The reality show that was just a little too … real


When you're going into a remote part of the Scottish Highlands to rebuild the world, it's really important that your makeup is perfect
When you're going into a remote part of the Scottish Highlands to rebuild the world, it's really important that your makeup is perfect
Friday afternoon fun: Imagine if they put on a reality show, and no one watched. For almost a whole year

Think about this for a moment: you agree to become a contestant on a TV reality show. You spend a whole year in a remote country area with the other players, without access to modern life and devices, attempting to build a community from scratch.

When you emerge, returning to real life from reality TV after 12 months of total disconnection from the real world, the realities of the past year are there to greet you.

Donald Trump is president of the free world … okay, the United States bit of it. No, that’s not a reality show. Britain has voted to leave the EU (did we mention this was a British show?).

And worst of all: no one has been watching you. For the kind of people who agree to become contestants on TV reality shows, that must be the cruellest reality of all.

Eden was billed as a social experiment in which 23 strangers were taken to the remote Highlands of Scotland to build a self-sufficient community away from technology and modern tools. The year-long saga would be recorded by four crew members and personal cameras.

However, only four episodes were screened, as viewing figures dropped from 1.7m to 800,000. And then they dropped some more. Sexual jealousy, infighting and hunger meant that 13 of the 23 contestants left the show.

Despite the show being taken off air, those toiling for survival in the wilds of a 200ha estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula were not informed their ordeal had not been broadcast.

The first contestant to leave, Tara Zieleman, claimed she had been bullied by other contestants, which probably isn’t the best look if you’re trying to build a sensitive, caring, new world order.

In August, Tom Wah tweeted that he “left because it wasn’t what I was told it was going to be. What you see on TV is all bullshit. You’re not seeing the whole picture. The programme is extremely misleading.”

Well, he was right about one thing: no one was seeing the whole picture. Because the show was canned although filming continued right up to this week. On hearing that, Wah said Eden was a “load of rubbish”.

He wasn’t alone there. The show became a laughing stock among local residents who said contestants had sneaked out of the “community” to smuggle in junk food and alcohol.

Speaking to the local newspaper, Maria Macpherson said: “The last 10 have left. Some of the participants were even seen in the dentist at Fort William [a nearby town] needing treatment after eating chicken feed grit.”

Perhaps Channel 4, the English network that made the show, should have known things might not work out.

Because it wasn’t the first time the channel had made another show called Eden. In 2002 they sent a bunch of English people under 30 to live in the Australian Outback.

In that show new people were added to the community. They could be voted in by viewers, and might be exes or enemies of existing contestants just to spice things up.

It bombed. But that was probably only to be expected of a bunch of Poms living in the Outback who discovered, “there are scary insects in Australia.”

The 23 who went to “Eden” rebuild the world from scratch included: a personal-trainer-cum-yoga-instructor; a paramedic and two junior doctors; a shopfitter, a rowing coach, a dog-groomer-shepherdess; an IT consultant-gamekeeper; a shop assistant; a marine conservationist-slash-artist; a locksmith-slash-fisherman; a food development officer; a carpenter; a student, a vet, a life coach and an outdoor instructor.

And an ex-army officer, because the one thing there’s never enough of, when you’re building a community in extreme conditions among strangers, is someone to shout at everyone else.

In the few shows broadcast, the stand-out character was Anton. As soon as the group set up camp, Anton started building his own shelter miles from everyone else, which was, on reflection, probably not a good sign for the chances of building a unified, single-minded, co-operative community.

As one reviewer noted, “Anton was presented as a classic reality-show baddie. He’s compulsively unable to compromise. He’s quick to anger. He has already threatened to leave.

“Anton is trouble, because Anton doesn’t want to be part of the group. However, given that the group contains (a) a woman who self-identifies as a forager and (b) a man who owns a set of bongos, you can see Anton’s point. I like Anton, and it will be a shame when he stabs everyone in their sleep three months from now.”

Channel 4 insists, however, that everything is peace, muesli – or should that be muslin? – and Kumbayah in Eden. Its PR release states: “The year in Eden is over and the contributors are headed back to their old lives. Eden will return to screens later this year.”

Chances are, not even the participants will be watching.


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