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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Is Anyone Watching Pioneer House?

I am. I gotta admit, I'm a sucker for all these reality shows dressed up as serious history programmes. I loved The Edwardian Country House. I loved Frontier House. And so it's perhaps little surprise that, each Sunday at 8pm, I find myself glued to Pioneer House.

In classic reality TV fashion, the makers have found a bunch of people that probably wouldn't even speak to one another in the "real world". For a start, there are big religious differences. Governor Jeff Wyers and his family are devoted Baptists. Lay preacher, Don Heinz and family are also very religious. But many of the other families have no religious convictions at all. A clash was clearly going to happen - not least because worshipping was, in effect, legally sanctioned at the time of the pioneers.

And, naturally, the non-religious amongst the volunteers were those who went into the programme with the sort of weird lack of reality that always amazes me. You know how some Big Brother contestants go in and moan that they never expected such a lack of privacy? I sit there in amazement wondering what the hell they expected in a house filmed 24/7. Well, the equivalent in these history reality programmes are those who go in with the idea that life is going to be nothing but delightful. They seem to forget that life in days gone by was pretty crappy, which is why humans have done all they can to move on.

Well, the non-religious types in this show were the ones with no sense of reality. And so the idiots started boycotting the compulsory Sunday services.

Now, I am not religious. And I get uncomfortable when I feel I'm being asked to take on beliefs that are not my own. I strongly believe in the separation of church and state and, for example, intensely dislike compulsory Christian worship in British schools. But had I volunteered for this show, I would have understood that I was voluntaily placing myself into a position where religious worship would be expected. And thus I wouldn't have thrown a tantrum, as most of the non-religious folks did.

As it turns out, though, Governor Jeff is a truly lovely man. He understood that others did not share his religious convictions, and did not want to force his beliefs on others. So he dropped the compulsory services, reasoning that the colony could not survive if they remained in place - so many were not attending, that the resulting punishments meant no one was available to work. Don Heinz - who I liked at first, but increasingly dislike - felt this was unacceptable. He has a point that it doesn't mirror the experience of being a pioneer, but Governor Jeff is pragmatic enough to know when compromises need to be made. We love Governor Jeff. And, oh yes, I got emotional when he was reunited with his family, who'd left the colony after the death of Bethany's - Jeff's daughter - fiance in a car crash. Shameless emotional manipulation, it's true, but I couldn't help but cry. I'm such an easy target.

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