Or rather, as the case has been recently, we've watched television programs purchased on iTunes on his laptop. That's how we saw Downton Abbey a few months ago. Earlier this month, Jeremy stumbled upon a show called Out of the Wild, from the Discovery Channel. I started joining him to tune in halfway through the Alaska season, and just like that, I was hooked.
The premise of Out of the Wild is that nine strangers are dropped into some kind of wilderness (Alaska in the first season, Venezuela in the second) for an indeterminate length of time. They come from all kinds of life situations - some are outdoorsy, but others are far from it. Their only goal is to survive, together, while hiking miles and miles and making camp in various situations. The end comes when they reach civilization.
There is no competition, not even a prize at the end for anyone who makes it. Nobody gets voted off by anybody else. No one knows how long they will have to spend in the wild. The only way someone leaves the show is if they press a button (on their otherwise disabled personal GPS units) that summons a rescue helicopter.
What you end up with is a show that highlights the individual's battle against the self, as hunger, exhaustion, and stress take their toll. And it's riveting.
My favorite aspect of Out of the Wild is that it's non-adversarial. I like that when the volunteers get snippy with each other, it's because they haven't eaten or slept in three days, not because they're seeking to form alliances. In the end, they know they can't survive without each other, so there is a constant return to reconciliation and commitments to work together to make it to the end...whenever and wherever that is.
Of course, as with all shows like this, I sometimes wonder what goes on behind the scenes. The show begins and ends with a statement that none of the events are staged, and I believe that. But every once in a while you have to wonder what gets edited out (or what gets extra screen time) to present a certain story to the audience. I suppose that's the nature of reality TV in general, and outdoor survival shows in particular. Didn't Bear Grylls get in trouble for staying in a hotel when he gave the impression he was buckling down in the wild?
Still, it's thoughtful entertainment. Even though we've finished watching all the episodes in existence (two seasons' worth), I keep finding myself thinking about the volunteers. It's almost enough to make me want to watch the episodes all over again, knowing now who made it and who didn't.
And wanting to watch it again - well, that's how you know it's a good show.
(FYI, it appears you can watch the Venezuela season for free here.)