Should we be surprised by the cynicism of Channel 4?

I was interested to listen to Nick Clegg on question time express surprise on Question Time last night at his fellow panel members consensus on the fact that the events in the Big Brother house (especially the diary entry from Shilpa Shetty that she didn't believe that she was a victim of racism) was being orchestrated and manipulated by the producers and editors of Big Brother!

I'm afraid I'm going to have to weigh in here because although I very rarely watch reality TV, unless you count Strictly Come Dancing, I have been a participant / contestant on some a long, long time ago. Well, 2001, to be exact, but it feels a long, long time ago and reality TV has moved on a lot since my experience.

I took part in a programme called (and I'm almost cringing as I write this) 'The Heat is On', the follow up to Castaway 2000. It was filmed at the same time as the first 'Survivor' series was on and at the time we filmed only one series of BB had aired.

I have lots of stories and anecdotes and experiences form my two weeks survival training up in western Scotland and made two very, very good friends from the other participants; it was a unique experience which I would not have been without but one I went into extremely naively.

If there was one thing that I learnt very quickly out there in the wet, rain and with a very empty stomach was that however friendly the production team were to you, they weren't your friends at all.

Some of the participants were fame wannabe's but I don't know what possessed some of the others not realise that every single separate sentence could be used against them out of context to carry on like they did! The production team didn't like the word reality TV and preferred to use 'constructed documentary' - I don't know which is the more honest but I do know that they attempted to manipulate, bring discord and disharmony at every point.

I also came away quite convinced that the production team, whilst they would never pro-actively hawk their grandmother around, would if required sell her to get a good bit of TV.

I saw fellow participants edited into complete caricatures of themselves whilst other people were presented as absolute angels. There were a few characters there but the editor's knife is the most enormous bit of manipulation. That is not to excuse those being manipulated on CBB7 but to illustrate that C4 is complicit in it.

I have to admit I clammed up in front of the cameras pretty quickly, as I never, ever forgot a) that my Mum would be watching b) that anybody I said anything about would eventually hear me saying it and c) that some of the cameraman had had careers in war journalism that I was completely in awe of and wasn't about to shame myself in front of people I respected!

It meant I gave them very little to go on and consequently did not play a starring role in the final edit! I'm quite grateful for that now!

The aim of the first half of the programme was to undertake survival training and earn your place on 'an adventure' in an unspecified place but we were being taught a few words of spanish, swahili and malay, so whatever it was going to be exotic and I was up for it!! So up for it, I was the only person who never expressed anything but a complete desire to go on...which in my continuing naivety I didn't realise was sealing my failure..why on earth would they want to see me achieve my aim? Where was the television in that?

And it worked perfectly. I don't always need 2 weeks of near starvation rations, no sleep and utter exhaustion and a failure to achieve my goal to make me cry but it sure did help! I was the first person in over two weeks to have both camera crews filming me at the same time; on the final edit my tears were shown in slow motion! I had finally provided them with TV worth watching. Oh dear! I laugh at it now but the flurry of calls by friends and family on the night that it was aired was very welcome.

I don't mind really, that was all part of the deal, I guess. But it taught me a lot about the relationship between the media and anybody wanting to court it.

Where there's muck there's brass; the producers are doing what they're paid to do and produce TV that everybody wants to watch. If it looks like it's getting a bit hairy, financially then they will go in and sort it out and that was what Shilpa's diary room visit was about yesterday; to diffuse the potential row so that C4 could continue raking in the money. Is that responsible or not? Probably not, but they're not paid to be responsible.


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