We’ve witnessed the battle of the sexes, a clash of young versus old, and now the latest series of Channel 4’s The Island with Bear Grylls sets the battlefield for class warfare.
Over six episodes we’ll see two very different groups of Brits on a remote Pacific island. On one side: a team of eight wealthy professionals earning £100,000 and above a year. On the other: a set of eight who earn below the UK national average wage.
But with money out of the picture, which team is better equipped to survive the island? And will the groups work together or split in a bid to succeed?
We sat down with two of the contestants who struck up an unlikely friendship: Barnes (a member of the wealthier group of islanders) and Mercedes (from the opposing team) to help us through some Island FAQs…
Barnes and Mercedes on The Island
Just how posh (or not) are the contestants?
Barnes certainly fits the bill of a well-off islander. Take the art dealer’s first words on the show: “If you were to ask me how much a loaf of bread cost, I couldn’t tell you at all. I don’t look at the price. If I’m at the supermarket I just put it in my trolley.”
His Instagram is also packed with photos of tuxedos, holidays abroad and actual castles.
So, what about Mercedes? It’s a little unclear. She’s a manager at a family metal recycling plant who earns below the national average wage. However, Mercedes revealed to RadioTimes.com that she was educated at a private school, not exactly making her the most stereotypical candidate for ‘team poor’.
How much of the show did contestants watch beforehand?
Almost none. Well, at least in the case of Barnes and Mercedes. Whether a good idea or not, both weren’t sure what they were signing up for. “I came back late one night and I caught the end of the last series on TV. It was all sandy and nice and there was a piece saying, ‘Do you think you have what it takes?’,” remembers Barnes. “I emailed in and that was it. I was just bored, I guess.”
Did the two groups really not know about each other?
Yes, initially the two had no idea about the other islanders and the rich/poor divide.
“We really didn’t know – we didn’t talk to each other until we were there,” explains Mercedes. “I originally thought it would be just my group for the whole show.”
How much help do islanders really get from the outside world?
A lot less than they expected. “When I said I was going on this thing all of my friends said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s a setup – you get help’. I thought [the show] would give us tiny sleeping mats or tarpaulin, but they do absolutely bugger all for you!” says Barnes. “If, for instance, a boat came in with medical supplies, [the crew] don’t even talk to you. They might come up the beach, but they ignore you.”
“I tried to speak to one of them and I got told off!” adds Mercedes. “I wanted to throw something at them!”
The lack of food? No WiFi? The complete isolation from civilisation? No, the most hellish part of the Island were the creepy crawlies, apparently.
“When you’re lying there and you can hear the ruffling of the crabs going all around your hair,” Mercedes recalls with a shudder. “And I got bit so much too.”
Barnes didn’t escape the bugs either: “We would go to sleep for like an hour and a half and then you’d be lying awake all night scratching until the sun comes up the next day. You’re so depressed at this point… It was hellish. The worst experience of my entire life.”
Were the contestants really divided on class lines?
In the show you’ll witness accusations that wealthier people must have done something “dodgy” to get rich, alongside suggestions that poorer people are innately lazy. Mercedes herself can be seen saying in the show, “I don’t give a s*** how much money they have in the bank, nobody talks to me like a c***!” And there’s little denying the class overtones when Barnes jokes about sending food relief hampers to the opposite team.
However, the two islanders don’t think these comments carried connotations of class. “I didn’t judge anyone from day one,” claims Mercedes. “I purely treated people the way they treated me. I deal with people from all classes of life every single day. I don’t have an opinion about people’s backgrounds at all. People need to be a bit more open and stop classing everyone wherever they are in life.”
“It was nothing to do with class,” says Barnes. “The background didn’t matter at all. Whatever the set-up was, you were going to fall out.”
Although Barnes says he recognises some islanders had “preconceived conceptions”, the experience has made him less accepting of people as a whole. “I think it’s definitely made me less tolerant in my day to day life. If something irritates me or somebody annoys me I just cut out the noise and walk away,” he explains. “I don’t think the experience has changed me very much… apart from I’ll no longer go near another beach!”
As unlikely as it might seem after the divide between the groups in the first episode, Barnes and Mercedes eventually enjoyed a heart to heart on the Island. “He gave me the biggest cuddle and I didn’t want to let go after that,” remembers Mercedes. “He’s the kindest gentleman and made me realise what kind of man I want to marry.”
“You do realise I’m gay, right?” Barnes laughs, before adding, “We’ll always be friends. For sure. But she doesn’t stop laughing or bloody talking!”
The Island with Bear Grylls is on 9pm Easter Monday