Outback expert: Billy Bush Dog
RDF for Channel 4, 2002 (13 weeks)
Flop reality show which took place in Falls Forest Retreat, Australia.
In Judeo-Christian mythology (you'll know it from that episode of Star Trek where Spock gets hailed as the messiah), Eden is the original paradise in which the first man (oh, and as an afterthought, woman) lived, until they ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge and got kicked out. That's right - according to Judeo-Christian-Trek tradition, there are no quiz shows in paradise. Not even A Question of Sport.
Unsurprisingly, this show differed from the Biblical account of Eden in several critical respects. It also differed from its major precursor, Shipwrecked, in a number of important ways, the most significant of which was that it would be fantastically, spectacularly, thrillingly interactive. Viewers got to vote online for everything from which shortlisted candidates should go into the jungle in the first place, to what food and treats should be provided for them. Most fantastic, spectacular and thrilling of all, the Edenites could interact with the viewers back in Britain via the show's website. Each had their own forum where they could read what people thought of them and reply. And we all know what great television people sitting at a computer terminal makes.
Where Big Brother had, well, Big Brother, Eden had The Gods of Eden. The producers of reality shows were always being accused of playing God anyway, so those in charge here obviously figured "why not?".
Each week, three candidates would be put forward to join the merry gang in Eden, and viewers could vote for which one would have the, uh, honour. The producers were quite open about what they were looking for. Among the things that would help prospective contestants were "strong opinions", "naked photos" ("We especially like people who are naked washing the car", claimed the official website, and even if that wasn't intended to be taken literally, it gave a strong indication of the level they were aiming at) and "applications from people who are mates/brothers/sisters/lovers /ex-lovers of people already on Eden". Oh, and if you were over 35 - forget it. This was a young person's game.
Oh yeah, the game. Take the early series of Big Brother, put them in the Australian jungle, and leave out the evictions, and you've pretty much got Eden. That's right - no evictions. One could speculate that the gods had some notion of Eden being like Big Brother in reverse - instead of reducing an initial intake through weekly evictions, the show would start with half a dozen contestants and then add more, until at the end there would be a thriving community. Only in the last week would a series of votes reduce the horde to a single winner. There were mechanisms in place for the viewers or the Edenites themselves to initiate an "expulsion", but only in extreme circumstances. This proved to be a mistake twice over: not only did it remove a key element of jeopardy which might have attracted viewers, but when the gods panicked halfway through and started imposing expulsion votes for no good reason, their actions pretty much cost the show what little goodwill it still had left.
Perhaps the one thing the gods did right was to engage the services of a bearded survivalist expert named Billy Bush Dog. Here was a man who knew exactly how to deal with talking serpents. Well, snakes generally. His advice: stay well clear. Thanks for that. Also, if BBD told you not to eat from a certain tree, you definitely wouldn't. So one up on God, there. Anyway, every now and again Billy would be sent in as a deus ex machina (or is that machina ex deus? Homo ex deus?) to teach the Edenites some skill or other which they could then be tested on. This wouldn't materially affect their chances of remaining in Eden or winning the competition, but they might get an extra treat if they did well.
As it happens, the best bit of Eden did have a bit of a Biblical echo: one night torrential rain caused the river to burst its banks, and the Edenites were cut off from the TV crew. And then the water subsided and everything was OK again. So not such a great flood after all.
So anyway... in the end the competition pretty much came down to the Edenites attempting to curry favour with viewers largely by showing as much flesh as they could get away with at 6.30pm. It hit a low point early on when three of the female contestants made a bargain with the viewing public: have a consignment of chocolate sent to the camp, and they would lick it off each other's bodies. The viewers voted for the chocolate to be sent in, and the contestants did exactly what they'd promised. In the end, it was the girls' ringleader Cliona who won the popularity contest and took away a £10,000 prize - one seventh of the prize money for the previous year's Big Brother.
Not one but two contestants went on to successful careers as presenters - on proper telly as well, not just Bid-Up TV or call-and-lose shows. One was Rav Wilding (off Crimewatch and Strictly Come Dancing 2009), appearing under his original name of Rav Coothoopermal; the other was Johny Pitts, then just plain John.