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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Colony Season 2

I’ve just watched the final episode of the second season of The Colony on the Discovery Channel. It repeats its format of isolating a group of people (see picture) and asking them to deal with the aftermath of a simulated catastrophic event, in this case a deadly viral outbreak. It is what is termed an immersive experiment, where the ‘reality’ is present 24/7. Almost all of the individuals come to regard the simulation as reality, to a greater or lesser degree.

This season is different than the last one in that the participants have a much larger area to deal with. They are put near the coast of Louisiana in a supposed safe area by a fictional disaster relief agency, and told to cope until further help arrives. The area is largely ruinous, but there are some ‘seeded’ resources and plenty of abandoned buildings in which to poke around.

As in the first series, there are outsiders that attack and harass the group, and I was rather surprised with the level of physical violence allowed. People got thrown around, shot at and entangled by net guns and at least two members of the group were pepper sprayed. There was also an abduction that was very traumatic for the individual captured.

While watching the group build nifty projects like wind generators is fun, the important thing to watch for is the psychology of the cast. You can watch the effect on and the group’s attempt to control a less than stable member. You’ll see a supposedly solid group member abandon the group at the first opportunity. As I said in my review of the first season, the ability to lead and to handle internal conflict might be the single most important skill you possess. The psychological makeup of a group will have much more to do with its survival than equipment or skills.

As a side note, it is interesting that the youngest participant is 22, the oldest in his seventies. I think both extremes of age did very well in the experiment, for the most part.

Other points that get driven home: Starvation is faster than you think. The experiment lasts about fifty days, and almost all of the people involved lose a significant amount of weight, one of them losing 38 pounds! It’s a great reminder that food has to be a priority, and that living off of the land is far harder than it seems, especially in urban and semi-urban environments. Had they not been started off with a certain amount of food, I doubt they would have made it.

It also makes the point that people try to be security minded, but most people in a survival situation cannot spare the time or labour to keep themselves safe. A late comer to the group is an ex-recon marine/sniper. He observes the group for several weeks before joining, living in the same smallish area without being spotted! As a way of introducing himself, he walks unnoticed into the group’s encampment, sticks a knife with a message on it into a board and walks out almost before he is noticed.

One note of unreality is the absence of firearms of any kind. In a real life situation, it is almost certain that there would be firearms present, and most of the confrontations portrayed in the show would have resulted in the death or wounding of many individuals. I think that the viewer has to keep that in mind as they watch the show, and draw lessons accordingly, at least from a security standpoint.

Another point of unreality is the skill mix that the participants have. That said, the show is a useful tool, if only as something to get you started on thinking about your own situation.

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