Image: CBS

When Kid Nation premiered on CBS in September 2007, it was quick to attract comparisons to Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s dystopic novel about a “society” of boys plane-wrecked on a desert island (these days, The Hunger Games would probably be a more current analogy). In rounding up the reviews, Jezebel suggested the reality show was in some ways more terrifying than the novel, with its added dash of exploitation and consumerism, voyeurism and class warfare.

Eleven years later, DirtCast decided to revisit this short-lived social experiment, in which 40 kids—aged between 8 and 15—were dropped in a New Mexico ghost town and expected to form a functioning society. On this special episode of DirtCast, Maddie and Megan are joined by Simon and Piggy Mike Klinge and Michael Thot, two of Kid Nation’s most memorable citizens. Cowboy hat-wearing Mike was one of the town’s original leaders, while long-haired Michael was the golden boy of the show and one of the leaders by the conclusion.

Reunited under less rustic circumstances, the now-men explain what was really going on. How did they each end up on the show? How much did the producers manipulate the action and stoke the conflict we saw onscreen? And was Mike “I’m trying to be a leader here” Klinge set up to fail?

Things got unexpectedly deep. As Michael puts it:

I do think there’s kind of a touching idea at the heart of Kid Nation, which is just that there is an aspect to young people that is sometimes refreshing. I think you saw it in the Parkland children most recently—they’re not really children, they’re absolutely adults in how they conduct themselves. So when you look at this past week and you think about the spoiled assholes who may or may not become Supreme Court justices, and throw tantrums in the middle of the floor, you can remember that there was a point in time where there was some 11 year olds out in the New Mexico desert who managed to handle themselves a little bit better under scrutiny.

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DirtCast can be found on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, NPR One and iHeart Media.

This episode was produced by Rachel Withers. Mandana Mofidi is our Executive Director of Audio. Our theme music is by Stuart Wood. This episode was mixed by Jamie Collazzo.