'Eden' Is the New Reality Show That Offers an Escape From This Fucked-Up World
But so far, it's little more than 'Love Island' in fleeces.
Channel 4's reality survival show Eden, which kicked off on Monday night, has been billed as a groundbreaking new experiment in which 23 strangers head off to a remote corner of Scotland to build a new community for an entire year. The PR spiel says they will "face the challenge of building a new life and creating a new society from scratch" which basically sounds like Jeremy Corbyn's New Year's resolution.
On the face of it , Eden doesn't sound too different from survival shows that have gone before, particularly the BBC's turn-of-the-millennium contest Castaway 2000, another programme about a group of people dumped in a remote corner of Scotland for an entire year. No wonder Scotland is so keen on independence, if British production companies keep dumping truckloads of fame-hungry survivalists off their unspoiled coastline. There have of course been various incarnations of this sort of thing since then, including T4's Shipwrecked, The Island and another Channel 4 show from 2002 that was literally called Eden, which literally featured a group of castaways on an island trying to survive with minimal resources. So what can this new version of the survival island format possibly contribute?
A couple of seconds in, and I think I've got my answer: vague sociological nonsense. "If we could start again, what kind of world would we build?" asks the narrator in his luxury car ad voice. The camera pans across impossibly tall trees and travels through the forest. "Would it be as divided and politically uncertain as the one we live in today?" You can almost hear the dreamcatcher blowing in the voiceover booth.
Eden's schtick isn't just about getting away from the rat race for a few months of sun, sea and starvation. No: it's about removing all the bigger crises in our increasingly apocalyptic world. Channel 4 are positioning it as a big, lofty social experiment about going back to the wild: communism without the revolution. Eden is a place where there is no Brexit, no terror threats, no austerity and no Pokémon Go (although actually, if you did bring the phone to that island, I imagine you could catch some rare as fuck Pokémon).
The show kicks off with a montage of contestants doing "back to nature" stuff like killing animals and trekking through snow. "For years now I've been saying I want all the satellites to fall out of the sky, all the oil reserves to dry up, all the electricity to stop," says Raphael, a 50-something carpenter and the sort of person who would tell you they "make their own compost" and then wink in a way that suggests that shit on their geraniums.
We're then told that the group has "just enough resources" to get them started, and that they'll have to work the land and raise livestock in order to survive. Except it soon becomes pretty clear that they've been given metric fucktons of gear, including tools and a stun gun. You get the feeling Bear Grylls - a man who once made a wetsuit out of a dead seal - is already writing a strongly worded letter of complaint.
Even in these seemingly insulated conditions, it becomes clear that not everyone is pulling their weight. 24-year-old Jasmine is a yoga instructor. On an island of doctors and builders, she's one of the least qualified people on the team, about as useful as a branch of Ann Summers in Vatican City. You might think that she would work overtime to prove her worth. Instead she has a wobbly because she's a vegetarian and there isn't a stash of Linda McCartney sausages hidden away.
Any ambitions of this being a survival experiment quickly deteriorate after that, and what's left is more or less Love Island with fleeces. The waterproofs might not have been skimpy and there were no salacious tasks, yet two couples have already formed. While vet Rob and "forager" Katie kept things pre-watershed, committed adventurer Jasmine and chef Stephen were soon cavorting in a hammock, drunk on homebrew made out of potato peel.
This is, then, a normal reality diet of fights and flirting. That is, for everyone except Anton. You've got to feel a bit sorry for him. He's a bullshit-free northerner with an air of Sean Bean and an obsession with winter rivalled only by Ned Stark, constantly pleading that the group plans ahead and builds a shelter for the colder months. He also holds the world record for rowing the length of Amazon and is evidently keen to build a Grylls or Ray Mears-type niche for himself. Look out for his inevitable North Face tie-in soon.
For all of Eden's anti-capitalist, pseudo-survivalist sentiments, this is essentially a reality show like any other, and under the pressure of a strange new environment, its fame hungry contestants will laugh, cry, fight and pull each other in the sweat lodge. Great if you're looking for something to fill the Nathan and Cara-shaped hole in your evenings, but don't expect to see anyone drinking their own wee.
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