When I first saw promos for The Colony, a new reality show on the Discovery channel, I was excited. Here would finally be the ideal show about handmade things. If you haven’t heard about it, the premise is that there’s been a viral outbreak and a group of ten colonists is dropped in an abandoned neighborhood in New Orleans and basically left to fend for themselves. I was really hoping it would showcase things like ingenuity, foraging, group dynamics, survival skills. Silly me, I forgot it was a TV show.
The first problem is that the show is built on a fictional premise. The colonists have to play act that the world around them has fallen apart and they are among the few survivors. After a few weeks the line with reality might be blurred, except for the camera crews, planes flying overhead, and the knowledge that beyond the perimeter of the neighborhood was a populated city. I’ll give them this, though, the neighborhood is post-Katrina mayhem. There are blocks and blocks of abandoned and stripped-out houses, ransacked stores, and random piles of rubble. It looks the part.
Second problem: producer intervention. On other reality shows it seems more realistic. Even though Bear Grylls is out in the wild with a cameraman, sat phone, and other modern conveniences at his disposal, it seems like he’s truly out there alone risking his life. Well done. When watching The Colony, though, you can sense producer-motivated scenarios as easily as you feel a strong wind at your back. After the first week, food is rationed and the colonists are losing weight. What do they do? Build a generator to charge up some car batteries. Next week they build a forge. After several weeks, the group is almost out of canned food. In their weakened state, what do they do? Build a wind generator, of course, so they can operate power tools. Might it have been easier to use hand saws and old-fashioned manual screwdrivers? Absolutely, but I guess that doesn’t make good TV. Fast forward another week and they’re down to two cans of food. Are they out hunting and looking for edible plants? Nope, they’re picking huckleberries and building a still to, get this, create alcohol fuel so they can build a swamp boat to…what exactly? At what point will they go out hunting for some real food? My wife is tired of hearing me yell at the TV, “What are you eating?! Screw the swamp boat!!”
So, alas, what could’ve been an ode to self-reliance and practical handicraft is actually a puppet show, with the producers guiding the contestants through a designed route with pre-determined tasks. Among the group’s members, there are two contractors, a logger, a mechanic, a model and NOBODY with any skill in gardening, hunting, plant identification, or anything related to getting and preparing your own food. Maybe it’s just me, but when the apocalypse falls upon us, I want to get my hands on this book.
P.S. Just as the colonists were about to run out of food they were introduced to a loner who’d been in the colony the whole time. He just happens to be a survival and security expert who’s been eating quite well off the land including nutria, crabs, wild pig, and catfish. When they asked about his greens he told them it was wild fennel. “I guess you guys haven’t found that yet,” he said with a note of sadness. After forty days of slowly starving, they weren’t a little curious about edible plants. If you find yourself hungry and in the wild, go find this plant and eat the bulb. It’s delicious.