Idol Chatter

There’s this reality show in which 12-15 year olds are sent out to a remote location to use their survival skills to win physical and mental challenges, expel other contestants, and work toward winning a grand prize.
You could be forgiven for thinking I’m describing the recently lambasted “Kid Nation,” airing on CBS beginning September 19, but you would be a wrong. The afore-described show is called “Endurance” and is a three time Daytime Emmy Award-nominee on Discovery Kids.
I first caught an episode of “Endurance” maybe four or five years ago randomly flipping through Saturday morning programming. I was intrigued by this kiddie “Survivor” and was amazed at the strenuous challenges these kids undertook in order to win their families luxury vacations.
So, when I saw advertisements for and heard early scuttlebutt about CBS’s “Kid Nation,” I was curious to see what this primetime “Lord of the Flies” was all about. Would William F. Golding’s classic make great reality TV? Absolutely. Just look at “Survivor.” But, would audiences buy a literal interpretation of the story, with actual children trying for 40 days to make a New Mexico ghost town into a community without any adult supervision? Now that I wasn’t so sure about.

And so it has come to pass in recent weeks that “Kid Nation” is the latest topic du jour of the outraged peanut gallery. According to the description on CBS’ website, “40 kids have 40 days to build a brave new world [note to CBS–wrong book reference, by the way] without adults to help or hinder their efforts … They will cook their own meals, clean their own outhouses, haul their own water, and even run their own businesses, including the old town saloon (root beer only).”
Heck, excluding the root beer bar, it sounds just like camp to me, or everyday existence for millions of children around the world. Yet, not a day has gone by without someone sending me an email with a “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?” header.
To which I will now reply, yes, yes, I can believe it. And, yes, I’m going to watch.
And I’m going to watch, even with having read the, as one friend described it, “contemptible” 22-page waiver the parents had to sign on behalf of their minors. The parents give up the right to sue CBS over, as Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch notes, “serious bodily injury, illness or death, including, without limitation: general exposure to extremes of heat and cold; water hazards; floods; drowning … encounters with wild or domesticated animals.” Quel horror! Not really. Take a look at some of the release forms you sign next time you’re doing Wilderness Reflections or other adventure sports.
This is what’s called risk management, folks. All corporations do it, and some just cover their butts more explicitly than others. Am I disgusted by the clause stating that the Tiffany network cannot be held reliable for “emotional distress, illness, sexually transmitted diseases, H.I.V., and pregnancy” that might occur thanks to possible “intimate relations” between the participants. No. Having worked as a camp counselor for years, I know that girls as young as the fourth grade actively engage in talk about sex and have gone further with their elementary school “boyfriends” than I did with my high school sweetheart. Am I disgusted that CBS had to include a clause pertaining to that possibility? Absolutely.
Claims of child endangerment by one contestant’s mother and violation of child labor laws by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office seems specious at best. These are claims CBS vigorously denies. Apparently, several of the children got ill after drinking bleach out of an unmarked container. I’m not going to be as harsh as one of the posters on the PopWatch message boards who said, “well according to Darwin, they’re not supposed to make it anyway … ” but this is bleach we’re talking about–the stuff doesn’t smell like Kool-aid. These kids would have been bound and determined to gulp the Clorox on or off the set it seems.
And the mother’s complaint that her 12-year old daughter’s facial burns from a grease splatter during a kitchen accident “did not receive adequate medical treatment” seems just as spurious. I have in fact, had this very same injury and know that the only adequate medical treatment for the condition is pain management, keeping the thing sanitary so as not to get an infection, and not to pick at the scab. And I’m certain that CBS wouldn’t open itself up to that kind of litigation. Even the best waivers can be cracked by a good lawyer.
To the charges that the show is some form of child abuse, I say see Dina Lohan. There have been stage mothers and fathers since the invention of drama back in ancient Greece and that will not change in this era of YouTube, with its myriad opportunities for living out one’s dream through progeny. Are some stage parents abusive? Most certainly so. But I don’t think putting a child on “Kid Nation” necessarily constitutes abuse or bad parenting. From what I’ve read, these children wanted to be on the show. All of them, even the injured girl, said they had a great time.
Besides, we all know that reality shows are not real. In fact, these children were surrounded by adults the entire time. There is a producer, a soundman, and camera man within a two-foot radius of all members of the “cast” at all times.
I do think, however, that CBS should be held culpable for trying to play this up as some great “social experiment.” This series was green-lit by a group of executives who thought that a modern retelling of “The Lord of the Flies” would be provocative and get people talking. And any publicity is good publicity. I also wish that they would have rethought the age groups involved. I’m sure I’m being naïve when I say that I would like to think that eight year-olds are still eight-year olds and not mini-teens; that they are still children. Although my seven-year old nephew getting Fergie’s solo album for Christmas pretty much destroyed that illusion.
The question to ask is, “Why the outrage?” Discovery’s “Endurance,” at 18 days, is shorter than the 40 days of “Kid Nation,” but the concepts are relatively similar. But it has, for the most part, received accolades, not animosity. Apparently, moving a kid’s show to primetime from Saturday morning not only increases the ratings pressure, but the outrage as well. What was that about adults and hinderance?

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