An Unlikely Hero: The Australian TV Show Saving Lives

What do Australia, Colombia and Azerbaijan have in common?

For those of you that answered ‘drug trafficking scandals’, you’re technically not wrong, however, the three countries actually have a far less sinister connection…

The Australian-developed Bondi Rescue is a surf lifesaving TV program that follows the daily activities of lifesavers on Sydney’s renowned Bondi Beach. With a focus on dramatic rescues and dangerous surf conditions, the show has been a hit on Australian television since first airing in 2006.

Featuring quirky Aussie slang, iconic leisure activities, and a recognisable location, it’s really no surprise that Bondi Rescue is popular here- but would it attract an international audience? The answer is a surprising yet resounding yes! The program has in fact been sold to nine other regions, including culturally diverse nations, Colombia and Azerbaijan (Warton & Brander 2017).

Bondi Rescue Teaser; Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQOM0NILL0A 


Millions of international viewers watch dubbed or subtitled versions of the show, despite such editing often being thought of as a barrier to enjoyment. This is a concept known as ‘cultural discount’, which claims that programs are deemed to have less cultural value when they have been translated for diverse regions.

So, if Bondi Rescue is so culturally un-relatable, why has it bucked the trend and found international success?

 Perhaps the show’s global popularity comes from a sense of envy or intrigue surrounding the fabled ‘Australian way of life’ often portrayed within media representations. Australian’s have been long depicted as tall, tanned and athletic, with our lifestyle seen as one of outdoor leisure and light-heartedness. Whilst this is obviously a wild generalisation, it may explain some of the international fascination with lifestyle dramas such as Bondi Rescue.

Channel Ten, who broadcast the program, seem to support this idea, stating on their website: “There is no doubt Bondi Rescue embodies the Australian spirit, while celebrating the sportsmanship and professionalism of lifeguards, the unsung heroes of our best asset: the beach.” Screen Australia, the Federal agency responsible for supporting, producing and promoting Australian television content, follows suit, placing the program in the “art, culture and national identity” category.

Bondi-Rescue-S11-900x506.jpg
The Bondi Rescue lifeguards fit in with the physical stereotypes, and often have strong Australian accents to boot. Source: https://tenplay.com.au/channel-ten/bondi-rescue/photos/season-11-lifeguards 

Whilst it is certainly of significance, an appreciation of the Australian lifestyle may not be the only driving factor in the success of Bondi Rescue. Research has found that watching the program has had a positive effect on both local and international viewers’ understanding of safe swimming practices and beach safety.

After conducting a survey on viewership and beach knowledge, responses were received from a breadth of regions as culturally diverse as Africa, South America, and the Middle East. While several studies have shown that tourists from these areas are poor at identifying rip currents, most respondents said that Bondi Rescue helped them learn how to spot and safely exit rips (Ballantyne et al. 2005; Brannstrom et al. 2014; Caldwell et al. 2013). This was also evident in the accompanying knowledge tests, where 93% of viewers could identify safe swimming zones.

Four out of five viewers of the show said that Bondi Rescue greatly improved their understanding of beach safety, and their water confidence both at home and when travelling. In fact, 17% noted that they had used swimming and rescue techniques they learned from the show in real-life situations.

Despite being distant to Australia in terms of cultural proximity, the international audience of Bondi Rescue finds unique cultural value in the program. It is useful not only for entertainment, or as an insight into the Australian way-of-life, but also as an educational tool both within their own countries and when travelling.

References:

Ballantyne, R, Carr, N, & Hughes, K 2005, ’Between the flags: An assessment of domestic and international university students’ knowledge of beach safety in Australia,’ Tourism Management, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 617-622.

Brannstrom, C, Trimble, S, Santos, A, Brown, HL, & Houser, C 2014, ‘Perception of the rip current hazard on Galveston Island and North padre island, Texas, USA,’ Natural Hazards, vol. 72, no. 2, pp. 1123-1138.

Caldwell, N, Houser, C, & Meyer-Arendt, K 2013, ‘Ability of beach users to identify rip currents at Pensacola Beach, Florida,’ Natural Hazards, vol. 68. no. 2, pp.1041-1056.

Ksiazek, TB & Webster JG 2008, ‘Cultural Proximity and Audience Behavior: The Role of Language in Patterns of Polarization and Multicultural Fluency,’ Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 485-503.

Lee, FL 2006, ‘Cultural discount and cross-culture predictability: Examining the box office performance of American movies in Hong Kong,’ Journal of Media Economics, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 259-278.

Warton, NM & Brander RW 2017, ‘Improving tourist beach safety awareness: The benefits of watching,’ Tourism Management, vol. 63, pp.187-200.

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