Wow! Day 1 is and it has already been such a whirlwind adventure for everyone. Another early morning wake-up to catch my 6.25am flight from Brisbane to Adelaide, followed by an hour at the hotel to repack my belongings and then a return to the airport to meet up with “Best Jobs” finalists and media crews.
From the airport, we made our way through Adelaide to the Cleland Wildlife Park for the three finalists first challenge in South Australia. The Cleland Wildlife Park offers visitors an opportunity to wander freely amongst kangaroos, wallabies, emus and waterbirds as well as experience dingos, Tasmanian devils and reptiles from afar. After a quick briefing and meet and greet amongst the Cleland staff and the “Best Jobs” crew, it was go time.
The room of the first challenge was full of production and social media people. Anything from news reporters, photographers, videographers, editors, freelance journalists, and bloggers – you name it, they were there covering the event. It was awesome to see the support that the “Best Jobs in the World” is getting from each supporting state in Australia and worldwide.
The first challenge for the finalists was to test out their interview and media skills while on camera. Easy task you may think… however there was a twist. The twist fit in perfectly with the wildlife caretaker job the three finalists have been applying for. They would be handling a python and placing it behind their neck for the duration of the interview. In addition to the manipulation of the snake from the resting position to the neck, they were further required to make it feel at ease while they discuss themselves as a finalist in the competition. It really gave the judging panel a chance to see how the finalists react in a slightly unusual situation, and how they handle “wildlife” while on film. The lucky winner of the wildlife caretaker job will be participating in various experiences similar to this during their contract; so nailing down the nerves and hammering out a stellar interview is essential.
While the contestants were first getting introduced to Olivia (the python), I was able to analyze their initial, instinctive reactions to this unusual experience.
First up to take on the python was 25 year-old, Hsin Hsuan Hsieh (CC) from Taiwan. You could tell she was so excited and was not scared of handling a snake at all. It was quite impressive to see the confidence in her while holding a snake just as big as her. She kept a smile the entire time and made quite a few jokes about the arrangement of the snake on her body. “It’s like a scarf, what a new fashion.” After a couple minutes of her modeling the snake, answering questions and making a joke of my phobia by running after me, she passed Olivia onto Greg.
Greg Snell from Canada (woohoo!) showed extreme confidence right off the bat with the python encounter. He reached in and grabbed Olivia and got her on his neck right away. By patting Olivia’s scales, Olivia seemed quite content on Greg’s neck and she stayed docile throughout his interview. I guess you could maybe call him a Wildlife Whisperer. Greg has the ability to engage a room instantly with his poise and “stage” presence. Not only is he a wiz on wildlife in general, he is able to engage an audience and make them feel very involved. Greg has an ability to use the energy from the crowd and the people he is around to create engaging responses to the various questions asked.
Nick Tilley from the USA was last to interact with Olivia the python. As Nick got Olivia on his neck, she arranged herself around him like a backpack. As she made her way up his back she nuzzled into his neck and found interest in his “luscious locks.” Nick also had a very calm, cool and collected reaction to the python encounter and he was able to interact with the crowd easily about how he was feeling. I was astonished by how calm he stayed when her head and flickering tongue being only inches away from his face! You wouldn’t catch me dead with a snake that close to my face or self as a matter of fact. Nick has such a charm about him, and he was able to display his confidence, professional experience, and sense of humour while nailing the interview process.
All three finalists blew me away with how they conducted themselves during the python handling. It is evident that they all have quite a vast amount of experience working with wildlife, as well as a deep passion for caring for them. CC, Greg and Nick all managed to portray themselves in a very professional manner, and managed to throw in humour when necessary to lighten-up the experience.
Following the python encounter, the finalists found themselves participating in an unexpected but exciting additional encounter. Hank the koala was “hanging” out outside the room where the python encounter took place, and the finalists found themselves an opportunity not to pass up. CC, Greg and Nick took up turns interacting with Hank – patting his lower back and not getting to close to his face. Hank was in the middle of eating some eucalyptus leaves and he wouldn’t have wanted to be disturbed. It was a nice finish to the morning for the finalists after the python encounter and interviews.
The Cleland Wildlife Park was the perfect setting to put the aspiring wildlife caretakers to test. They were immersed into an environment that they will be working in a lot during the duration of their contract. I think if I was in the running for Wildlife Caretaker, I would of had to drop out of the contest as soon as I found out I had to hold a python. When I was told the first challenge involved the handling of a python I panicked. Thanks to my mother, I have always had a large phobia of snakes and I usually wouldn’t go even 10 metres close to one in an enclosed environment. However, as I saw the comfort and confidence the three finalists had while handling Olivia, it gave me a sense of comfort and inevitably led to me facing my fear and touching her. Don’t get too excited yet… her head was faced the other way for me not to see and three other people were around holding my hand or cheering me on.
Today was a day to conquer many fears, and later on in the evening I conquered another one by eating an oyster.
Day 1 in South Australia with the Wildlife Caretakers continued with a flight to Port Lincoln in preparation for the next day. Port Lincoln was absolutely stunning. The Port Lincoln hotel looked right out onto the harbour. It reminded me a lot like Nova Scotia right off the bat, and after looking at the dinner menu – the large quantity of seafood served clarified that comparison to me.
Before heading to dinner a few of the “Best Jobs” crew and I took a walk along the boardwalk and further onto one of the piers… or “jettys” if you are Australian. The view was magnificent from both the boardwalk and at the end of the pier. There were lots of fisherman on the pier, and it was evident that squid was the top catch of the day.
The evening ended off with a group dinner in the hotel restaurant. Before we began eating, the “Best Jobs” finalist were given a challenge to complete. The challenge was for them to consume a 1kg 8-9 year old king oyster. CC blew away the other 2 finalists and ate it in 1-bite.
Day 1 was such a success. You could tell the finalists were really in their element and they were ready to take on anything Tourism Australia threw at them. It is evident that they all really want this job, and I know the final decision is going to be tough. I have a good feeling about whom I would like to see become Tourism Australia’s next Wildlife Caretaker, but I am biased so I’ll let you sit on your thoughts and keep you wondering.
The “Best Jobs in the World” is in full force now. There is rarely down time and we are all constantly on the go. I have been trying to keep up with all the craziness and excitement that is going on and I am really starting to feel more confident with my ability as a travel blogger. I am able to capture the contestants on a more personal and relaxed level, as I am not seen as a newscaster. I have been told that I provide a sense of comfort and my youthful spirit is very much appreciated. I do however get made fun of ever once and a while for some of my witty/not so witty and embarrassing comments that I say. Oh well, its been an absolute honour being involved with this contest so far and I can’t wait to see what the next couple days bring.
Keep checking back to see what’s going on with the contest, and if you want instant updates, follow my twitter and instagram handles at @sam_clarkey.