Escape from Scorpion Island
RDF for BBC One/BBC Two/CBBC, 3 to 21 September 2007 (46 episodes in 1 series)
Foundation/Freehand for CBBC and ABC, shown in UK on BBC Two/CBBC/BBC One, 28 September 2008 to 22 July 2011 (69 episodes in 4 series)
Every year, CBBC makes a high-profile show for that dreaded week in September when its viewers have to go back to school. In 2007, this ratings banker was Escape From Scorpion Island, stripped every night for three weeks.
In the show, ten children were stranded on the mystical Scorpion Island (in reality, a clearing on the coast of Brazil.) The basic plot was that the adventurers would be dropped on the island by helicopter, and eventually ascend the nearby mountain to a waiting helicopter. Between arrival and departure lay three weeks of challenges. Week one split the ten adventurers into Sting and Claw, two teams of five; week two was taken up winning various advantages, and the final week used that assistance to gain time advantages.
"That's had money thrown at it, that has," was our first thought - the first week alone contained fire walking, helicopters and abandoned ships; later programmes had spectacularly large numbers of plastic balls coming down a waterfall, and getting the youngster to ride bicycles across a wobbly bridge. Repeated viewing brought out the flaws in the format - most obviously, it was very slow in places - both an "extra" show on the CBBC channel and a recap programme on BBC2 contained most of the previous show on BBC1. The rules to the competition seemed arbitrary - games would contain traps for the successful, the team line-ups were altered between the second and third weeks for no adequately explored reason, and the time advantage in the final game was one minute in an hour-long challenge. The ascent of Scorpion Mountain simply didn't work that well as a television spectacle, an injury to a player ensured that it was over as a contest before it had begun.
Escape once more
Though the first series had some rough edges, it was clear that this was a show that could be tweaked into something better. A second series was made, this time in association with Australian public broadcaster ABC. Hosts Caroline Flack and Reggie Yates were replaced by JK and Joel, and the shows were reduced in length. Rather than spread 40 minutes of action across 90 minutes of screen-time, the new series spread 45 minutes of action across an hour. Series two re-located to Australia, though continued to use the same computer-generated animated maps as the first run.
Just six adventurers were parachuted in on the opening day, the remaining ten were held in "Limbo", a camp where all the cameras operated without much colour. Thereafter, the days followed a pattern. Some or all of the Limbo contestants were selected to play that day's game. The members of the winning team were then offered as prizes to Sting and Claw, each could select only one player to join them. Sting and Claw's representatives then played the same game, but with an additional level of difficulty - playing giant-sized Kerplunk with their hands tied together, or riding scooters rather than pedal cycles across the wobbly bridge. The winning team won their player from Limbo, and sometimes gained an advantage for later use. In later weeks, the losing team had to return one of their players to the Limbo camp, where there were daily challenges to retain the basics of life.
The plot was actually more simple than it sounded, and regular viewers quickly learned the pace of the game. With less gratuitous messing about with the teams, viewers could pick their favourite competitors, estimate strong and weak players, or just enjoy the spectacular challenges.
In Britain, the series was moved from weekday evenings to hour-long programmes on Sunday mornings - its original slot had been swallowed by The Weakest Link. This series also aired in Australia, neatly cut into 30-minute segments to fit into the Rollercoaster afternoon strand. Viewers down under found out the final result three weeks before their counterparts in the UK.
A third series went out in spring and summer 2009; the gimmick here was that the sixteen adventurers were split into Sting, Claw, and new team Venom, and were competing for "island torches" of use in the final challenge. In each show, the two losing teams from the previous episode faced a challenge, then the winners would take on the winners from last time in a more difficult version of that same challenge. There was also a challenge for some or all of the team captains, as chosen by the other team members; success led to an instant reward for that player's team.
Series 4, which went out in August 2010, saw a new location elsewhere in Australia, and new hosts in Myleene Klass and Johny Pitts. The show returned to two teams of five competitors, each given an Island Power. The contestants of Balance, Bravery, Speed, Strength, or Stamina would face off, hoping to win their team an advantage in that day's team challenge, for which the reward was extra time in the final challenge at the end of the series. These were interspersed with games for which the teams nominated their best players, and where the reward was a physical advantage in that series final. As ever, the presenters were far more adept at explaining the overall plot, and concentrated on the day-to-day challenges.
The fifth series went out in June and July 2011, having been recorded back-to-back with its predecessor, and shown in Australia before Easter. Initially divided into boys' and girls' teams, the regular physical challenges were augmented by tests of memory and puzzles to solve. Each day was themed around an abstract emotion or quality, such as resistance or change, and teams competed for island treasures that embodied that quality, symbols such as a cactus or a butterfly. These conferred an advantage in the final challenge.
Mr Miller and Mr Porter