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Tribewanted
Sarah Rich, 1 Jun 06

photo-island-06.jpg I'll admit, I am not among the throngs of Survivor and Lost devotees. In general, reality television doesn't do much for me. But I'm intrigued by a new development in TV Land -- a show that asserts it's not going to be a reality show. Developed by two young guys in the UK, Tribewanted is in the formative stages of becoming one the largest, most extreme, and possibly more ecologically- and socially-minded experiments ever televised. The Tribewanted team is currently working to form a group of 5,000 adventure-loving people to go live together on a Fijian island and build an ecological community in the name of opposing tourist development and preserving the island's natural environment (surely bringing 5,000 people to the sparsely populated island will have no impact on the fragile ecosystem?).

Looking at the Tribewanted website, I can't say I'm too impressed or enticed by the sound of this project. It sounds more like an ad for collegiate spring break in the tropics than anything, peppered with some ecozeitgeist-appropriate buzz words:

This is your chance to join a unique tribe and help build both an online and real- life community. It’s an opportunity to join a virtual meeting of minds that will generate a new kind of utopian existence, from the comfort of your own computer. As a tribal member you will have the chance to visit one of the most beautiful islands on earth, knowing you’ve contributed to the development of its ecological community. This is your moment to make history on a tiny ripple of rock, jungle and sand in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. This is not reality TV - this is real life. Be part of a real adventure. Join the tribe.

However, given my inclination to give these entrepreneurial idealists the benefit of the doubt, I was more than willing to see the idea in a different light, which was just how the LA Times presented it:

[Ben] Keene and [Mark] James, both passionate adventure travelers, made a deal with a Fijian chief, Tui Mali (whose immediate family members are the island's only inhabitants), to let the tribe develop a sustainable island community to benefit Fijians. The lease is about $95,000 for three years.
The objective, Keene said, is threefold: to provide a unique adventure for tribe members, to pioneer a "social experiment" of 5,000 people working together to create something and "to raise awareness about living sustainably and traveling responsibly." All while providing local jobs and invigorating the economy.
After three years, the Fijian landowners may decide to extend the lease or vote to bring in another group. "The best outcome," Keene said, "would be for the local community to take complete ownership [and stewardship] of the project."

The cost of being one of the 5,000 citizens on "Adventure Island" (as it's been dubbed) is on a scaled membership basis: Nomad ($220), Hunter ($440) and Warrior ($660) — rates which buy members stints of 7, 14 or 21 days on the island, in groups of 100, including food, lodging and transport to and from the local airport. There will also be 12 "tribal chiefs" who oversee the turnover of nomads, hunters and warriors, and facilitate ongoing projects.

This could be a stellar social experiment. The sexy, youthful, TV-driven branding could even serve the project's stated mission of demonstrating that ecological preservation and sustainable development are the hottest adventure anyone (over 18) could possibly have. It's not just about participants on the island, either. Via blogs and other online media, the 5,000 tribe members can offer input into the development process remotely, and will be included in all tribal votes. For those traveling to the island, the Tribewanted team encourages carbon offsets, and the entire development is slated to be climate neutral. This is off to a great start.

And then there are the "potential interesting developments already identified by the founding chiefs: Cliff-top lagoon & zip-slide, Sunset Stage and Beach Bar; Jungle Sports Arena; Secret Beach chill-out area..." [gag!]

So...I'm on the fence about this. Should we be seeing flashing red lights warning against the exoticization of tribal lifestyles, tropical islands and "roughing it" when you don't have to? Or is there real value in merely placing references to (and efforts toward?) sustainability smack in the middle of an entertainment media blitz? How do we decide where the balance point lies between increasing the viability and sex appeal of sustainable development (and adventure travel) and feeding eco-fluff to an audience that may not know better than to eat it up?

Your opinions, please...

(BTW - When the show starts, someone will have to TIVO it and invite me over.)

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Comments

Ay ay ay. Sounds stupid. Why don't the get 5,000 people from the UK to do something like that in the UK? At least the conflicts would be real, and interesting -- especially when the producers get hauld in for conspiracy or something like that.


Posted by: John on 1 Jun 06

What does "Lost" have to do with reality TV?


Posted by: SCD on 1 Jun 06

So...I'm on the fence about this.

Think of it as a chance to model group dynamics for a potential long-term station/settlement in space. The only other comparable situation (in terms of longevity and number of people) is McMurdo.


Posted by: Brian on 1 Jun 06

A paradisiacal island seems to be a good place to make the difference.
But, as we invade Iraq to make the difference (to defend the democracy and to keep the freedom of the world) why not continue and finish what we already have started?

We can now invade his country to help them survive to the democracy and liberty: drinking water, houses to take shelter, to reconstruct the schools... it's just the begining.

After all, now that we already get the oil, it goes to catch badly before the voters if we not give them a "hand" on behalf of our own humanitarian soul.


Posted by: dron on 2 Jun 06

>>> "Via blogs and other online media, the 5,000 tribe members can offer input into the development process remotely..."

Sorry, but the designer in me hates this idea more than the rest put together. Design by comittee is not the same as participatory design, and this sounds like the former.
How do they know what ecological design on this island looks like? Who will actually design and implement it? What materials will they use, what is the topography/ biota/ rainfall/ etc. on this island? What emergency facilities will be available besides a waterslide?
I don't know these two blokes, but it sounds like they are either 1) ignorant of the design process, or 2) taking someone for a ride.

But I do hope I'm wrong. Let's remember that *someone* will probably develop this island eventually. If this project works, it could get the attention of the entire resort industry.


Posted by: justus on 2 Jun 06

Instead of 5,000 people in one place, how about tracking 500 people around the world? Set up an online board, web cams and hire some editors to summarize the dialogue and that would be one heck of an initiative.


Posted by: Ron Mader on 2 Jun 06

All interesting points. To respond to some comments, we have completed an Environmental Impact Assessment on the island with regards to the ecological environment and how we will impact this. We are working with the NLTB, Fijian government, Climate Care and other organisations in order to ensure that we only have a positive impact in the community.

With regards to emergency facilities you will see from the website that we have developed a relationship with the local hospitals, air ambulance and police who are all giving, advice, support and help.

I dont think what has been commented on here is the fact that there is no tourism in the North of Fiji which, as tourism accounts for most income streaming into Fiji, means that they are poor. In the local communities the children are uneducated, the people struggle to build much needed resources, building, teachers accommodation. Not only will we be providing financial support, we will also be providing volunteer support.

Experts, who join the tribe, builders, etc will then come over to the island and help develop what the tribe members have decided (which will be in accordance with a local health and safety document).

So this idea is a unique adventure - bringing together 5000 people from around the world who can learn off one another, financial help a community, provide much needed manpower for a community and then also have fun in the beautiful islands of fiji.

Just some positives here ;-)


Posted by: Mark James on 2 Jun 06



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