Good game, hide and seek, isn’t it?
It’s much loved by two-year-olds — although many of them believe that if they can’t see you, because they’ve covered their face with a rag or a bit of paper, then you can’t spot them either. Still, hours of fun guaranteed!
Hunted is much the same for grown-ups, or, at least, if not grown-ups, biggers. It’s played to similarly incoherent rules. This reality show starts its fifth season tonight, having become one of Channel 4’s most dependably popular programmes, with an average of 2.5 million viewers.
To freshen it up, the terms have been made more stringent. The fugitives have been sent out to survive undetected for 25 days without possessions or money. They used to get a rucksack and a debit card, but now they have to rely on the kindness of strangers, and surreptitiously making contact with friends and supporters, if they hope to win a share of the £100,000 jackpot.
First, they are dumped in a mystery location and must find out where on earth (or in the UK, anyway) they are. It’s darkest Bristol tonight.
These hiders are pursued by hunters, led by former police and military personnel, who have access to surveillance tools supposedly equivalent to the powers of the state. These include CCTV, number plate recognition, call tracing, and Volvos to whizz around in as they try to spot the fugitives, search their homes and check their social media.
Obviously, this is a sham: not reality, just a reality TV game. They’re not quite the same thing, protracted reflection suggests. Every contestant is followed by a cameraman, so in fact the producers must know where the fugitives are all the time.
Yet somehow, when we see the fugitives running away, whether from a helicopter or on supposed CCTV footage, we never spot the cameraman shadowing them. The amount of manipulation of the scene that must be required to achieve this is obvious.
When the fugitives approach members of the public for help, the cameraman’s presence must affect that transaction. Yet it is never referred to, making these exchanges seem false. The show makes up for its obvious spuriousness with lots of hammy acting. “Can we deploy the aerial asset as soon as possible?” demands the head hunter, Ben “Sherlock” Owen. He means the helicopter. “Roger that, go go go!” the minions shout. Meanwhile, kettledrums thunder away on the soundtrack.
Yet, like every other reality TV game, the show’s charm lies in the fresh set of variously cocky, inept, endearing, repulsive, or nutty contestants. (If you feel you belong to one of these categories, by the way, Shine TV is inviting you to apply for the next season, on huntedapplications.com, by February 23).
Tonight’s show focuses on cocky 33-year-old gym owner Dan, and his partner, Hayley, who doesn’t like getting wet — positive-thinking Dan tells her, “You can’t change the weather but you can change your attitude” — and endearing Mervyn, at 78 the oldest fugitive so far.
Panama hat fan Mervyn, initially looking an improbable contestant, turns out to have spent 24 years in army intelligence. He washes his pants and dries them over a fire. Our winner?