Sunday 17 December 2017

Reality TV’s new wave of Irish stars

... and the Herald's Anna Nolan, who presents the show, reveals the stories behind the scenes when the cameras stopped rolling

There are moments in one's life when you get a phone call and you think Christmas, your birthday and all the best days of the year have come together.

I got one of those calls in May when I was asked if I wanted to work on an RTE Young People's television show called Mission Beach. It would involve going to America for three weeks to film eight Irish teenagers on a beach, in the sun!

Within two seconds, the deal had been done, and I started on one the best jobs I have ever been offered. Mission Beach was taking a group of Irish teenagers over to Florida, to complete one of the toughest courses in the world -- the Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue course that would see them swimming, running, training and competing with some of the top teenage athletes in America.

The Irish eight would live in a beautiful house in one of the swankiest areas of Florida, and they would be self-sufficient for the whole three weeks. Think Jersey Shore meets Baywatch!


I had to research for three weeks in Ireland before I went, and my job entailed finding activities for the teenagers each weekend. Not just any activities, but ones that would make these young adults confront their fears. Nothing was too outrageous, too dangerous or too frightening. When I suggested to my series producer that wrestling an alligator might just be a tad too much for a 16-year-old, her response was: "Bring It On!"

So three weeks later with all research done, all teenagers chosen, and all filming set up, I met Daniel, Colin, Niall, James, Helen, Clodagh, Amira and Nicole at Dublin Airport, with my director Niamh Guckian. They were nervous, cute, shy and excited to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The four boys and four girls landed nine hours later in Fort Lauderdale, and the around-the-clock filming began.

I was the assistant to one of the directors, so one of my jobs was to do sound, which involved holding a boom any time she picked up the camera. (By the time I came home I had such taut biceps and triceps, I'm thinking of patenting the new "Boom Workout".)

We arrived at the house and the kids nearly died. Five bedrooms, a fridge the size of Co Laois, a television bigger than the Gate Theatre and a swimming pool out the back. The house looked over the water and as they all squealed with hysteria, a serious conversation had to happen.

The water at the back of the house had alligators. No swimming in the canal. I had to bite my tongue and keep to myself the horrific stories I had read before I left, about deaths due to alligator attacks. But it was if they had been told there were fizzle sticks in the water -- the main response: "Yeah, what'evs!" Myself and the other crew members eventually stopped filming and worked out our sleeping arrangements. Of the eight crew, four would sleep in the house and four in a hotel. We would rotate every two nights.


The next morning, we were up at 6.30am, and crew and kids made their way to the beach to meet the man who was going to make their lives hell for three weeks: Chris Hoch.

The best way to describe Chris is that he is the Gordon Ramsay of physical training. As the Irish gang got on to the beach, they were introduced to their fellow American trainees. The Irish looked so cute, so WHITE! The red-haired Daniel was immediately picked on by Chris. But actually everyone over the next three weeks was picked on. Chris made them run until they had blisters, swim until they threw up. He would have them line up every morning at 8am to do a gruelling workout. On the second morning, Amira was too tired to keep going. He made everyone stop and watch her do it again, until she cried. And still he wouldn't stop.

These lucky, privileged teenagers from Ireland had just come to terms that this muscular masochist wasn't going to accept laziness, apathy or most importantly -- tears. After five hours on the beach, training in 95 degrees heat, the teenagers would eventually finish. As time went by, I thought some were going to walk, I reckoned some might get booted off and at one stage I thought a couple were going to collapse. By week two most of them hated Chris. And they also weren't so fond of us.

Being on a reality show is exciting for the first few days, but by day 10 they are sick of the sight of us. We filmed them waking up, and eating breakfast. We followed them as they were being verbally abused by Chris and we stuck cameras in their faces when they were crying. We were the bane of their lives, and we wouldn't leave them alone.


They became blase about the house. They started arguing about cleaning the dishes and making food. They were grumpy and agitated. We had to sit them down and remind them that this wasn't a holiday -- they had been chosen to be part of a television programme and that was their job. After that moment, they were back on board. They worked hard at the course and tidied the house. We brought them on amazing trips around the state, set up incredible activities and yes, one of them wrestled an alligator. They shopped 'til they dropped and they fell in love with America.

And some of the Americans fell in love with them. Daniel, with his red hair, cheeky Tallaght charm and pale skin was a hit with the girls. He charmed his way into their hearts and left a few broken ones along the way.

And these eight Irish teenagers came back to Ireland different people.

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