Are you ready?
I said, are you ready?
Come on, readers - are you ready for a bit of no-holds-barred international reality TV competition lunacy?
I don’t think you’re ready, but if you feel you are, just know that by the end of this piece – Naked and Afraid will look like Clothed and Confident.
One quick warning: during this listicle of fantastical and baffling reality TV competitions from around the world, you may experience the urge to label me a liar. I wish that were true. I wish these entries were The Simpsons cutaways or “Funny Or Die” sketches, but alas, each and every show listed below actually made it onto overseas air.
On the positive side, the list should whet your appetite for Release the Hounds, a gory and gruesome comp set in the wilderness that's premiering on SBS 2.
Susunu! Denpa Shōnen (Japan, 1998-2002)
The name of this beast translates to Prize Contest Life, and started out as an odd mixture of The Truman Show and Oldboy – except, you know, real. SDS can claim the esteemed honour of being one of the first ‘torture based’ reality TV shows.
For each year of its four-year run, an unknown comedian/personality who is chasing fame signs their life away to a competition they know nothing about.
How is it played?
Here's the winning moment from the first season:
Each season, contestants are placed in a specific heinous situation for the pleasure of Japanese viewers.
The most famous of these situations came in the first season, when a young comedian named Nasubi was left naked in a small apartment for an entire year. With no supplies but magazines full of "sweepstakes" coupons – the only way to survive was to enter these comps, over and over and over again, in the hope that he wins supplies.
After 355 days in the competition, he won a small amount of money and broke a Guinness Book of World Records record for “longest time surviving on competition winnings”, and I guess in this case – those sweepstakes items are considered competition winnings.
The show was eventually cancelled after a government crackdown on torture-based competitions - but another incarnation has apparently appeared on YouTube since 2009.
The Intercept (Russia, 1998-2000)
While Mark Burnett and host Jeff Probst were busy figuring out how the Survivor was going to work (little do most know, they ripped the core concept from Sweden), the Russians were busy on their own project – unofficially based on the original version of Grand Theft Auto.
How’s it played?
Cash-poor contestants are eased behind the driver’s seat of a car – one that they’re then told is stolen. The driver then has 35 minutes to tear through the city of Moscow without the cops catching up, and if they manage to do so, they win that car.
And if they are caught by the cops? They are arrested. Why this show only lasted two years is one of life’s most unanswerable questions.
Though little footage is available on the WWW, I can’t imagine how this show continued without at least one concerning car accident.
Dadagiri (India, 2008-2011)
I’m not sure what Zarina Mehta—the then-CEO of Indian entertainment channel Bindass—was smoking when she green-lit this psychologically irresponsible reality TV show. Why? Because the whole point is to bully four contestants for as long as possible.
How is it played?
Four former-students are enlisted to relive the horrors of school/college bullying/hazing.
Each contestant is challenged to survive three rounds, and each round is run by a "dada" (a Hindi slang word for "father"), which in this case is essentially a big bully.
The first dada is Vishal the Beast, who plays the role of a hot-tempered boy. The second is Shraman Mindstein, a brilliant college student. The third is Esha the Goddess, who loves nothing more than putting people down. Each villain sets contestants a series of tasks that grow in severity as the show progresses.
If a poor, emotionally scarred contestant manages to overcome their past demons and brave the belittling, they win Rs 50 lakhs, which as far as I can tell is roughly 80,000-100,000 Aussie dollars.
Despite this disturbing scene from its first season, the show lasted for three more.
Armed & Famous (USA, 1997)
While the first three shows in this list come from insane imaginations, the Americans manage to trump them with laziness and stupidity. Let’s imagine how the pitch meeting went...
A: Any more ideas?
B: Hmm… not really.
A: What about La Toya Jackson? She’s always up for a bit of real TV?
B: Not a bad idea. But what do we do with her?
A: Give her a gun?
B: You’re a genius, A. Let’s take it from there.
How is it played?
Five celebrities are sent to Indiana to train as reserve police officers. Following training, they join real rookie patrolmen on the beat. Those who can stand it are sworn in as official reserve cops.
I don’t know about you, but if someone broke into my house and stole my Martina Hingis-signed Adidas jumper from the 90s, the last person I’d want on the case is La Toya Jackson. Or Jack Osbourne. Or Erik Estrada, or “Wee Man” from Jackass.
CBS realised this after four episodes, and pulled the remaining two, which may have had something to do with Lyndsay Clements, a woman who was cuffed inside her own home after two broke in and entered. Turns out those two cops had visited the wrong address.
Clements figured that CBS owed her $1 million in damages, even if those two cops were La Toya and Ozzy Osborne’s son.
Never fear, here’s a bit from the D-list police training sessions, where every faux-cop is tasered:
There’s Something About Miriam (UK, 2003)
We’ve been through the cruel, the unusual and the desperate, but now let me take you into despicable territory with this dating competition.
How is it played?
Six British men vie for the affection of a 21-year-old Mexican model named Miriam. The episodes were filled with romantic one-on-one dates, male competitiveness and a whole lot of making out. Sounds like The Bachelorette, right? I mean, the thing even ends with Miriam choosing lifeguard Tom Rooke as the winner and the two winning an enviable holiday and a bunch of cash.
I’ll let Miriam’s words from the finale explain:
That’s right – the whole fricking show was created to dupe a bunch of lads into going after a trans woman.
Not only was this "experiment" a heinous act of abuse on the contestants, but it also enraged the trans community, whose image on screen was (and still often is) represented as novelty, or worse, abnormal.
Airing of the final episode was delayed for five months, until a lawsuit against the producers from all six contestants was settled behind closed doors. Ridiculous entries into this oversaturated genre deserve our facepalms, but it’s not often a reality TV competition ends in a conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract, and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage.
Now, let’s let poor old Nasubi take us out. He earnt the fame:
For a less concerning but still (sensibly) crazy reality TV competition, check out Release the Hounds when it premieres on Friday, 27 May at 9:25pm (AEST) on SBS 2. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.
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