All these years, reality television has existed, making waves for all the wrong reasons, with no significant purpose or aim. However, at a time when only Television Rating Points (TRPs) matter, there is one show that has redefined modern reality television. Using volunteers from across America as the principal characters, ‘The Colony’, a new reality show on The Discovery Channel has won critical acclaim and rave reviews for its practical view of everything that is around us. Based on a post-apocalyptic theme, ‘The Colony’ couldn’t have come at a better time. There is a greater focus on renewable sources of energy in ‘The Colony’, and it leaves the viewer completely in awe.
Although ‘The Colony’ has been classified as a reality show, it really is not. It is more of an experiment that aims to study the reaction of people to a potentially disastrous viral pandemic outbreak, and how people come to terms with the aftermath of the disaster. The experiment is based in Los Angeles, California. Until now, five episodes have been aired, and each one of them deals with the basic components required for survival.
Initially, ‘The Colony’ starts off with only six volunteers, who are kept awake for about three days with little food and water. Then, they are given fifteen minutes in a department store to find and carry as many tools and resources that they can find. Soon enough, marauders and robbers are sent to rob these volunteers of their supplies. After that, the volunteers drag their supplies down the Los Angeles River for about ten miles, before they arrive at their ‘sanctuary’; an abandoned 80,000 square foot warehouse.
This warehouse contains some basic tools, used batteries and a lot of useful stuff along with small quantities of food and water. The actual experiment starts right here, and the volunteers can survive only if they use their resources efficiently and effectively.
One begins to understand the concept as one watches the first episode. After an introduction to the experiment, this episode “Arrival and Survival” focuses on how the volunteers adapt themselves to a sudden change in their lifestyle. The primary requirement of these volunteers is a proper supply of water, and they begin to search for water. The Los Angeles River is quite close to the warehouse, but the river water is highly polluted and mixed with effluents. The volunteers now attempt to construct a simple water filter using layers of sand and charcoal, before boiling the filtered water.
As the volunteers settle down, they try to get their basics right. They make shoes out of Styrofoam; assemble a make-shift bed; repair the toilets; and plan on security.
As a part of the experiment, four new volunteers arrive with only their clothes, and the existing volunteers are hesitant to welcome them with open arms. However, they are let in, and together, they start working on the other essential projects like a coffee machine, a rainwater storage system, and an array of batteries daisy chained to one another and connected to an inverter to produce a small amount of power.
In the second part of the series “Power Struggle”, the volunteers realize that the power that they have is not sufficient. As the narrator often says “The backgrounds and skills of these volunteers represent a cross section of modern society”, they put to use all of their skills and energy to innovate, and in essence, to survive. There is a handyman, a computer engineer, a machinist, a marine biologist, a mechanical engineer, an Emergency Room nurse, a martial arts instructor, a contractor, an aerospace engineer, and a doctor. Of these people, my favorite character is John Cohn, called John C by his co-volunteers. He is a 49 year old computer engineer in IBM, and his ideas are practical and useful. After the volunteers find an old pressure washer in the warehouse, handyman Mike looks for an alternator to connect to the shaft of the pressure washer by a pulley to produce electricity. However, the fuel in the pressure washer is very less, and so, they build a wood gasifier to use wood gas to power the pressure washer engine. This is John C’s idea, and it works out! This show is all about survival and how dearth of resources can bring out the creativity in a person. These volunteers use the generated power for some basic lighting. They go out of the warehouse and into the city and find some food, but they find some marauders on motorbikes who try to steal their food. These marauders are part of this controlled experiment and their purpose is to see if there’s unity among the volunteers in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
In the third episode “Comfort in Chaos”, the volunteers focus on creature comforts. Joey, the contractor gets to work and builds a small shower that has water heated by solar energy in a shrink-wrapped black water tank. However, Joey needs more power to run his electric saw. Therefore, handyman Mike attaches a second alternator to the pressure washer to increase electricity output. Amy, the marine biologist makes a fish net and some of the volunteers head to the river to catch fish. They find other food as well, and this discovery keeps the morale of the volunteers high. They ignore Dr George’s security warnings and as a result of this, marauders and thieves surprise them with an attack and the volunteers lose a significant amount of food.
In the fourth part “Safety and Security”, the volunteers, shaken by the nighttime intrusion strengthen the perimeter of the warehouse with reinforcements. They board up exits and work on new weapons. Leilani, the martial arts instructor makes a punching bag, and a mini gym is formed. The other volunteers work on an old truck that could possibly serve as their escape vehicle. However, there is tension all around, and a lot of yelling. Tempers are hard to control. They have a surprise visitor in a group of armed traders, with whom they barter goods and power equipment.
In the fifth episode “A Stranger Among Us”, Mike and the others look for renewable energy sources. They find solar panels, and make a solar tracking system. John V, the machinist builds a pedal-powered washing machine. The unity among the volunteers is again tested when two new colonists arrive with a key to the warehouse and stake their claim to all the food and water.
This is just an outline of the first five episodes. You’ve got to watch it yourself to believe it. It’s more than just a television show. It’s an educational program. To watch these people build solar rigs and gasifiers out of limited material is simply amazing. The Discovery Channel has hit the bull’s eye once again with the super-informative ‘The Colony’.
If you want to see more about this interesting experiment then go to Discovery’s website