The Colony: or, The show the wife won’t watch with me because it’s too scary

Okay, seriously, this show is my contender for one of the best reality series’ ever. If you haven’t caught it, or you don’t get the Discovery channel, get it on DVD or find it somewhere else.

The Colony is a riveting show produced by The Discovery Channel that is a “controlled experiment” which simulates a global catastrophe in the form of a viral outbreak. It’s also pretty frightening, and I almost expect the participants to need to fend off a full-blown zombie attack at any given moment.

Though it resembles other reality shows (people on an island, people in a house) in its basic format, The Colony takes this to a whole other level by creating a fictional world for its survivors to inhabit and forcing them to behave as if the premise were true. To add to the realism of the scenario, the inhabitants must negotiate their way in an urban wasteland, which just happens to have been conveniently provided for the producers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

That’s not all – not only do the colonists have to survive in this environment for 50 days – off the grid, without fresh food or water, increasingly paranoid about each other and exterior threats, but they must behave as if there is a real epidemic going on.

As such, the colonists begin the game in 72 hours of quarantine, if they encounter anyone else outside of their home, they need to isolate themselves until it is determined that they don’t have the virus. Also they have to scavenge for materials that can determine their survival – not just berries and food – but materials for transport, security and other things.

This is where the show gets really fascinating for me. As opposed to reality shows that pit the contestants against each other, and where personality is king, it seems as though each of these participants are selected for their impressive skills and their ability to make stuff out of nothing.

So far the colonists have:

1) Rendered rotting pig carcasses to create biodiesel fuel to power their tools, 2) Made bridges over rivers out of planks of wood, 3) built a working blacksmith forge so that they can hammer metal into different shapes (like swords, for instance)  4) made a windmill that can actually power batteries, 5) Using yeast, an old heater and some copper pipe, made ethanol!

This is in addition to the many other day-to-day things that the survivors do, like boil and filter potable drinking water, and foraging for food.

Reno and Sally build a working windmill

So, not only are the colonists extremely useful, but they’re definitely the types that you would want to have on your team in a viral outbreak.

(For future reference, should you need to survive under these circumstances you’re going to need a construction foreman, auto mechanic, artist-inventor, carpenter, logger, anatomy instructor, model and retired contractor.)

Which brings me to the scary part…

In addition to their weekly Macgyver tricks, the colonists have to survive outside threats, such as other people who come in their compound demanding their supplies and violently confronting the participants. This is really the show’s X-factor, as the producer’s have created lots of tension and drama by presenting threats that seem all too real.

Attacked by arson

If the clip works, you should be able to see that the producer’s have set a nearby house on fire, to emphasize the seriousness of the “experiment.”

Another super-scary scene came when one of the colonists was actually kidnapped by these outside marauders…

A costly ransom

Along the way, experts (scientists) in human behaviour lend their expertise during these moments of crisis, to help us understand how starvation effects people’s mental states, and how security is important to the survival in an actual viral outbreak. In this way, the show is simultaneously informative and exploitative.

The other really upsetting part about the show is that this wrecked 16 acre area is in America. The fact that this abandoned neighborhood could feasibly serve as a setting for a global catastrophe only adds another level to the already harrowing experience of watching the show. It’s not too far a stretch of the imagination to project backwards to the original inhabitants of this area who actually had to survive a catastrophe!

Final Thoughts

I know that there are definitely precedents for what this show is doing (Frontier House, Ranch House, etc..) but I feel like this “experiment” goes beyond what I’ve previously seen. The programmed threat from without is a really big difference, as is its fictionalized scenario. In some ways, it reminds me of another reality game-show, Murder in Small Town X, which worked a little bit more like a murder mystery parlor game than a reality show.

This show was also pretty complicated, charging contestants with the task of solving a Twin Peaks type murder and encountering Twin-Peaks like residents in a fictional small town, while doing their best not to be “murdered” themselves.

The common element in both is being completely terrified at what will happen next, as well as the presumed pleasure of watching people survive in pretty overwhelming circumstances. The Colony does both, making you marvel at the perseverance and know-how of the contestants, as well as their handling of really crazy circumstances.

I think I’ll leave it here for now, but would love to hear your thoughts on this or any other topics. Also, since I’m relatively new to this, I would love to get anyone’s advice on how to properly embed video clips…

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One response to “The Colony: or, The show the wife won’t watch with me because it’s too scary

  1. I have looked for this show and it appears it is not available in Canada. So disappointed 😦

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