Last year, Channel 4 packed off a load of willing, blissfully optimistic contestants to take part in Eden, a social experiment that aimed to showcase an alternative way of living. But lo and behold, what was supposed to be paradise in the Scottish Highlands, quickly turned into hell.
A bleak combination of hunger, depression, bullying and in-fighting meant that the group split in two, and things all went a bit feral and Lord of the Flies.
Here’s everything you need to know about Eden – from its aspirational launch last year to its sudden disappearance from the schedules and the eventual return of its participants to the real world…
What was the original concept of Eden?
In March 2016, 23 men and women embarked on a mission, bidding adieu to civilisation to start a new life in the wild, remote Scottish Highlands. Okay, sounds nice in theory.
They arrived in the wilderness without phones, power, running water or shelter and were left to fend for themselves for a year. Let’s remember that this is a remote corner of Scotland, not an island off Panama with Bear Grylls where Irn-Bru mysteriously washes up on the shore.
The whole thing was recorded by four crew members embedded in the group, as well as personal cameras and a fixed rig – the idea being that viewers wouldn’t miss a second of the action. But we did, we missed months of it.
Producers were hoping that the community would thrive, not that it would fall apart.
So what went wrong?
The series launched with four hour-long episodes on Channel 4 in summer 2016, but then nothing.
Eden entirely vanished from the schedules while the contestants continued to survive – rather than thrive – completely unaware that they were left stranded without an audience.
It’s a bit like when people say, “If it’s not on Instagram then it didn’t happen.” Except that this is 12 months of your life. And you’re hungry and cold almost all of the time. And you’re not even getting famous, after all that.
Reports even emerged of desperate contestants resorting to eating chicken feed grit.
Chicken feed grit.
Meanwhile, in the real world…
2016 happened. The UK voted for Brexit. Former reality TV star Donald Trump became the president of the United States. We lost the likes of Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher. Yeah, it was a rough year. Almost as bad as Eden.
But the residents inside Channel 4’s social experiment had absolutely no idea of the goings-on in the “civilised” world. They were totally cut off from all news and media.
What happened when they eventually left Eden?
By the time the year was up, it was March 2017 and only ten hard-bitten contestants remained.
A new series beginning tonight, more accurately entitled Eden: Paradise Lost, will show how their story unfolded across five nights.
The footage begins two and a half months into the experiment, and is paired with interviews with the contestants since they left the camp. All things considered, they all seem remarkably sane.
As we will see this week, one contestant named Anton finds himself ostracised from the group and pootles off to live in the woods, alone.
Team morale is low and people begin dropping like flies. There’s even a threat of a mass exodus.
Speaking to Radio Times, Anton admits that from a social point of view, the experiment was disastrous: “If you measure success by the number of friends you’ve got at the end,” he says, “Then it was crap.”
We’re also set to see a big gender divide in the camp. “I’ve never had to prove my worth as a woman before,” says contestant Katie, “But for the first time I found that the boys thought it was easy for the girls, that we didn’t do as much.
“But if you’re in a storm, with no roof, in pitch-black darkness and you’ve got your period, girls are bloody tough.”
Friday’s fifth and final episode will focus on the contestants’ reaction to the political turmoil we’ve experienced on the outside, as if Eden wasn’t traumatic enough.
Eden airs Monday to Friday at 10pm on Channel 4