The 30 years since reality television was born have yielded plenty of people doing stupid shit for relative semi-fame and, sometimes, a prize. But as audiences have grown accustomed to the vagaries of reality shows, we’ve developed an appetite for further and further extremes. Naked and Afraid, for instance, plops totally nude survivalists into punishing locales and tests their mettle and abilities to overcome the elements, which there’s no reason to do in 2016; even with the fear that one day a contestant will up and die, I still watch it whenever I can—accompanying the fear is, admittedly, a little thrill, and that is of course the point.
Yet, despite the fascination of fiction like The Hunger Games and its superior antecedent, Battle Royale, the boundaries pushed by a new show from Russia are untenable. Entitled Game2: Winter and currently casting for a nearly yearlong show meant to be broadcast around the world, the premise is that contestants must survive in Siberia from July until April, weathering not just the extreme conditions but each other. Explicit in the advertisements for the show, which is created and financed by Russian “entrepreneur” Yevgeny Pyatkovsky, is that “everything is allowed.” Via The Guardian:
“Each contestant gives consent that they could be maimed, even killed,” reads an advert. “2000 cameras, 900 hectares and 30 lives. Everything is allowed. Fighting, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking, anything.”
Contestants will each sign a waiver acknowledging that they might be raped or killed but the rules also state that police are free to arrest anyone who commits a crime on the show. “You must understand that the police will come and take you away,” the rules state. “We are on the territory of Russia, and obey the laws of the Russian Federation.”
The clarification that any criminal act committed on the show could be prosecuted by the authorities does not mitigate the explicit acknowledgement and, moreso, encouragement for that extreme behavior. It doesn’t change the fact that, if someone were raped or murdered on the show, the show’s purveyors likely wouldn’t do anything to stop it for the sake of making the extreme, salacious, and inhumane program they clearly want to make. Whether that makes them complicit in the crime under Russian law, I do not know, but it certainly makes them morally complicit. In the U.S., reality shows where truly sad things have happened to contestants have either resulted in said programs being canceled, or, if executives haven’t felt like they needed to go that far, the situations certainly not been handled delicately. But there has, at least until now, been a bit of a line. Is this really the kind of thing that we, as humanity, can tolerate?
On the other hand, this advertisement is clearly meant to drum up publicity and purposely shock potential viewers, which it’s definitely doing. And it’s probably wise to approach it with a healthy skepticism—the show’s website, for instance, is moderately janky, and only about half-working. And yet, Pyatkovsky has reportedly already put up the equivalent of $16 million for the show, and the winner will collect $1.6 million as a prize. The “surviving” winner, as the Guardian puts it—this is very clearly meant to be a reality show to the death. “If there are more survivors,” Pyatkovsky told the Siberian Times, “they will share the prize.” Yeah, should this ever actually come to fruition, I’m not gonna watch this.