The Great Reality TV Swindle
Christmas Films for Channel 4, 2002
One of the most audacious game show formats of modern times was invented by Nik Russian in 2001. He would organise for three teams of ten to travel the world for a year, all accommodation and transport provided, and work for a million pounds. The team that earned the most would win £100,000 each.
After holding some tests - including baking a cake on a private island in the middle of the Thames - three teams were picked, and gathered at Waterloo station in June 2002. There it emerged that funding hadn't come through, and the project was off. One team decided to stick together, made a film, got on the London news, and received a visit from Nik Russian, before slinking home in defeat.
Such was the premise behind a thoroughly bizarre one-off programme that aired in late 2002. The show was shot in a documentary style, and included homages from the two big reality shows of the time - a Survivor t-shirt, and an actual clip from that year's Big Brother. Their attention to detail was good, but imperfect - attentive viewers will see the result of a lunchtime football match in a sequence shot in the morning.
Director Caz Gorham created a credible story, sending up the eagerness of young people to appear on television, and suggesting that not everything in these reality shows is as cut-and-dried - or even as honest - as it might seem.
Nikita Russian's real name was Keith Gillard.
One thing that many people latched onto in the "is it/isn't it real?" debate was that apparently nobody had heard of the production company, Christmas Films, before. In fact the company had existed for several years, mostly making arty short films, but also the 1999 sexuality quiz, The Staying-In Show.