There have been endless iterations of reality survival shows: a collection of strangers forced to live together on a tropical beach, a fake Western movie set, a fabulous Manhattan loft or a lock-down IKEA apartment. On-the-set training has ranged from primitive (build a shelter from coconut fronds) to career-making (models posing with bugs) to silly (fabricating a gourmet amuse bouche from vending-machine snacks).
But Dumped -- running on BBC for four Sundays -- may be my favorite reality challenge format of all: Contestants live for three weeks at an English landfill. Yuck and awesome.
The 11 contestants have signed up for "a unique green experiment that will push them to their very limits" -- and hilariously, most think they'll be off to some fabulous but messed-up part of the world, a little eco-tourism and, perhaps, sunbathing. Why else would they have had received those exotic immunizations?
But, the host, "eco-design expert" Rob, has a bitter surprise: They're transported in a windowless bus, and disgorged at a suburban London landfill. To quote the first guy off the bus: "Oh shit."
But Dumped's on point: No need to blow the carbon footprint jetting to the Amazon or an attractively endangered coral reef; not when there's spectacular eco-disaster right at home. And of our own making! The landfill -- an estimated 1,000 tons of rubbish -- represents a micro-faction of what Britons throw away. The challenge: create a life with what others have tossed, re-purpose waste as resource.
Oh, and meet your new neighbors: seagulls, flies, maggots, badgers and "incontinent" rats.
The contestants are mostly flummoxed or peeved; only one, a semi-pro eco-warrior, is thrilled. Besides the greenie, the rest seem woefully uninformed about environmental issues (one part-time model says she knows about that global warming is bad but loves the sun), and picked for TV-diversity: ex Iraq vet; androgynous gay guy; solid family man; and eco-villain. The "bad guy" cheerfully admits to wearing his socks and underpants only once -- he loves the "crispness" -- before tossing them; being uncaring about waste must pay well.
Admittedly, a few accommodations are made. Food is provided (though viewers will have to imagine what affect on flavor the smell of a dump adds), as are sleeping bags, cursory cooking utensils and sanitary basics (hot water, soap, porta-potties).
A shipping container was provided the first night; thereafter, contestants had to build their own shelter. Rob, popping back to check on progress, wasn't much impressed with their rummaged pipes-and-tarpaulin tent, calling it "a bit predictable." Ooh, not just function's on the line, but apparently form, too!
Dumped is a bit preachy, but its message is fair. And the challenge aspect is super: It's gonna take some mad skills and relaxed conceptions to convert rubbish into functional structures and whatnot. But the truth is: Of course, it can be done; we just don't bother. It's a shock to us -- making do in a dump -- but it wouldn't be for much of the underdeveloped world whose residents routine convert any usable material into shelter or some other function.
So, Dumped looks promising, both as a good kick in our collective, wasteful asses, and as a real think-smart challenge. Episode 2 promises much drama and on-the-fly inventiveness, as the producers remove the porta-potties. Oh shit, indeed.