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Jericho’s back on Survivor

And he’s willing to ‘suspend’ his faith again

“Jericho is back, baby. Jericho the cookie monster!”

After winning the title of “sole survivor” – and $500,000 – in season 2 of Australian Survivor, 27-year-old Jericho Malabonga is back to face the elements and the other “all stars” in season 5, which landed on the Ten Network last night.

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Malabonga is unashamedly a Christian and a member of CityLife Church in Melbourne, where he moved five years ago from his “home church”, C3 Auckland, New Zealand. His Facebook page is still studded with biblical quotes.

“In the real world, I’m still going to church every Sunday, but in the jungle, I have a cold heart.” – Jericho Malabonga

But he is also unashamed about putting his Christian values on hold when he steps into this reality game show – where contestants are marooned on an isolated island, divided into tribes and compete in challenges to win the final prize of half-a-million dollars. Malabonga’s “unchristian” behaviour on series 2 included hoarding a jar of cookies rather than sharing them with his tribe – leading to his “cookie monster” nickname.

In the early minutes of the first episode of season 5, Malabonga is filmed walking into a church and saying: “In the real world, I’m still going to church every Sunday, but in the jungle, I have a cold heart. I want to be the one that disrupts everyone’s game play. I just want to see some chaos.”

However, after winning season 2, Malabonga admitted to Eternity that playing this game and, especially, living without his Christian morals proved to be harder than he thought.

“When I got to the island, I was in my real wilderness, like David. And there were times when I really felt alone, because everyone was scattered and no one wanted to be in an alliance. That’s when I was crying to God. I was like, ‘God, I hunger for you. I thirst for you.’ That’s where I drew my strength from.”

At the time, Malabonga said that – despite all his “lies and schemes” – he believed Survivor was God’s plan for him, and that perhaps his purpose for being there was as “an encourager to someone in their lowest time.”

He certainly formed a close and lasting relationship with “the people’s favourite” survivor, Luke Toki (who, incidentally, “wasn’t available” for this season but will co-host a new digital show, Talking Tribal, which dissects the Australian Survivor action).

“Honestly, I think I’m crazy. Who is their right mind would go back to get eaten by bugs and sleep in the rain?” – Jericho Malabonga

In discussing why he chose to be part of the current series (set in Savusavu, Fiji), Malabonga told Studio 10 on January 30: “Honestly, I think I’m crazy. Who is their right mind would go back to get eaten by bugs and sleep in the rain – sleep with people who are backstabbers, to be honest.”

He admitted that this time around he’s going to need some new tactics to beat the other all stars, and warned, again, that these may not be “morally correct”.

But despite his on-screen behaviour, evidence of Malabonga’s faith certainly surfaced after he pocketed his winnings from season 2. Three years later, he has only just spent the money – on a new house – which he told Studio 10 was the “wisest thing”.

“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,” Malabonga said in a recent SBS interview.

“I wanted to steer the attention from myself to where it was more needed.” – Jericho Malabonga

He added that he wasn’t on the show for the fame, but used it as a platform to publicise his outreach work (alongside other contestants) in Cambodia.

“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.

“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.

If Malabonga wants to make an impact during this season of Australian Survivor, then he’d better get in quick (spoiler alert!). The only other former winner, Olympic champion Shane Gould, was voted out last night, so Malabonga could well be next.

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