10 random people answer a production companies ad' for a new show, to be filmed on an 'island' for a year, showing how they cope with each other, and their surroundings....
"Are you bored and looking for adventure? UPFRONT PRODUCTIONS are looking for 10 people to star in a new show to be filmed on location on a tropical island. For one year, it will be you and your wits against the elements. The only experience you need, is the one that life has given you....."
That was all it took. I had been surfing the Internet one afternoon, and had gone onto a site for a cable television channel. They always advertised for people to go on the daytime shows, and normally I would have skipped past the advert without a second glance. This time though, it caught my eye. I read on a bit more, and became very interested in the idea. "..........you and 9 others will be based in an island 'sanctuary' on a tropical location in the South Pacific. You will be instructed in how to survive before you depart, but when you get there, the rest is up to you.....DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?....."
Before I knew it, I had filled in the online form, and mailed it to the production company, never thinking I would get a reply. Two days later, an email appeared, asking if I was still interested in the idea, and if so, could I fill in the attached questionnaire. Bored, I did.... "1) What survivalist experience do you have - once went camping with family...2) Do you have any medical conditions that would exclude you from this event? - wear glasses, but only to read. no other issues..." The rest of the form was along the same idea. After answering everything, I hit the send button, and forgot about it.
An unknown number calling my mobile-phone one afternoon let me know that even though I had forgotten about it, someone hadn't forgotten about me. A very pleasant voiced woman explained that 'UPFRONT PRODUCTIONS' would like me to attend a meeting event, to see if I would be applicable for the show. The date and time were convenient to me, so I thought why not, it could be fun. The event would be a preliminary assessment, lasting a day. There would be refreshments, tests, interviews, examinations.....at the end of it, if successful I would be asked to attend another event.
On the day, I felt like I had walked into an audition for the circus. It seemed like every freak and insane person in the country had been invited along. Made me wonder just what category I was supposed to fit into. People wearing fluorescent jackets walked among the crowds, small digital cameras recording everything. Photos were taken, added to pages that had all your details filled out already. Suddenly, your name would be called and off you went to see what was next. I was put into a group, and asked to complete large 3D puzzles, told to try and figure out the best way to erect a tent, that after a few minutes became apparent had parts missing. In the afternoon, there were one-on-one interviews. One person would ask seemingly random questions, another would be argumentative, another disinterested in any answer you gave. I played along, enjoying watching how they pick the people that star in reality shows.
At the end of the day, I was given a letter, thanking me for my time, and that if I was interested further, I could attend a follow up event, for more in-depth observational testing, at a later date.
5 more days spent at events like this, with less and less people attending each time, and suddenly there were 20 of us left. We were told that we had done brilliantly to get this far, and that the final selection process would be done over 4 days, and that at the end of it, we would be told if we were successful or not. The 20 of us were taken to a remote location, separated from each other, and given a bag. We were then told that for the next 4 days, we would be assessed on what we did. There was no 'right or wrong' thing to do, we could quit at any point if we wished, and it was up to us if we wanted to go and look for other members of the group, or go it alone. Following us, would be camera-crews, who were under strict instructions to only assist if our health become endangered.
I looked in the bag I had been given. Inside was a few metres of rope, two sets of waterproof fabric, a survivalist knife, and a 2litre bottle of water. It was going to be a test of will, simple as that. Thankful for all the times I had watched people like Ray Mears and Bear Grylls on the Discovery Channel on cable TV, I had a fair idea of what I would do. Off in the distance, I could see a wood, and a hill. As I walked there, I went over episodes that I had seen on the television. I needed to find a water source, shelter, food. A person can last days without food, water is the important part. I lucked out, finding a small stream, close to a rock overhang. Remembering everything I had ever seen on TV, I soon had a rough little den set up. For the next four days, I managed to cope on my own. The survival knife allowed me to make fires. I was able to set traps to catch food, after a lot of trial and error. The worst parts were when it came to killing the animals, and preparing them for the fire. I managed to do it, only being sick once. For me though, the most difficult part was going to the toilet......
At the end of the four days, out of the 20 that had started, 16 were left, and 2 of those were crying with relief that it was over. Aside from being very smelly, and needing a shave, I had enjoyed myself. I had decided that even if I didn't get selected, then the time I had spent had taught me a lot about me, and what I could do. One bonus had been losing weight...
That evening, in the hotel, after having a shower and some food, there was a knock on the hotel room door. It was one of the production company staff, someone I had spoken to previously on the assessment days. I was told to come down to the hotel function room in an hour, and to be dressed smart yet casual. The smile on his face, and the handshake kinda gave away the fact that I had been selected. An hour later, I was stood outside the function room , 9 others stood with me. I recognised most of them, from the whittling down process of the selection days. We were told that in the next few minutes, we would be escorted into a press conference, and that any questions we answered should be kept short etc. We were put into a line, 5 men, 5 women, man woman man woman....and led into the room.
The whole of the room it seemed was full of either cameras on stands, or cameras with flashes exploding from them. In amongst the noise, people were calling my name.."Andrew!, look this way..how do you feel to have been selected?, What did you have to do on that last selection task?"... We sat at the long table, and for the next hour, listened as the main people of the production company outlined the new show to the public.
"..........10 individuals, chosen from thousands, will be taken to a tropical location, and using skills that they are soon to be taught, left to survive. This will be no 'game show' where people are voted off, this is an experiment in human abilities, and endurance. Each person has shown qualities that can both benefit a group, and be detrimental to a groups existence...this experiment will answer the question, 'can a person adapt and overcome'......"
We answered questions that were directed at us, and after some additional photographs, and interviews, were led away to a private area.
For the first time, I was able to get a look at the people I would be part of the show with....
Father Patrick Flynn. A 43 year old Irish priest, who had travelled the world as a missionary. Quiet, someone who looked like he would be shocked if he heard you swear.
Darren Peters. 26 year old Mancunian. A brash shaven headed bloke, who had already managed to offend not only staff in the hotel, but other guests too.
Giles Goode. 29 years old, asked everyone he met to call him 'GG'. As camp as the day is long, and one of the funniest people I had so far met.
Casper Xavier Carmichael. The 32 year old playboy of the group. His attitude was that of the filthy rich, and justly so. He had never needed to work a day in his life.
Cammie Roberts. 18 year old flower child. A student doing philosophy, she believed in anything and everything spiritual and 'new age'.
Kate Evans. A 24 year old primary school teacher. Looked like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but had a wicked smile matching a wicked sense of humour.
Mary Williams. Retired business woman. Retired at 50, after selling her company for millions. Had a 'can do' attitude, and she scared people daily....
Ash Rai. A 30 year old Indian model, who had become famous doing Bollywood films. She spoke with a thick Liverpudlian accent, but seemed unsure of herself.
Lilly Saunders. A self confessed 20 year old CHAV princess. Loud, brash, argumentative. But possibly it was all an act.
And then there was me. Andrew. a 31 year old overweight Welsh bloke, who had answered an advert for a laugh, never expecting to be selected for the show..........