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Letter Re: The Quasi-Reality Television Show “The Colony”

Last night was the first episode of a survival reality show on The Discovery Channel, ‘The Colony’, [1] It is a 10-week experiment illustrating how 10 people cope with life after a biological wipe-out. They started with the first six participants being sleep deprived for 30 hours, then “raiding” a department store for whatever they can find before engaging in an eight mile walk through the Los Angeles River [–now a concrete aqueduct, which is dry most of each year–] to find an abandoned factory marked “Sanctuary”.

The show did illustrate how most of us who are unprepared will fail to secure needed materials, delegate responsibilities, and chose a defensible location. But the first episode did show how a bit of cleverness can go a long way at times.

I suggest all of those that can watch the show, do so. It may show us what not to do as well as give food for thought so far as our own survival plans. – Eric

JWR Replies: While the show probably has some redeeming value, I have a few concerns from the very outset. (But keep in mind that thusfar I’ve only seen some brief previews and clips):

1.) The show depicts a small number of people surviving in a relatively resource-rich environment, in a simulation of the aftermath of a devastating pandemic. This is something akin to the movie I Am Legend [2] (a remake of the now very dated 1971 movie The Omega Man [3]), or both incarnations of the BBC Survivors [4] television series. While such a scenario might have a high quotient for drama, it is not a very likely disaster situation that we will face. In fact, the greatest likelihood will be just the opposite: a large number of people surviving in a resource-poor environment. It is the latter that typifies natural disasters. Is it realistic to think that in a grid-down disaster, that everyone will have the opportunity to cart home 18 photovoltaic panels? No way!

2.) The series puts a subtle stamp of approval on looting. They just give it more acceptable names, like “scavenging” and “foraging”. This might be acceptable in a very low-likelihood mega-pandemic –something approaching an extinction level event. But is it is not acceptable in the far, far more likely situation where the majority of the population is intact, and title to deeded property is likewise intact. For the show’s producers to depict the former, when the latter will actually be the case in 98%+ of real-world scenarios is collective brainwashing.

3.) The series will show a group of people in an essentially tactical situation, where their lives are frequently threatened by hostile outsiders. I will be surprised to see the key military principal of Unity of Command [5] encouraged. As is typical for “reality” shows (such as Survivor) [6], it is assumed that the members of the audience will develop “favorite” characters, because of similarities in background or temperament. Hence, the producers employ the artifices of equality of their initial tangible property, democracy, and communistically-shared property. They seem to have votes on everything. But in the real world, when disaster strikes and desperate people are seeking to to eat you, it is hardly the time to dawdle, debate, and take numerous votes on immediate courses of action. Rather, the odds are that in a real-world disaster situation that people will take refuge at either a private home, or in a public shelter. In a private home, it will probably be the land-owner that will call the shots, while at a public shelter, it will probably be a sworn law enforcement officer–most likely a sheriff–that will coordinate manning a defense.

4.) The show only depicts a 10 week time period. Hence the participants will be able to survive entirely off the largesse of the old world. But if the scenario were more realistic, they’d be part of a much larger population that would rapidly deplete the available food supplies. So it is likely that activities like gardening would begin with the first available growing season. (Of course, in southern California, the growing “season” is practically year-round. There, it is water availability that would be the key issue. In a grid-down collapse, sans electrically-pumped water, the region would rapidly revert to desert.)