Airing Tonight: "The Colony" on Discovery

Image credit: 

Set your DVRs: tonight (July 27) on the Discovery Channel, The Colony airs at 10pm. Read on for a first look!

What separates good reality TV from bad reality TV? For me, good reality TV raises questions -- most importantly, what would you do if you were the person living in the "reality" of the show? In bad reality TV, nobody cares -- it's pure entertainment, watching people goof around and make fools of themselves. But in good reality TV, like Discovery's The Colony, we are repeatedly confronted with questions, and every viewer's answer will be different. This is reality TV worth watching, because it presents real issues -- in this cases, issues of survival -- albeit through the lens of a reality TV show (meaning, there's a camera crew and producers around, in case some dude cuts his hand off). In The Colony, there is no prize at the end, there is no way to "win," and nobody gets voted off the island -- this is just a group of seven people trying to survive for 50 days entirely off the grid.

The Colony starts its second season tonight. I was a fan of the first season, and the second looks like a solid extension of the "experiment." In this season, a group of volunteer "colonists" are contained within a 10-acre neighborhood of abandoned, Katrina-ravaged Louisiana. They're placed in a survival scenario in which a global pandemic has infected and killed most people, and the virus is still loose; these colonists must survive given what they find in their enclosed environment, and they're often invaded by potentially-infected marauders (who are, by the way, armed with real smoke grenades and pepper spray, which they use on the colonists when provoked). The colonists must figure out how to establish viable shelter (the abandoned buildings are in terrible shape), start and maintain fires, purify water from a nearby canal, find food (some MREs are provided to start them off), and establish security. It's a lot of work.

Amazingly, on their very first day (after a 72-hour individual isolation period in quarantine...), the colonists do a pretty good job of dealing with shelter, fire, food, and water. Security is another matter -- you'll have to tune in to see how that works out.

After the jump: video clips and a bit more on The Colony.

This season, we again have a mixed bag of volunteers, with the oldest being 70-year-old DeVille, a retired contractor, and the youngest is 22-year-old Becka, a model with a Bachelors degree in Communications. There are vast differences in skills among the colonists (one is a mechanic, another a carpenter, one is a professor, and so on), and part of the fun of the first series was watching these people perform their professions so well. It's genuinely interesting to see them set up a water filtration system using sand, charcoal, and a couple of buckets. It's downright exciting to see them scavenge lightbulbs and batteries from abandoned cars and rig up lighting systems. In the first season, the colonists eventually put together solar panels, charging a large array of car batteries, which provided adequate electricity for lights, power tools, and even a TV set (though in the world of the colony, there's nothing on). Watching this, I'm forced to confront the reality that most of my skills involve typing. In a world without reliable power, computers go out the window. I'd be useful only for manual labor and maybe some light farming.

It'll be interesting to see how this new group gets along. It's clear from the first episode that a rift is developing between George (whose profession is listed as "Model Maker" with a Masters in Film from UCLA) and some of the tougher, rootsier dudes; George is about foraging and tinkering, while the others are just straight-up badasses. (At one point, colonist Reno criticizes George for riding a bike -- clearly a wimpy thing to do when traveling four blocks in the blazing Louisiana sun.) When the colony is attacked in the first episode, George gets pepper spray in his eyes and suffers some injuries from a tough fall -- he's no wimp, and I suspect he'll demonstrate some electronics or other technical skills that will help the colony down the line.

Here's a preview of the first season -- most of the clips are from the first episode.

And here's a brief clip from the first episode, in which the first outsiders come looking for food and water. Things go downhill after this encounter.

The Colony season 2 premieres tonight (July 27) on the Discovery Channel, The Colony at 10pm. It's worth a look for fans of more "real" reality TV -- while it is very much staged (these colonists are not alone, they're just portrayed that way), it's a very different take on reality TV; the lack of monetary rewards or competition makes it a show about cooperation, survival, and group dynamics -- all pretty brainy topics for "just" a reality TV show.

Blogger disclosure: I received no compensation, gifts, or other encouragement or rewards for this review; just saw the first episode and liked it.

More from mental_floss...

July 27, 2010 - 6:30am
webby
submit to reddit