SYDNEY – A bungee jumping, ostrich-riding British charity worker was named the winner Wednesday of what's been dubbed the "Best Job in the World" — a six-month contract to serve as caretaker of a tropical Australian island.
Ben Southall, 34, of Petersfield, beat out nearly 35,000 applicants from around the world for the dream assignment to swim, explore and relax on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef for while writing a blog to promote the area.
He was selected for the $111,000 gig by officials from the tourism department of Queensland state.
Southall and 15 other finalists spent the past four days on the island for an extended interview process, which required applicants to snorkel through crystalline waters, gorge themselves at a beachside barbecue and relax at a spa. The finalists also had to demonstrate their blogging abilities, take swimming tests and sit through in-person interviews.
The job is part of a AU$1.7 million tourism campaign to publicize the charms of northeastern Queensland, and officials say it has already generated more than AU$110 million worth of publicity for the region. It quickly became a viral marketing hit, spreading quickly across the world via YouTube and social networking sites such as Facebook.
"I hope I can sell the reef as much as everybody is expecting," Southall said after he was crowned the winner at a ceremony on Hamilton Island. "My swimming hopefully is up to standard."
Southall once worked as a tour guide in Africa, but most recently has worked as a charity fundraiser. In his application video, he expressed a love for adventure, and featured photographs of himself riding an ostrich, running a marathon, scuba diving and kissing a giraffe.
"From the time he was announced in the Top 50, and then the Top 16, Ben has excelled in showing a true passion for Queensland," Queensland Tourism Minister Peter Lawlor said in a statement. "His ideas for how he will make the role his own ... plus his initiative and ability to rise to a challenge impressed the selection panel and secured his place in the top job."
Although unquestionably a publicity smash success, the contest also attracted a fair bit of scandal since it was unveiled in January.
First, the job's Web site crashed due to a deluge of visitors, angering many hopefuls who couldn't access the site to lodge their video applications. Later, the tourism department was forced to admit it had created a popular video "application" showing a woman apparently getting a tattoo expressing her love of the Great Barrier Reef.
Then one finalist was ousted after it was revealed she had connections to the adult entertainment industry. And a prankster identifying himself as terror mastermind Osama bin Laden posted a video of himself on YouTube reciting reasons why he was the best pick for the job.
Southall will live for free in an airy, three-bedroom oceanfront villa with a private pool and sweeping views of the surrounding islands. He plans to bring his Canadian girlfriend with him to the island for the duration of the job.
Southall starts "work" on July 1.