Friday, 9 May 2014

Has Health and Safety Ruined Reality TV?

I’ve been watching this new series on Channel 4, The Island With Bear Grylls, involving x amount of blokes being dropped on y island and left to fend for themselves. They’re from a range of backgrounds, apart from female, and they deigned to include one typical hilariously fuddy-duddy old dude and one cool, upbeat black guy. Speaking of deigning, Bear Grylls appears from time to time, giving us such epiphanic tidbits as ‘when you’re starving you think about food’ et cetera… Anyhoo, you can read a more concise summary on the C4 site, i’m here for other things. Namely, health and safety things.
            In this first episode the guys had to look for shelter and water. The main focus over the forty-seven-and-a-bit minutes (billed as sixty-five) was the water. It’s the thing that’ll kill you quickest in the bodily-deprivation race, after all (apart from air, or Jack Daniel’s). They had a bit of fresh water with them, to lull you into a false sense of security, but guess what? IT STARTED RUNNING OUT AS THEY STARTED DRINKING IT! So naturally, the drama was high.
            Think about it though - how could a programme like this be commissioned in today’s ‘life-loving’ age if there was a genuine chance of death?
            Thankfully the Grylls voiceover told us exactly how many hours’ drinking water was left, helping to ramp up the tension. Other scare devices included a ‘piss-colour scale’, which ranged from tanning salon run-offs to Guinness, going down the spectrum of dehydratory terror. A little bit was made of the effect dehydration has on the brain, but mainly they were interested in the colour of the men’s urine and what would happen if they failed to get a fire to boil and purify their stagnant water. Of course, every attempt at starting a (controlled) fire was accompanied by two or three comments featuring the phrases ‘last chance’, ‘we need to’ and, my personal favourite, ‘fuckin’ ‘ell’.
            I was still not convinced of the impending doom, though. Could these fellas’ issue actually become black as the ace of spades, and could they keel over through lack of orally induced moisture (steady now)? On the point of getting a fire started, which was key to their safe water production, Mr Grylls himself said, “If they fail to get a fire lit today, they will have no choice, they will have to leave the island.” Hmm, that’s a bit of a let-down, they have to leave the island? Is that it? How about one of the men, surely since they’re in mortal peril they’ll have a better soundbite? Well, here’s the ‘green cap-man’, “Getting this fire going is just crucial, and if it doesn’t happen today, then I think we’re really going to start getting into trouble. I am concerned now, I am concerned, erm, I really think we need to pull our finger out.”
            Wow. Edge of the seat stuff.
            The problem is that dehydration is a real slow-motion crisis, devoid of much intensity when filming. The attempts to ramp up the pressure by repeating the threat didn’t work. There’s an attempt at tension, sure. The word ‘survival’, occasionally trotted out, suggests immediate mortal peril, but really there must be a standby team with bottles of water for dehydration scenarios… They’re not gonna let people die for our amusement on reality TV. I mean, this isn’t the seventies anymore, people actually scrutinize telly personalities now.
            Also on the ‘menu’ was a dude emerging from a frolic in the sea with a cut on his foot (apologies for the rhyme there). The drama came from the fact that he may have been attacked by a stonefish, heralded by Grylls as, “the most poisonous fish in the world.” But again, a lot is known about the stonefish (or synaceia verrucosa, don’t you know) and its pathology, so are we fooled? Since October 1st 2013, there have been no reported deaths in all Australia. An antivenom exists and the health and safety team will know exactly where to get their hands on it, if they haven't got a stockpile already. So what.
Once the director had footage of ‘IT man’ hobbling back to camp, blooding dripping (slowly) from his foot, medics would’ve been on to assess him IF they thought he was maybe possibly in any danger. Of course, the footage (no pun intended) of the check-up would not make the final cut because it would interrupt the ‘narrative’ we are being sold. We forget (or not, in my case) that they’re filming basically the whole day, and all these hours (spanning more than a day) need to be cut down to a programme’s length. It’s highly selective, to say the least.
So can we really feel jeopardy anymore? I certainly can’t. Don’t get me wrong, there were times i felt quite involved with these makeshift heroes, and as dehydration threatened them, and tension rose around the sacred fire, i started to feel anxious about the acceleration of their peril. While there are so many cameras and so much evidence of ‘production’ (titles, voiceovers, superimposition etc), you know that you’re in ‘civilization’. There’s no actual danger. The jeopardy is just not there anymore, no matter how often the programme makers insist it is.
            *Sigh* then you’ve got the adverts. But i’m not going to go on about that. I get tons of comments from Blogtastic readers, “Martin, do another rant about the adverts!” But i won’t... Think of all the people that don’t want to hear about how the tension was demolished by frequent breaks. And i know people certainly won’t want to hear about how the extra fifteen minutes you could’ve had without adverts would’ve allowed you to focus on other visceral and emotional elements, rather than simply urine and other more facile tactics, that would’ve conveyed a sense of danger and human struggle much more deeply and efficiently. No one wants that. C4 doesn’t want it, clearly. They’re doing fine on their own.
            Good luck to ‘em. And good luck to you guys - you enjoy your telly.
            Peace and love x


  1. I had a bit of a crush on Bear when I used to watch him. I was amazed at how he would endure walking through feces-infested water, drinking urine, and eating parasitic insects. Then I started to become skeptical and wondered if those feats he claimed to achieve were actually real. I have all but abandoned the telly as of late, so I don't even know when or if his show still is televised here.

    1. I can see why he's appealing to be honest, rugged but presentable, tough but not macho. I saw him on the Graham Norton show recently - he was recreating the famous 'upside down Spiderman kiss' with Dawn French... It could only happen on TV!

  2. The upside down Spiderman kiss!!! I want to try that. :-)


Just keep it clean (ish)!