Sunday, February 3, 2002 by

It’s unfortunate that Channel 4′s new “reality” show has turned up in the schedules so soon after its last one ended. Not because the genre itself has become that tired or predictable – yet; but seeing as how both Shipwrecked and its successor Eden have so much in common (they’re also made by the same company: RDF) not enough time has passed to allow the latter to properly escape the legacy of the former. It’s even in the same timeslots, and on the same days. It’s doubly unfortunate, however, that given their similarities Eden has so far felt woefully inferior to its stable mate. Following on so soon from Shipwrecked, the difference in quality has just seemed all the greater.

Eden‘s self-branding as “reality” television is grossly misleading. It’s a game show, nothing more. One of the people exiled in the wilderness of an Australian jungle stands to win £10,000. The others won’t get a penny. However the team are competing, not for each other’s affections, but for ours: the quality which is supposed to elevate Eden above Shipwrecked and similar shows like Survivor or Castaway is its interactivity. The series is happening in real time. Footage is filmed, hastily reedited (all too noticeably) and shown here a couple of days later. Viewers are invited to influence the course of events in “Eden” via a sequence of votes by phone or on-line.

In this way the show presumes a very particular and involved relationship with its audience. Yet despite its potential for being real exciting, responsive telly, to date Eden has been desperately unimpressive and, worse, tedious. It’s really all gone wrong from the start.

From a shortlist of 12 candidates, viewers were allowed to select six to send off to the outback: three male, three female. Frankly, the options were poor. Off the evidence shown – a very short profile – none of the dozen seemed particularly appealing. Out of a selection of variously good-looking and pushy teenagers and students, none particularly fitted any clichés (token black woman, token gay male); but none had immediately striking personalities either. Seeing them interviewed later in the T4 studio confirmed a general absence of a sense of humour. And from these we were being asked to choose our favourites? Though the decision over who appeared inShipwrecked was left to the whims of Andi Peters, at least he picked a few people who had some charm and were instantly watchable. Unfortunately it felt difficult to muster any real respect or interest in the half dozen packed off to the Australia by a gurning Vernon Kay.

The three blokes were all very worthy and a bit shallow; the three girls rather self-satisfied and, in the case of Cliona, in possession of an instantly annoying voice. So far out on location it’s been their pet dog that’s shown the most energy and enthusiasm. We’ve witnessed the six sitting about moaning, getting pissed and bitching about each other – but in every case doing so in a supremely lifeless manner. None seem particularly thrilled that they were voted to go to “Eden”; but none seem that inclined to pack up and go home. Perhaps they themselves are genuinely at a loss what to do, or weren’t expecting the experience to be quite so monotonous. But sadly none seem the slightest bit inclined to do anything about, well, anything. They don’t care – so it’s a struggle for this viewer to care too.

Central to Eden‘s promise of continuing interactivity is that one new contestant is added to the show every seven days. Viewers get three applicants to choose between each week, with just a 90 second odd promo film to go off. But already this too has become a frustrating process: for in essence, rather than having the option to remove somebody annoying from the camp, the best we get is the chance to add a new person in the hope that they will somehow balance out or neutralise the irritation. Yet so far this has proved to just compound the problem, as the irritant is still there, only with a new person to spark off and wind up, and still we can’t vote them out. So the problem remains, and festers. Somehow being in a position to instantly strike out a human being from an entire television programme is much more enticing in its potential, and rewarding in its execution, than merely having a choice over who to add to the mix.

Even the moments when these new “Eden-ites” are revealed have been enacted in a really half-hearted and unimaginative manner. When the identity of Chris, the first to be added to the camp, was exposed, all we got was a five second pre-recorded film of him in his bedroom pounding the air with his fist. If the programme makers were striving desperately not to infuse this moment of revelation with any excitement whatsoever they undoubtedly succeeded the following week, when the announcement that the second new contestant was to be Siobhan was accompanied by brief shot of an out of focus photo. In both instances the results were also accompanied by a droning, anonymous continuity announcer, who himself seemed not to know or care about what he was doing. And so it seemed almost impossible to feel anyway awed or basically motivated by this, the viewer’s biggest input into the programme.

Saying that, the “Eden” itself is pretty shabby as well. There seems to have been some confusion on the part of the production team over whether to promote the series as a chance to escape to a real utopia, or another survival of the fittest, set in an unforgiving, humiliating landscape, ridden with, as the hapless Vernon boomed on the first programme, “all kinds of creepy-crawlies – euucchhh!” But while this “Eden” is not paradise, it’s not hell either. It just looks like a slightly muddy ditch you’d find down the local woods. There’s certainly nothing otherworldly or romantic about the place. In fact, the contrived nature of it all is compounded by really crap sound quality, which gives the impression of a badly overdubbed and overloud tape loop of a hundred chirping crickets being played throughout.

Part of the impact of Shipwrecked came from how, though its scenery and location had inevitably been tampered with for the sake of efficient filming, the island retained a dramatic quality – of scope, beauty, and extremes. As a place, Eden‘s just plain boring. In Shipwreckedthe participants had to build their own accommodation. Here they arrived to find most of their already dull-looking, unexotic huts ready and waiting to be occupied. There’s really nothing that’s at all alien or extraordinary about this show. As with the means by which they were chosen to go, so the world that these Eden-ites colonise is similarly unexceptional – and painfully ordinary.

The much-hyped interactivity extends to a couple of other aspects of the programme. There’s the occasional mini-ballot, on what to grant the contestants in the way of supplies or who to vote “leader” (a devilish choice if ever there was one). There’s also the Eden microsite on the Channel 4 home page, where correspondents can e-mail abuse, gossip and propositions to the contestants – a neat idea, but undermined by the fact that the exiles themselves only get what seems to be five minutes or so a day to check their accounts, and there aren’t enough computers to go round.

This show could be really involving, even subtle entertainment. But Eden‘s cursed by its own reticence. It’s not doing nearly enough to draw attention to itself, or create a feeling of proper “event” television; and crucially all of this seems to flow from the programme makers’ apparent indecision over how to play up the significance of Eden‘s integral element: its interactivity. Still, there has been one memorable moment (and only one): when Chris, on his arrival at the camp, presented his fellow contestants with a welcoming gift. However this wasn’t some food, or tools, or clothing – it was a pristine copy of Bruce Forsyth’s autobiography.

It has not been seen since.


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