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The Unapologetic Geek

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Inside the Seventh Circle of Reality TV Hell with The Colony

The Colony
Behold the face of oblivion!

Now that fall television has finally started again, I can admit something embarassing: over the summer, as I was starved of quality shows, I watched the entire second season of Discovery Channel's The Colony. I am not proud of this fact, but I feel I have built enough of a rapport with you, my dear, sweet readers, that I can share some of my deepest, darkest secrets.

For those of you who don't know, The Colony is a "reality show" built around the idea of a small band of people who have survived some form of apocalypse. These disparate people have to learn to live together in classic reality television fashion (wackiness is bound to ensue when the twenty-year-old model interacts with the tough-as-nails thirty-something logger), but they also have to figure out how to secure shelter, feed themselves, survive, fend off "attackers," and pretend with as much earnestness as possible that they are not, in fact, surrounded by a filming crew. The idea is to educate the audience in basic survival skills while entertaining them with a "non-scripted" drama. The saddest part of this whole thing is that, as a reality show, this concept has officially lasted longer than the far superior fictional version, Jericho.

Yes, The Colony is indeed a whole new level of absurdity. The people behind the show desperately want the audience to accept the conceits of their idea, but the more you watch, the more beffudled you become about where the fiction ends and the reality begins, if it ever does. If the show were to go on long enough, it would probably reduce its audience to confused drunkards who are no longer able to tell the difference between fake and real (in other words, professional wrestling fans). The characters are just asinine enough that you find yourself wondering if they are truly oblivious to the fact that they're on a television show, despite how they are obviously participating in frequent interviews and the cameras are clearly not hidden.

The Colony: Season 2 cast
Fat, ugly people are not welcome in the colony

The second season deals with a hypothetical viral outbreak, with the survivors finding themselves holed up in a segment of southern Louisiana that was dessimated by Hurricane Katrina. They have a limited supply of food and water, no real shelter, and are constantly threatened by groups of unknown outsiders who have taken on a Fallout 3 approach to survival. With the exception of the mentally vacant model, the survivors are made up of people with suspiciously useful skill sets, like the auto mechanic who can turn a tractor into a generator and the all-important survival expert who doesn't bother to show himself until three episodes before the end.

As we watch these people--who are also incredibly shallow and stupidly opinionated--we are also treated to frequent interruptions by so-called experts who offer such nuggets of wisdom as "when separated from regular society for an extended period of time, the bonds of normality can break down, and things you would have been unable to tolerate before become commonplace." Setting aside how much these offerings of wisdom sound like gibberish, they all inevitably boil down to "under these conditions, people act differently." This message is repeated three or four times an episode, to reinforce the idea that what you are witnessing is people on the edge, people who are being driven to the brink of madness in their efforts to survive. Then we return to the action, where the retired building contractor is arguing with the geology professor about whether or not they should waste the water supply in order to shampoo their hair.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the show involve the creation of things. As I mentioned already, they turn a tractor into a generator, but in order to fuel it, they first have to turn rotting pig carcasses into bio-diesel. They eventually create a windmill to reduce their need for fuel, on top of the boats they renovate and the motorcycle they turn into a backwards tricycle-slash-trailer. One character even helpfully explains how you create and operate an alcohol still while he builds one. However, even though this is interesting, building random crap is the one thing the Discovery Channel already has more than enough of in the rest of its line-up.

The Colony
Under these conditions, you'd act differently too

However, most of the "drama" revolves around frequent attacks by outsiders. The survivors repeatedly get beat down by raiders and bandits who come in, snatch a few important supplies, and then promptly bug out without bothering to rape anyone. Much is made of medical supplies, even though the disclaimer at the start of every episode assures us that these people have complete access to first aid and medical care. In order to protect their precious limited supplies, the survivors fashion weapons, from simple pointed sticks to complicated water hoses and riot shields made out of airplane parts. Unfortunately, when attacks take place, nobody seems interested in delivering lethal force, reducing the fights to overdramatized bitch-slap sessions with people holding axes and pitchforks as they pratfall.

At one point, one of the survivors--the model, of course--is kidnapped by three burly guys in masks. She is put in a large cell and later bartered for some canned tuna. Again, the attackers don't bother to rape their captive, demonstrating a surprising amount of civility in this post-apocalyptic, lawless landscape where nobody can be trusted. When she is returned to the group, the model acts traumatized and shell-shocked and recounts her feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. For a model, she is unusually convincing when she explains that she could have died and that her life will never be the same after her experience.

In the wake of this horrible event, the group decides to elect a leader and, since they are on a reality television show, they naturally elect the single most annoying character, who uses her newfound power to complain about all the characters she doesn't like while telling everybody that they have to do a better job working together. Under her obnoxious leadership, they build the windmill, which offers a permanent solution to their power needs. After that, the group meets the unusually-named Tick, a former Marine sniper who has been watching them from afar until the producers told him he could reveal himself. He proves he can supply food and security, thereby ensuring that the survivors have everything they need.

The Colony: Season 2 cast
The one with the motorcycle up her butt is the one they elected to lead them

As soon as the group has Tick and can thus live happily ever after in their post-apocalyptic home, they come to the very sudden decision that they have to move away from "the compound" and into the nearby bayou. The why is never made abundantly clear. While most of the group stays behind to work on an unnecessarily complicated fan boat, a small scout party goes out to the bayou and finds an abandoned home on stilts. Two of the people in the party are suddenly attacked by somebody who has been infected with the virus, and are then told that they have been kicked off the show. When the rest of the scouting party returns with news that two of them "died" out in the bayou near an abandoned home, the group unanimously agrees that it's time to move away from their secure compound with renewable energy and plenty of food and water and into the home in the bayou where they might all suddenly be attacked by hordes of the infected.

In the show's grand finale, representatives from VOPA (basically, the "man") show up and offer to take two people back to civilization with them. Surprisingly, only one character wants to go, and as she waves a final "see ya" to the rest of the group, they try to conceal their dissapointment and anger at her for betraying them, as if they truly have forgotten that none of this is real. They then fend off one last attack before getting away in their homemade fan boat. When they get to the abandoned home in the bayou, it is, of course, crawling with the aforementioned hordes of the infected, and we are left to wonder as the credits roll whatever became of those poor, shallow people.

Is my life any richer for having watched all of this? Absolutely. I now know how to turn a rotting pig carcass into bio-diesel, and if that isn't justification enough for having watched this abomination of a television show, I don't know what is.

-e. magill 10/12/2010

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