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The Gearzette


- July 07, 2023

Actor, producer, family man, adventurer, and TV star Nico Panagio is best known as the host of Survivor South Africa. Since 2012 he has been the show’s frontman, presenting six of the nine series broadcast thus far. Before this, he starred in and presented two other popular, South African TV programmes, the Afrikaans soapie 7de Laan and the lifestyle show Top Billing. When not in front of the cameras, Nico likes to head out into the great outdoors. ​

With the steep slopes of the Table Mountain National Park in his back garden and the cold Atlantic Ocean, a stone's throw away, Nico’s home in Simons Town is the perfect base camp from which to launch his mountain biking, hiking, running and paddling adventures along the world-renowned Cape Peninsula. Front Runner recently caught up with Nico in Cape Town. ​

© Nico Panagio

You went from fan to host of Survivor SA. Take us on this journey. 

I was instantly hooked when the US version of Survivor hit our shores. Most red-blooded South Africans were fans from the outset, as we are adventurers by nature. Just look where we live, in the wild south of the continent. This show encompasses all these fantastic elements, where the average Joe and Jane contestants are being tested to the ultimate. Best of all, the most unexpected person can win. ​

I auditioned as a contestant for the second season and made it to the final 30. However, the organisers wanted total unknowns, and because I was a familiar face due to my role in 7de Laan, I was not selected. The following season they were looking for a new host; I went for it and got the job. I still pinch myself when we pitch up to film at some exotic location, such as the Philippines, Samoa, or South Africa’s Wild Coast. I feel exceptionally blessed to be the host of Survivor SA. ​


© Nico Panagio

How do you approach exploring or adventuring in your VW T-Cross when home? 

Remember, South Africa is the land of the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux pickup. I’ve owned 4x4s in the past, but the family and I are urban adventurers; our lives are all about balance, so we have a VW T-Cross. This SUV is different from your conventional adventure vehicle, but it ticks all the boxes: crossover, light on fuel, and easy to maintain. The family just love it. In South Africa, there are so many beautiful places you can go to without a 4x4.​

© Nico Panagio

How did Front Runner help transform your VW T-Cross?  

I asked Front Runner if they had a roof rack for the VW T-Cross, as I wanted to put their roof tent on it. They did not, as the T-Cross was new at the time. So, they went out to take the necessary measurements to custom-build a rack for me. Today any T-Cross owner can order a roof rack from the Front Runner website. ​

You are rather fond of the Front Runner Roof Top Tent.

It’s my favourite bit of the Front Runner kit. Setting up the Front Runner Roof Top Tent is easy; you zip it open and flip it. It takes just seconds to set up. We have had the most unique overnight getaways in the T-Cross and Roof Top Tent. A tortoise has its shell to crawl into and sleep; I have my Front Runner Roof Top Tent. ​

Name the top places in the world that you have visited. 

© Nico Panagio

The Philippines ​

While shooting Survivor SA in the Philippines, I used to go on these memorable trail runs that were just an absolute joy. They would take me along isolated beaches and through tropical jungles; I remember once having to jump over a snake. Still, it was heaven on earth. ​

The Kogelberg Nature Reserve ​

Lucky for us, this is close to Cape Town, and the place is gorgeous. We often go to an off-the-grid solar-powered eco cabin there as they offer great views of the reserve. It has fireplaces and everything else you have ever dreamed of. ​


© Nico Panagio

Grootvaderbosch Nature Reserve  ​

Before heading out to this trail-running mecca in the Langeberg, my good friend and I first secure my Front Runner Roof Top Tent onto the Slimline II Roof Rack. All we do once there is run, eat, sleep, and repeat for a few days. Nothing beats running in a stunning 250-hectare indigenous forest with a good mate. It just makes us feel so alive. ​


Namibia is a land of incredible landscapes, and places like Sossusvlei are just epic. It is proper big sky country. The whole country is just an adventurer's dream. It has all kinds of different terrains and challenges. I will always remember sleeping under a sky full of stars near Sossusvlei. ​

© Nico Panagio

How does your Front Runner Roof Tent handle the rain?  

I’ve been camping my whole life, however, setting up a tent in bad weather can quickly take away the joy of the experience. I once arrived at the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve in the pouring rain, and there was no shelter. But, less than five minutes later, the tent was up, and we had cover. We went for a run in the rain, had a shower and then the rain stopped, so we had a lovely evening and BBQ. That night a severe Cape storm hit us, but our tent stood tall and kept us safe and dry without any damage. What more could you want?  ​


© Nico Panagio

Do you have any pets?

I do most of my outdoor pursuits with my Hungarian Vizsla; he loves trail running with me. He is a real adventurer and goes hiking, paddle boarding, swimming, and kayaking with me. He gets sad when I go away to work because he misses doing all the activities with me.  ​


© Nico Panagio

You must’ve seen some unique places on your travels. 

Certain places were created for a select few people to see and enjoy. These places are reserved for the adventurers among us. Therefore, you must go out there and earn the right to visit these places. It might take a while, and you may have to go up a steep, rocky hill, but it’s always worth it.​


What other Front Runner products do you use? 

I have already mentioned the rack and tent. The latter has the Quick Release Kit, so it only takes seconds to put on or off the rack. I also have the Quick Release Mounts on the wall at home, where the tent hangs when not on the T-Cross. If I need extra storage space on a trip, I have a roof box that fits onto the same Quick Release system on the rack. ​

Then I have Wolf Pack Pros for extra storage and can secure them to the rack with Stratchits. Finally, my chair of choice is the Front Runner Expander Chair; once you sit on it next to the fire, you will struggle to get up again. ​


Why are you a Front Runner fan? 

I love the modular nature of the Front Runner rack system, which allows you to add, reorganize, or change your set-up quickly. They are constantly developing new products and techniques to fit their range of racks. I love that the brand offers a solution for every need; if they don’t have one, they will come up with one.