This summer the Discovery Channel premiered a new series, a so-called “controlled experiment” called The Colony. Something of a hybrid of Lost, Survivor, and Stephen King’s The Stand—but only roughly, as there’s a lot less running around in the jungle looking for “hatches,” and none of the colonists have started dreaming about the Antichrist stalking Las Vegas, yet— the program follows a collection of individuals (a handyman, a machinist, an ER nurse, a marine biologist, an aerospace engineer, and a martial arts instructor, among others) trying to survive and rebuild after a viral outbreak devastates the population of Los Angeles.
No, I’m not talking about Swine Flu.
The entire scenario may be an elaborate simulation, but a more convincing one than I’ve seen in any other reality show. The volunteers quickly learn to treat the experiment as reality too—but then, after ten weeks living in an abandoned warehouse (eating rats), it would take a Herculean feat of willpower to remember that there really is a world out there complete with electricity, running water, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.
Daily challenges for the colonists, after all, don’t involve nervously telling Jeff Probst that you’d like to use your hidden immunity idol; nights in the Colony commonly involve defending a precious (and diminishing) cache of canned foods and river water from roving bands of violent marauders on motorcycles. And fire for these survivors isn’t a pseudo-tribal symbol; it shoots straight from the mouth of John C.’s flamethrower.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the show involves these amazing “survival builds” the participants manage to fashion from the most unlikely materials:
They may be off the grid, but energy is in no short supply once the volunteers scavenge the abandoned cityscape for solar panels and rig up an automatic tracking system for the panels to follow the sun; water from the Los Angeles river isn’t exactly safe (that’s an understatement), but a sand and charcoal filter does the trick, not to mention the “ozone-ator” developed to pump ozone gas into the water supply as an alternative to boiling; and cleanliness is no longer just a luxury once construction of a shower stall is finished, a pulley system powered by a bicycle lifting water to the roof, where gravity does the rest of the work channeling it down into a showerhead.
Nothing is as vital, however, as security. When razor wire and barricaded doors does little to keep away either marauders, Bible-waving missionaries, or “nomads” who infiltrate the Colony with bad intent (and then literally have to fight their way out past martial arts guru Leilani with their stolen supplies), the colonists determine that stronger deterrents must be devised. Enter John C.
The Colony’s MacGyver, a fifty-year-old IBM Fellow with a PhD in Computer Engineering, John Cohn can make a Tesla coil out of tin cans and pipe cleaners… and essentially does. But his most noteworthy contribution to the defense of the warehouse makes Michael’s mace and Vlad’s crossbow look like toys. When John C.’s wife shows up with another band of (more peaceful) nomads and is permitted to join the Colony, she expresses shock at the lengths her husband has gone to in the service of defense. His response: “Honey, you need a flamethrower!” Suffice it to say that the marauders have been keeping well away these past few weeks.
The penultimate episode airs this Tuesday, September 15 at 10/9c, but I suggest winding your way through this system of tubes we call the Internet to The Colony website, where you can watch all the previous episodes online.
Just be aware—if you find yourself itching to learn Morse code (or mount a video camera on a remote-controlled dirigible made out of garbage bags and Styrofoam) after watching a few hours of the show, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
(This review was originally posted on The Best Shows You’re Not Watching. By me. I’m not a plagiarist.)