British Reality Show Contestants Spend a Year Surviving the Wilderness with No One Watching


Imagine signing up for a survival-themed reality show in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands, only to emerge a year later to discover the show hasn’t even been on the air. That’s the reality facing the contestants of the British series Eden, the Guardian reports, which premiered in July 2016 on Channel 4 but aired just four episodes — unbeknownst to the participants.

Billed as a “social experiment,” Eden stuck 23 people on a remote 600-acre estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula on Scotland’s west coast and left them there to live off the land and build a community. The hook was that it was totally unmediated; there were no Survivor-like challenges or rewards, no meddling producers, and, apparently, no real drama. The show failed to find an audience, and Channel 4 took it off their schedule a month after it premiered.

Too bad nobody thought to inform the participants. Like a real-life Tropic Thunder, the Eden cast kept going without realizing their efforts were not actually being broadcast for an audience. Of the original 23 contestants, only 10 remained by the end; according to Aberdeen’s Press and Journal, the first person walked off the show in August, comparing it to Lord of the Flies, and by September, eight more followed, including the camp’s two doctors, a paramedic, and a fisherman. (Channel 4 insisted the contestants’ “health and well-being” were closely monitored.)

Citing in-fighting, boredom, hunger, and pesky Highland midges, by the end of the shoot, 13 people had left. Residents of nearby towns told the Press and Journal that the show had become something of a local joke, with the hangers-on smuggling junk food and alcohol into the camp. Still, Channel 4 claims Eden will return to the small screen later this year, releasing the following statement:

The appeal of Eden is that it was a real experiment and when filming began we had no idea what the results would be and how those taking part would react to being isolated for months in a remote part of the British Isles. That’s why we did it and the story of their time, including the highs and the lows, will be shown later this year.

It is strange that Channel 4 would put the show back on the air; there could be legal reasons for the decision, or they could simply be trying to save face now that this hugely embarrassing story has got out. Generally, a reality-show producer’s “high” is a contestant’s “low,” so it remains to be seen just what viewers are in store for when the show returns.

The channel has confirmed that all the remaining participants have gone back to their lives, and while the experience may not have been what they had expected, surely they’ve at least learned something about the true nature of reality TV. Tom Wah, who left the show in August, tweeted that he walked off because Eden “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.”