Reality TV is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. Usually, the only ‘real’ thing about it is the humans in front of the camera; half the time, they have a script of some kind. Still, there’s just something enjoyable about them. It’s the media equivalent of stuffing your face with junk food; it ain’t doing nothing but making you sick, but god damn does it taste good.
Unless it’s a show like Kid Nation. That one is more like watching two ambulances crash into each other. It’s horrible, but you just can’t look away.
For those of you who’ve never seen it, the premise is simple. Forty kids are dropped off in a ghost town and have to make it work without adult supervision. Every few days, they’re all gathered together for a competition to decide who sits at the top of the social structure for the next week and possibly win a big prize for the town.
Have you ever read ‘Lord of the Flies’? Yeah, it’s that. But in real life.
Now, obviously, the show’s core concept is a lie. You can’t exactly drop forty kids off in the desert and just film them starve to death or poison themselves. Off-camera, it’s a certainty that the showrunners at least fed them. Besides, the kids were clearly pushed to follow certain themes in each episode in an effort to force drama out of them. Adults were obviously nearby.
Not that the conditions were humane. Lots of basic things the kids needed to live comfortably – beds, water pumps, dental care – were locked behind the games as prizes. For god’s sake, the kids were only given one outhouse at the start; they had to earn another seven!
You can tell from the very beginning that the showrunners are trying to tear things apart. They flew four kids in on a helicopter and had them serve as the leaders of the whole bunch; yeah, sure, that won’t create a divide between them or lead to a tyrant emerging. And they always tried to tempt the kids away from the prizes they needed by dangling prizes they thought they wanted right in front of them; they had to know that would set the kids against each other!
They even tried to turn their ultimate reward system against them. See, the kids who did exceptionally well were rewarded with golden stars worth $25k. A solid prize. Unfortunately, the people in charge of choosing the winner were the four kids in charge of the council. Kids who had friends and grudges. No way in hell fights didn’t start in the streets over that!
On top of all that, the camera crew simply sat back and just let things happen. Or they’d just record a child as they cried, because that’s a humane thing to do. There was an episode where they recorded one of the boys staring down a bull; if that bull had run, the camera crew wouldn’t have done a damn thing.
Kid Nation was an absolute disaster. It was a reality show that tried to tear a group of children apart in every single aspect. How no one realized it was a bad idea, I have no idea. Did no one in this production bother to think it through at all?
As disastrous as it is, the show is still fun to watch. You might not feel good watching it; boil it down and you are enjoying the suffering of children. But god dammit, these kids could be funny, and the sheer absurdity of it all can be delightful at times.
Plus, you can find the whole thing online for free because they never released it on DVD. Can’t imagine why.