Nearly 5,000 people applied to participate in Fox’s reality series Utopia, Fox’s reality TV guru Simon Andreae told TV critics this afternoon. Showrunners have whittled that prodigious list down to about 40, and are now selecting the 15 who will get to go live in some isolated made-for-TV makeshift community in southern California for a year while trying to forge a new society that believes in filming its citizens 24/7 for broadcast on TV and on the Internet.
Utopia, from reality vet John de Mol, is a reality series featuring a group of everyday people whisked to an isolated location for an entire year and challenged to create their own civilization. The show builds dramatic tension from the provision that any of the “colonists” can be replaced at any time by someone from the show’s audience. It’s based on a Dutch show that’s been running since January. The show premieres Sept. 7.
“I’ve just graduated college. I’m the most idealistic I will ever be – especially since I’m coming from Brown,” said Emma, an aspiring Utopia colonist who’d been brought to the show’s Q&A session at Summer TV Press Tour 2014. Emma explained that Brown students are “prepped to change the world,” and that this reality series was perfect “for my mission — I studied medicinal plants — I know how to grow food and grow plants and healing remedies. It was everything I wanted to do after college.”
Asked what she’s doing to prepare for the challenge ahead, in case she gets picked, Emma said she’s studying up on her medicinal plants and getting in touch with Native American culture. But, she acknowledged, as she survives the auditioning process, she told her mother the other day, “Oh my god — this is becoming real. This is causing me a lot of anxiety” — to which her mother replied, “Emma, we’ll do our rituals, we’ll collect all your amulets… you’re going off to change the world.”
Andreae said he has no fears this show will be off-putting to American viewers. “I don’t think that’s a large risk,” he said, noting the format’s success in Holland and the show’s unique set up.
“Plus, it’s right after football, man!” said another finalist named Jeremy, a self-described Tea Party Christian who thinks the beauty of this show is that it will be something “wholesome” for people to watch, as opposed, to, say Teen Mom 2. “Two? It was such a hit that it went to a second one?” Jeremy asked, incredulously. “Let’s hold up good morals and values, and show the conservative Christian Jarhead with a high school diploma” in a TV program, interacting with the “liberal leftist lesbian” — by which he meant Emma.
“We are on complete opposite spectrum, and normally I would never engage with you in conversation,” agreed Emma.
This show will differ from other social-experiment reality series such as CBS’s Kid Nation and Big Brother, in that it will have no competition, no prize, and no organized house activities, said exec producer Conrad Green. The “colonists” will be given some shelter — and some money, because while they can’t leave the colony, others can come in. It’s up to them to create whatever social structure they settle on. “We’re putting people in a huge sandbox and standing back,” he said, adding that the challenge for producers is to “be bold enough to lose control.”
In April, Dancing with the Stars exec producer/showrunner Green announced he was leaving the competition series and would exec produce Utopia. “After almost 10 years, the opportunity to take on a project with the immense potential of Utopia was simply too good to pass up. The ambition and scale of the challenge is thrilling,” he said then.