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I Will Survive - Naked's Stripped and Stranded Ups the Survival Stakes

I Will Survive - Naked's Stripped and Stranded Ups the Survival Stakes

Survival has remained successful even in the midst of shifting viewership habits. At its core, the survival genre works across the viewing spectrum when producers and networks alike understand that it’s not necessarily about the physicality of the challenges or the ability to skin a rabbit, but rather the highlighting of an individual’s ability, through mental fortitude, to push through in really extreme situations.

That approach to the survival competition can be seen in such recent hits as History’s Alone, from Leftfield Pictures, or the Bear Grylls-fronted The Island for Channel 4.

It’s in this territory, friendlier to co- viewing, that London-based prodco October Films has managed to thrive. Most recently, the company was behind the six-part expedition series, Mygrations, for National Geographic Channel, in which a “human herd” tracks the migration of wildebeests in a 200-mile, six-week journey from the Serengeti to the Mara River in Tanzania.

October was also the prodco behind the Levison Wood-fronted survival series Walking the Nile and Walking the Himalayas, both for UK pubcaster Channel 4, pulling in an average 2.6 million and 2.2 million viewers, respectively.

The Walking [franchise] proved that you can reach an old or young, female or male audience because, if the journey’s real and it takes you somewhere, you want to go and experience that,” October creative director Matt Robins tells realscreen, noting that Walking the Americas is slated to air in early 2017 across Channel 4. “That’s why we develop in this territory – we’re always looking for ways to understand human experience and tell stories from extreme places.”

But through the genre’s history, questions of safety consistently arise. How do producers ensure that all contestants remain physically unharmed, mentally resilient and, most importantly, stay alive?

For October, it meant enduring a three- month development period in Tanzania where producers scouted migration routes that would not only challenge the human herd, but also generate visually stunning sequences. The company also brought in leading Serengeti park rangers to identify and circumvent the paths populated by dangerous predators such as crocodiles and lions.

“There are some risks you can mitigate, and [you] can train and educate people to be aware of what’s happening around them and what to look for, but there are some risks – mostly human – that are less predictable,” says Robins, noting that Levison Wood suffered a broken arm when his taxi plunged 150 feet off a cliff during Walking the Himalayas, while the Mygrations herd came across poacher traps and were faced with the decision to either dismantle the traps or to protect themselves and move along.

The safety stakes get upped exponentially when factoring children into a production, says Naked Entertainment’s CEO and founder Simon Andreae.

Naked’s upcoming fact-ent survival series Stripped and Stranded (w/t) for Channel 5 follows fractured families as they’re marooned on a deserted tropical island off the coast of Panama for five days, relying on each other for support and survival.

According to Andreae, the series serves as a family drama set in the wilderness that uses the element of seclusion as an antagonist to hopefully bring a family together.

“We needed to find environments that, to the families, felt maximally treacherous but locales we knew would ultimately be safe without us stepping in – that’s quite a difficult balance to maintain,” says Andreae, who also serves as an executive producer on the series and previously developed Discovery’s runaway hit Naked and Afraid.

“The biggest hazards and uncertainties we had in production were not ultimately about the physical survival of the family; it was about their emotional trajectory,” he adds.

As such, psychologists carefully vet participants to determine whether the experience will negatively affect them in so far as they can see. The psychologists then issue recommendations about whether the family unit and the individuals within it are mentally and physically fit enough to undertake the challenge.

“We’re pretty careful to ensure we’re putting the right families into the right sort of environment, with the right sort of pressures, to ensure they’ll come out of it stronger than when they went in,” Andreae emphasizes.

As Piligian asserts, in the wake of an era where over-produced reality served as the dominant form of unscripted television, audiences are increasingly gravitating toward material that speaks to the authentic, while reminding them that humans are capable of incredible things.

“We have three or four concepts in development that are really radical swings,” Robins says. “I think the next iteration of survival will be rubbing another genre up against it – is there a gamified version of survival? Is there something we can do around faith and religion in the survival space?

“My hope for the genre,” he summarizes, “is that it finds ways to continue to be authentic and allows real experience to come out on the screen.” 

Source: Realscreen Magazine September/October 2016 issue