River Deep, Mountain High

Thursday, June 22, 2000 by

Remember Now Get Out of That? Bernald Falk wryly commentating on two teams solving problems against the clock, and each other? Well River Deep, Mountain High is an updated version of this concept.

Rather than Oxford vs Cambridge or UK vs US, two families battle it out for a week in Greece at a watersports school. Presented by John Inverdale and Shauna Lowry, and part of the BBC’s “Get Your Kit On” campaign, the aim is to encourage us to take up exercise instead of sitting watching TV. This slightly incongruous note is spelled out and then quickly forgotten once the the introductory spiel is over.

The show is based in the Lake District and two families (the Fultons and the Lathams; both of whom banter in a relaxed, unrehearsed fashion) are set on different but equally demanding courses, for which they will be judged on speed, teamwork and how well they complete their tasks. Each family is given a laptop and a CD-Rom explaining their first task which will lead them to the next CD and so on – a treasure trail in short. But the use of laptops seems to be technology for the sake of it when really the simplicity of laminated paper would have been far more appropriate and manageable in the changeable climate of the Lakes. Indeed there seemed to be a perverse desire to use as many hi-tech gubbins as possible with both Inverdale and Lowry chasing around in helicopters for no particularly discernable reason. Perhaps this bizarre show of money was to impress upon us that the BBC is serious about their keep fit campaign, but for me it would have been better if each presenter had followed one family throughout giving more continuity and adding of an element of rivalry.

As the programme progressed we saw how each of the families coped with the problems they faced; that mostly meant coping with fear and continual effort to motivate one another. Luke Fulton’s fear of abseiling was a telling point handled well by the crew who stood back and made little comment, letting events take their course. When he did complete the task I felt pleased for him; for a 12 year old to overcome his initial fear showed considerable bravery and that came across well, to the programme’s credit.

Little of the problem-solving element is present – it’s more about stretching oneself physically, which is a slightly limited and less enjoyable format, further weakened as we are continually told beforehand what’s in store, rather than letting the events simply unfold. However, at the halfway stage there is some effort to provide challenge beyond the physical – while the families camp out the presenters come round offering steak and fish in exchange for points gained during the day. A nice idea that tests the resolve, but it struck me that having got that far neither team was ever likely to succumb to temptation. Perhaps these bribes could have been more tantalisingly offered throughout the day, trading points for some other advantage? But the finale was very entertaining as the Fultons caught up with the Lathams at the last stage. Watching the two teams race to build a tower out of crates to ring a bell 20ft off the ground was unbearably tense and very dramatic, with the Lathams winning by a whisker.

Overall River Deep, Mountain High just seemed too organised and over-produced – as much time was spent with the presenters as with the families. If they removed these elements it would make for a far improved programme and might encourage more to take up a sport or outdoor activity as a result. Despite these deficiencies it was entertaining, and I for one will tune in when the inevitable follow-up series rolls along. And I might get on my bike as well.


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