Following your dreams right into a pile of horsesh*t
Channel 4 Paradise Hunters shows how we’re poisoned by the notion of ‘experiences’
Katie from Paradise Hunters. Photograph: Channel 4
Channel 4’s Paradise Hunters is a one-off reality show where bored office drones are thrust into challenging, life-altering jobs in impressive locations – in an attempt to pursue their lunchtime daydreams of living within those idyllic images of far-flung destinations.
Thirtysomething Katie is dismayed by her daily commute, the congestion of London and the “live-to-work” ethic of her day job of distributing music videos, whilst after two whole years, 25-year-old Charlie is sick of being “stuck” in a call centre in Brighton. These days, it’s not enough to just desire a cheap holiday in other people’s misery (to paraphrase The Sex Pistols), we now live in a world where it’s all about “authentic” living, not job satisfaction but ultimate fulfilment, where serious consideration is given to whimsical fantasies.
This is not the temporary abandonment of reality or a Reggie Perrin/Don Draper escapist lust, it is the misguided individualism that casts everyone as the idiosyncratic, non-conformist in their own lives rather than the beleaguered Tim from The Office, resigned to his mundane fate.
So rather than having a chat with a job-coach and retreating to a spa weekend in Bath to ponder their next move, lifestyle “experts” Jack and Reena are instead drafted in and (somewhat randomly) assign the pair jobs as a ranch-hand in Mexico and a salmon farmer in the Scottish Highlands.
Cheerfully distracted way
“Stop mucking about and follow your dreams!” Charlie’s mum says in a cheerfully distracted way, (as if mentally uncorking a midweek wine) she virtually pushes him out the door into the unforgiving Highlands terrain, leaving her home alone. One wonders if Charlie’s dreams involved essentially throwing a bin-bag full of fish-food into the sea for seven hours a day whilst trying not to die of exposure. After only one week he complains of the monotony, increasingly frustrated at the lack of responsibility, not realising that some on the boat, like the ever-patient Gilpin, have spent decades doing these unrelenting, thankless tasks for less pay than he made in the dreaded call centre.
Unconvinced by the allure of the outdoors and even though he accepts an offer to rejoin the crew, Charlie eventually slinks back to his previous, more comfortable life eating noodles on his mum’s couch before chasing another “dream” in Canada.
Katie fares slightly better. In the beginning, her time on the ranch in Mexico plays out like a classic, culture-clash film starring Jessica Hynes. ‘So, do you like this, shovelling shit?’ weary ranch-hand Ray asks incredulously as they attack mounds of horse excrement in the baking morning heat. “Oh yes!” Katie answers brightly, slightly shouting. Her Mary Poppins-style enthusiasm is greeted with suspicion and a shake of the head by a man keenly aware that this is a job not a fun lifestyle to try on like an oversized stetson.
Refuses to give up
After a month of being “broken” (like the horses) by her hydra-headed bosses, Katie refuses to give up – even in the face of unruly steads and giant spiders, she is determined that she won’t head home to the grey office blocks of London with her tail between her legs. In the end, she toughs it out and is offered a two-month placement with a view to becoming a permanent cowgirl.
Ultimately, Paradise Hunters points to a modern malaise, one where we have been poisoned by the notion of “experiences”. Duped by the magazine copy mixed with urban myths that describe ambitious, enterprising souls “abandoning it all” to become dog yoga instructors in LA or sea-snail yoghurt makers in Iceland. No-one in these stories ever jacks in their job in the city to work behind the hot-deli counter in Greggs because who wants to “settle” for ordinary anymore?
For these desk-bound dreamers nothing less than paradise will do.