Kid Nation
November 9, 2015 11:10 AM   Subscribe

40 kid "castaways."
40 days.
No Adults.
Kid Nation

The Show
The only season of Kid Nation aired on CBS in 2007.

The Premise
40 over-achieving children were given free rein to create their own society in the privately-owned town of New Bonanza, New Mexico. Taking daily cues from a producer-supplied "Pioneer Journal," the kids (ages 8 to 15) cooked their own meals, elected leaders, created work teams, hauled water, dug latrines, did their own laundry, ran their own businesses and slaughtered their own dinners -- all without adult intervention or participation. Buffalo nickels were supplied by production and used as currency within the game. At the end of every episode, the kids had a town meeting where they awarded one child a gold star worth $20,000.

Unlike Survivor and other, similar shows, no one was voted out. The kids could quit at any time. A few did.

* Los Angeles Times: "The goal, according to creator Tom Forman ("Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Armed and Famous"), was for 'kids to succeed where adults have failed.'"

* Bustle: "You know what rubbernecking is? It’s when you drive slowly past a car crash because your instincts are saying “MUST SEE DESTRUCTION IN PROGRESS." And that’s what it’s like to watch Kid Nation."

The Controversy
The show was (understandably) surrounded by controversy before a single episode had aired. Reality TV is exploitative by nature, but some critics felt Kid Nation's potentially dangerous "Lord of the Flies" premise bordered on emotionally-scarring child abuse.

"A New Mexico official whose department oversees licensing of congregant child-care settings said in an interview that the project almost assuredly violated state laws requiring facilities that house children be reviewed and licensed." The network was warned by the NM state attorney general's office while the show was being taped that they might be violating the state's child-labor laws. The investigation was eventually dropped, because CBS had declared the production a “summer camp” instead of a place of employment.

* Variety: "Kid Nation is only the latest program to use kids as fodder for fun and profit, which doesn't make the trend any less disturbing."

After the show's premiere, many critics wrote negative reviews.

* TV Guide: "CBS disputes that Kid Nation was a rogue state with no adult supervision; there was an on-site team of paramedics, a pediatrician, an animal safety expert and a child psychologist. "The few minor injuries that took place were all treated immediately and by professionals," the network says. In fact, Daniel, a Kid Nation resident with asthma who was known as DK, praised the show's safety efforts: "We had medical people and inhalers and nebulizers. If I was out of breath, these people just came from all over." Another parent says she was updated on the status of her son Michael at least every three days."

The 22-Page Blanket Liability Waiver
Inevitably, mistakes were made. Four kids accidentally drank bleach from a soda bottle during production. Another child burned herself while cooking and her mom threatened to sue the show. Most of the children were required to work 14 hours or longer per day. All received a payment of $5,000 for their participation.

Parents had signed away their rights to sue the network and the show's producers if their child died, was severely injured or contracted a sexually transmitted disease during the program's taping. The show's 22-page liability waiver can be seen at The Smoking Gun. Television Without Pity's Brilliant But Cancelled snarkily asks: "What else did the Kid Nation parents agree to in the contracts they signed?"

The Episodes
* Season One Playlist

1) I'm Trying to Be a Leader Here
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

2) To Kill or Not to Kill?
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

3) Deal With It!
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

4) Bless Us and Keep Us Safe
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

5) Viva La Revolucion!
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

6) Bonanza Is Disgusting
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

7) The Root of All Evil
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

--
Vulture: "We're halfway through the series, and it's time for a Kid Nation drinking game. If you don't drink, drink root beer out of shot glasses. That might be a good idea anyway, because this is going to get anyone good and drunk."
--

8) Starved for Entertainment
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

9) Not Even Close to Fair
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

10) Let Me Talk!
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

11) I Just Like the Recess Part
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

12) Where's Bonanza, Dude?
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

13) We've All Decided to Go Mad!
* HuffPost LiveBlog
* Television Without Pity Recap

Extras
* Show Trailer: "Imagine a world with no adults"
* Wikipedia. They also have an Episode Guide
* Flavorwire: ‘Kid Nation’: Looking Back on TV’s Most Disturbing Reality Show
* Brilliant But Cancelled has a post-show interview with Sophia and her mom Lori.

Aftermath
The show was cancelled after one season.

Wikipedia:
"The Kid Nation production raised questions about whether reality show participants are more like subjects in a documentary or working actors. The latter are covered by union rules that govern everything from working hours to compensation..... Kid Nation also raised questions about the appropriate minimum age of participants in reality shows.... The producers had declared the set a summer camp rather than a place of employment, but that loophole has since been closed."
An AMA
One of the contestants, Michael Thot, did an extensive Ask-Me-Anything about the show on reddit a couple of years ago. He was also interviewed by Cracked.com. Michael had this to say about reality shows:
"This show was billed as a 'social experiment', as though it was engineered to produce meaningful insight into society and children. But, I will tell you right now, there is nothing that disrupts natural behavior more than putting a camera in front of someone. The presence of a camera alone, and that in all likelihood the cast member volunteered for this show specifically for the opportunity to be on camera, affects everyone's portrayal of themselves. It's like if you chose a subject for a documentary by asking for volunteers that specifically wanted a chance to be filmed and have everyone judge their personality strictly by that footage. Ultimately, reality shows are about characters, and people engineer their own character to look like what they want people to think they are.
...
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the people that cast these shows, and the cast members themselves, are exploiting specific imagery and archetypes. In this manner, I think that reality TV says an enormous amount about what we want to look like, and how we want other people to act for our entertainment. But it isn't a very accurate portrayal of real life in any sense. It's kind of like the abstract ideals of materialism and vanity coalescing into a concrete narrative."
posted by zarq (28 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
I loved this show (though I'm a big Survivor fan, so YMMV) but I remember even as it was going on saying again and again, "There's no way this can go for more than one season." What was amazing about it was largely that it wasn't pre-tested and you could tell no one in charge had really thought a lot of potential scenarios through. So glad it's out there to watch again.
posted by Mchelly at 11:14 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man, Kid Nation is the best. Thanks for posting this.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:21 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I knew about this solely from the Cracked.com article linked above. Reality TV is such bullshit, but you knew that.
posted by Melismata at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


huh, I'm interested in watching this. Unless it's complete dreck? Seems like with 40 kids, there's a potential for the producers to string some sort of interesting narrative along. Is it worth watching?
posted by rebent at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2015


Yes, yes, worth watching at least the pilot to see if you like it. The kids they cast are really great.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2015


I may watch this later, but I did see one big red flag just in the first minute. When giving a narrative overview of the kids on the bus, the narrator says that they're every kind of kid imaginable: queue image of mostly white kids with one visible African-American and a sprinkling of Asian faces.

"City kids..." Queue close up of the African-American boy.

Oh dear.
posted by Laura Palmer's Cold Dead Kiss at 11:35 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It ended like Lord of the Flies, right? Please tell me it ended like Lord of the Flies.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:37 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


They should do this with libertarians.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2015 [27 favorites]


Taylor, the most outspoken of the triumvirate, was apoplectic at the affront to her power. Alex counseled a severe punishment for Markelle in the hopes that this would finally spur the laborers to open rebellion against the triumvirate. Sophia was confident the Praetorians, though outnumbered 3 to 1, could defeat the laborers in open battle.
Kid Nation Rememberance
posted by modernserf at 11:46 AM on November 9, 2015


Looking for the location, I found this: Bonanza City - supposed site of the reality show Kid Nation, which clarifies the title as follows:
I say supposed because the site in the trailer doesn't match the actual site. I think they must have built a set for the show on a nearby ranch rather than use an existing ghost town.
On that Virtual Globetrotting page, there's a link to Filming site of 'Kid Nation' near La Cienega, New Mexico. The page includes the blurb
A 2007 CBS reality TV show featuring children living without adults and forming a society in an Old West town. It was filmed at the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch.
Here's the webpage for Bonanza Creek (Movie) Ranch, "an all-inclusive film location nestled in the foothills of southern New Mexico." The history page on that site makes the ranch sound down-right modern, but it's a proper old ranch, or at least parts of it are. I'm not sure how much was (re)built for various films over the years.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:51 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's all fun and games until someone kills Piggy.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 12:03 PM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nice sleuthing work, filthy light thief! Interesting.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on November 9, 2015


I watched this show when it aired (didn't have a tv so I watched it on the horrible, glitchy as hell 400x400 pixel viewer cbs.com, that's dedication) and loved it, but hated that they lied about the premise (caveats about "reality" tv notwithstanding).

It wasn't a kid-run society left to do it on their own. The first thing they did was divide the 40 kids into 4 tiers of socioeconomic hierarchy. They all earned incomes. The team who cleaned the toilets worked the hardest and earned very little money. The team at the top (ruled by the pageant girl) didn't have to work at all and earned the most money. And nobody got to choose which tier they lived in, it was done by random draw. I guess that mirrors real life pretty closely but it's definitely not what those kids would have chosen on their own. Anybody who's spent time around groups of kids knows that they have an almost exacting sense of fairness. It would have been really nice to see what these kids, many of whom were exceptionally bright and thoughtful little people, came up with on their own as far as division of labor.

But I suppose letting America see its children form an egalitarian socialist society is just a little too edgy for primetime TV.
posted by phunniemee at 12:14 PM on November 9, 2015 [25 favorites]


In case your life doesn't contain enough shock at the lengths reality TV producers will go to, this segment of This American Life about a Japanese man who agreed to be locked up naked and practically starved will crank your I'm-appalled-meter up to 11.
posted by puddledork at 12:30 PM on November 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


They only killed the ugly chickens.
posted by Sheppagus at 12:30 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


On first seeing this post, I was afraid Kid Rock had launched a new political party.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:44 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, I loved this show, even if Alex gave me a whopping inferiority complex. But he was adorable, so that made up for it.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 1:01 PM on November 9, 2015


Paul Slade: "It ended like Lord of the Flies, right? Please tell me it ended like Lord of the Flies."

This is clearly how it was sold to the network and this is how it was advertised, but ANY IDIOT could have told you that kids at that age are hugely concerned with cooperation and fairness, and so basically they got there and immediately started coming up with plans and working together to carry them out and when someone wasn't doing their share the kids would either decide it was okay because that person didn't feel good, or socially censuring that person until they fell into line.

They put them in the State of Nature hoping for Lord of the Flies but instead those kids Social Contracted right up. It was fascinating TV, but clearly not what the network was hoping for. (As phunnimee notes, they even built in unfairness in the hopes of short-circuiting this, but it didn't work.)

Actually you can see the same dynamic at work on MasterChef Junior -- the kids are in the age range where cooperation and fairness are the major intellectual/moral impulse of that developmental stage. So on MasterChef senior people often won't give opponents ingredients they forgot, or they strategically try to get people out ... in MasterChef Junior kids will stop cooking to go help another kid carry a heavy appliance, and they will relay "does anyone have spare flour?" across the entire kitchen to get some of it to someone who needs it. This obviously makes for much more pleasant viewing than kids being cutthroat, but it's not really Fox's doing ... it's kids that age. Put in groups, they cooperate!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:20 PM on November 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


Oh, hey, it's the one where all of the oldest while boys in the city win election to the town council near the end of the series, then give $50,000 to the cute blond girl for... reasons.

So, experiment mirrors real life?
posted by parliboy at 1:40 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Right, there was an artificially imposed class system, which made the whole show so dumb and such a lie. I wanted whatever crazy form of governance (or anarchy) they would come up with! Although Sophia did, at one point, invent private property by designating a specific square of land hers. No one really seemed to care, though.
posted by quadrilaterals at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2015


I think if I watched this it would only make me angry.

Also: only hear from my minor child every three days while they're on a reality show set? Hahaha no. Not to mention that contract, holy cats.
posted by emjaybee at 1:51 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


yeah but how often will you otherwise be able to give your child the opportunity to seat themselves on a throne of skulls made of the enemies that they themselves vanquished, without any adult help?

Granted Kid Nation didn't turn out that way but wouldn't you at least want to give your kid the chance
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought about this show just yesterday,, very strange to see it pop up here now all of a sudden!

I was considering tracking it down and giving it a watch.. but since you've done all the work for me, I don't think I have a choice in the matter any longer.

Thanks!
posted by wats at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


phunniemee: "But I suppose letting America see its children form an egalitarian socialist society is just a little too edgy for primetime TV."

If the kids had formed an egalitarian socialist society, someone would be here saying "I guess showing the brutal reality of American society is just a little too edgy for primetime TV".

puddledork: "In case your life doesn't contain enough shock at the lengths reality TV producers will go to, this segment of This American Life about a Japanese man who agreed to be locked up naked and practically starved will crank your I'm-appalled-meter up to 11."

I'd take that segment with a few grains of salt. It may still be appalling, but in real life it's more like 7 or 8.
posted by Bugbread at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2015


Anybody who's spent time around groups of kids knows that they have an almost exacting sense of fairness. It would have been really nice to see what these kids, many of whom were exceptionally bright and thoughtful little people, came up with on their own as far as division of labor.

If my memories of spending recess building dams on the stream that ran through my elementary school playground are correct, the "Everybody Is The Boss Of Themselves" ethos would win bigtime.
posted by Spatch at 8:42 PM on November 9, 2015


I really liked Kid Nation. Of course it wasn't going to be a 'wild west with kids' situation, no matter how the odd advertising claim would become hyperbolically inflated by people who were appalled at the very idea. There were lots of adults, most of the kids came from gifted programmes, it was much more akin to a school camp with more chores.

The teams thing was as arbitrary as any groupings are, from houses at schools to tribes in Survivor. It was there to make sure there was a mix in the groups so the kids didn't just self-select by age, gender, location, what-have-you. The artificial class structure was a wierd mishmash - they had a merchant group who manned the stores, but they didn't talk about the money used and it seemed to basically be playing at doing retail, mostly of soft drink and candy.

But the kids were great. I adored a number of them, especially Sophia and indeed most of Green Team. I felt for one kid on the Red Team who was made a leader, which he clearly tried to excel at, but simply didn't have the affinity for. The parameters for the chaos of kid rule were very narrow, but within that it was interesting to watch them navigate it all.

So sure, it was carefully controlled. I have no desire to watch Lord of the Flies, nor think we're one step away from a real Hunger Games scenario no matter how badly concepts like Kid Nation were received. For me, it was actually quite uplifting, as these were all basically good kids getting to have a fun adventure, with periodic rewards for reasons that were more than just popularity, like how one week the direction seemed to be 'who is one of the littlest kids who is doing as much as they can to take part and help out?'.

Many of the most negative reactions came from people who only saw an ad, and I always thought it was interesting to see who, rather than complaining it was too dangerous, thought that it wasn't dangerous or anarchic enough. As it was, it was a glorified, televised summer camp - but one where the view from the show made you feel pretty good about the generation coming up.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:27 AM on November 10, 2015


"Parents had signed away their rights to sue the network and the show's producers if their child died, was severely injured or contracted a sexually transmitted disease during the program's taping."
Aside from the parent(s) in that scene from Brüno, what kind of parent looks at that waiver and says
“Yeah, this looks like a really good thing for my child to get involved with.”
posted by blueberry at 8:03 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm about four episodes in and I'm hooked! Although, there doesn't seem to be any sort of over-arching thread, so I'm curious about how they will wrap it up.

The kids are all amazing, but the most compelling aspect is watching kids as young as 8 express feelings, share ideas, and take initiative. I forget what it is like to be that young, and I see my 8-year-old cousins and don't know how to relate to them outside of "here is food, please stop yelling and running."
posted by rebent at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


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