for National Geographic News
Two cyclists pedal the length of the Mekong River, traversing four countries and a distance of more than 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers). A group B.A.S.E.-jumps into a giant cave in Mexico. Young brothers scale Mount Alpamayo in Peru. A team treks their way across the ice and reaches the North Pole. Sound like an extreme sports competition or a special documentary?
Actually, these are the adventures of every-day people who captured the events on video. In May 2001, National Geographic Channels International challenged its viewers to capture their experiences on digital video to be edited and aired on the adventure television series Game For It. Now viewers from across the world have the opportunity to witness the raw and personal footage of individuals pursuing some of their most extreme adventures.
The series is produced by Endemol UK Productions, the same people who brought Big Brother to European and U.S. television screens. National Geographic News recently spoke with Stephen Marsh, the series producer, about the program and the cadre of amateur filmmakers who participate.
What is the premise of Game For It? How does it work? What are you looking for?
Basically, Game For It is a show that gives the opportunity for amateur adventurers from around the world to showcase their stories and adventures. People into extreme sports, like running across deserts or climbing mountains, send in their footage to Endemol. We look at their footage. From that we extract the essence of the story. We construct a sort of history of their adventure. Often people may take 50 hours of tape. We condense that down to maybe a 10- to 20-minute story that can be broadcast either in one show or over several episodes. We then put it all together, and, using a professional editing staff and its equipment, we produce a story of their adventures. But it is definitely their adventure, their story, their footage. We are ready just to facilitate to allow that to happen.
Is this a response to the popularity of reality T.V.? What was the goal of creating such a series? What differentiates it from other reality programs?
One of the major differences is that members of the public choose their own adventure. They don't do the adventure for the show. They do the adventure for themselves. Many people go on their adventure before they've even heard of the program. Then they pick up information about Game for It through Web sites, friends, or word of mouth and send their footage in. So unlike many reality shows that are based on a premise devised by the production company or the broadcaster (that introduce a scenario into which people enter), this is very much people in control of their own lives and adventures sending out footage.
What are some of the most interesting or unusual videos submitted for broadcast?
Some of the ones that have come in recently have been fascinating. A Frenchman with his own specially designed in-line roller skates is skating across Africa, across deserts, up mountains, and through swamps. A group of English guys climbed mountains in Turkey and then paraglided off the top of them and down to the sea, which is pretty spectacular. Some Danes and Americans B.A.S.E.-jumped into a giant cave in Mexico. I particularly like an Australian, cycling on his own, from London to Melbourne, right across the world. There's another extraordinary one, a 12-year-old Australian boy climbing [New Zealand's] Mount Cook with his dad. They think he's the youngest boy to climb this mountain. So there's some pretty extraordinary stuff and, amongst them, some very gentle ones. There was a group of Australians who walked through Papua New Guinea to some of the sites where there were battles in World War II. They came across Japanese armaments and old planes. So we cover the whole range [of experience]. There's a place for almost everybody who's tackled some sort of adventure on the show.
What type of feedback have you received?
It's had a good response in America. But what's interesting is the range of tapes that are coming in. I'm getting tapes from French, Dutch, Italians, Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, Chileans, [and skydivers] from Buenos Aires. We've discovered the first series inspired people. I think it appeals to people because it doesn't feel manipulated. We are very true to people's stories.
Why are people interested in this as opposed to watching a professional documentary covering the same excursions?
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