TV Recap: Siberia, Premiere Episode

luke kalamar feels a bit out in the cold …

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Plot: A group of strangers are dropped off in a remote region of Siberia to participate in a reality television program. The goal is for each of them to survive the brutal winter. Who ever remains at the end of the season will receive a large sum of money to split amongst each other. However, after nightfall the group brings to hear a mysterious noise out in the surrounding wilderness, which makes everyone uneasy. The group soon realizes that finding food might be the least of their concerns.

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When I first heard about the premise of Siberia, my interest was immediately peaked. The early publicity for the show was touting it as the perfect cross between Survivor and LOST. The goal was to make it a faux reality show where the “contestants” have to survive in a region that has more beneath the surface than it gives out. According to the “host” (Jonathon Buckley) of the show, the Tunguska region is filled with a mysterious past. This is obviously where the LOST element is supposed to come in. Now I don’t really care for many reality shows, I haven’t even watched any of the versions of Survivor, but I did really enjoy LOST and I’m a big fan of mysteries, so I was decently excited for this premiere. So how was NBC’s new reality show that’s not a reality show?

Well, for starters, one of the benefits of a reality show is that it’s unscripted. Everything that happens is marketed as the actual decisions these people would make in these situations. There has been a lot of debate about whether or not certain reality shows really are unscripted, but at the very least the majority still retain that “unscripted” feel. It’s supposed to be reality after all. Seeing as Siberia is supposed to be a reality show in disguise, it’s no surprise to me that the entire episode felt like one giant, scripted melodrama. The drama on reality shows is supposed to feel natural due to their unscripted nature, but so much of what happened just reeked of it being forced.

One great example of this force nature is that after the group reaches the cabins, two women named Irene (Irene Yee) and Esther (Esther Anderson) get into an argument over the fact that there aren’t enough beds and Esther doesn’t want to sleep on the floor. The whole fight lasts for about a couple minutes, and was really just terse talking for the entire time. It all boils down to Esther not wanting to sleep on the floor and Irene saying she has to because she didn’t claim a bed earlier. Wow, so much substance! To top it off, Irene starts sobbing after the brief argument. How am I supposed to believe this woman can survive in the unforgiving wilderness of SIBERIA when she can’t get out of an argument without tears? The tears felt like such an overreaction to such a stupid fight too. Under no circumstances would someone cry because some stranger refused to sleep on the floor. This is just one of the many examples where I looked at this show and thought, “Wow, that’s not even close to reality.”

Then we have the acting of each individual “contestant.” Bottom line, if you really want to sell a reality show that’s not actually a reality show, you’re going to need some damn good actors to fake the reality show portion of it. None of the actors or actresses on the show even comes close to being “damn good actors.” I can understand why you can’t really choose a well-known actor to be part of a reality program (that blows the whole purpose of a reality program out of the water), but you can at least get some unknown people with talent. You don’t need to be a skilled actor to succeed in a reality program or a contest, but you do at least need some skill if your goal is to make a fake show. I’m sure all of these actors and actresses would do fine in normal reality show, but trying to get them to carry a scripted program just doesn’t work. One of the guys, Johnny (Johnny Wactor), was too much of a douche to be believable, and Sam (Sam Dobbins) was obviously trying too hard to be the tough guy bouncer. Everyone was stereotyped into individual roles too. You have the hippie (Tommy Mountain), the nerd (Daniel Sutton), the leader (Neeko Skervin), and even the mysterious one (Sabina Akhmedova). They’re all basically as two-dimensional as they could possibly be.

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It also doesn’t help that the show is just completely shrouded in absurdity as well. To begin with, there’s a giant steel box that contains helpful hints to keep the people alive. What the hell is that about? The first helpful hint the group gets is where they can find food throughout the forest. They learn about these mushrooms that need to be boiled or else they’re poisonous, and the group immediately splits up to find water, mushrooms, and to build a fire. They find water and can make a fire, but it takes more than a day for them to find the mushrooms. Yet, despite how they seemingly go 24 hours without any scraps of anything edible other than a handful of berries, everyone seems to be so full of energy and life. Yep, no one is starving here! Johnny apparently had a lighter on him the entire time too, but wouldn’t let the group use it because he’s an ass. I know he wants to be the lone star who would rather have everyone leave so he can get the money, but he can’t eat without fire too and CLEARLY everyone would see him using the lighter to cook food. Not even the biggest asshole in the world would realistically hide something like that from people who are trying to survive as much as he is.

None of the absurdity in this premiere holds a candle to what happened in the end however. Apparently while searching for mushrooms, the hippie contestant Tommy goes missing. No one knows what happened to him until we see his cameraman return with a massive head wound and no Tommy. Then, after the entire group questions what the hell is going on, the host returns to share the news that Tommy has suffered a fatal accident. Yep! This “reality” show already has a dead guy. Surely this would mean the show is over right? NOPE. The “host” leaves the decision to leave up to the “contestants,” and seeing as the show has a full season ahead of it, I’m assuming they all agree to stay. Yes, we are to believe that a reality show would continue if someone DIED. Who, in their right mind, would ever remain on a show like that? Any modicum of this being a “reality” show was completely thrown out the window at that point, which makes a huge aspect of this show completely pointless. Bravo!

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The only thing I can really see myself coming back to this show for is to find out what the hell is going on. Like I said, I’m a mystery buff and the curious side of me wants to know what type of monster the writers have cooked up. At least, I think it’s a monster. We never saw anything in the premiere and for all we know it could be something completely different. The only clue we got that “something” is out there is the recovered footage of the cameraman running away and Tommy disappearing off camera. It would’ve served the plot a lot better if this footage was found later and actually revealed something tangible, but we instead got it in the beginning and it really showed nothing special. It’s hard for me to care about any of these characters too, so really the only reason I’d come back to watch this show is to find out what’s out in the forest. Everything else leading up to it is just disinteresting filler.

Siberia was being touted as having the right blend of Survivor and LOST, and while it did copy some of the main elements, it didn’t copy what makes those individual shows interesting. Both Survivor and LOST are groundbreaking programs and Siberia doesn’t even come close to that. It’s a fake reality show that fails at being a reality show, and it’s a horror drama that fails at being either scary or dramatic. The only thing that’s even moderately interesting is the mystery surrounding the region, but not even that is enough to spend an hour every week watching. Poor acting and a clearly scripted style just round out what makes this show such a bore to watch. Do yourself a favor and spend your Monday nights at 10 PM reading a book or watching paint dry.

Rating: 3/10

all photos credit: nbc/universal