the opportunity to ultimately decide who wins the title of 'Sole Survivor' for 2023, and ultimately Parnov came out on top.
Australian Survivor: Heroes vs Villains are Sunday to Tuesday at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10 Play.