Don’t feel bad* if you briefly mistook NBC’s Siberia for another disposable summer reality series. With a cast of 16 “contestants” getting stranded in the Russian wilderness, a rugged Aussie host declaring it “the most extreme adventure ever created” and Survivor-esque camera work abounding, you wouldn’t necessarily have expected that “elimination” would be just another word for grisly death at the hand/claw of a (pack of?) nefarious, possibly mutant forest creatures.
Yep, this show is a scripted, fictitious slice of horror imaginging reality as a literal (as opposed to figurative) death trap.
The opening sequence was nifty: All 16 players blindfolded and helicoptered into a desolate patch of Siberia, then forced to abandon their belongings and race to a reconstructed, turn-of-the-century camp where a group of settlers mysteriously disappeared back in 1908. The last two to the outpost faced immediate elimination (though we never saw Berglind and Harpreet actually re-board the chopper, did we?)
That left us with 14 “players,” who, as our host pointed out, would be able to split a $500,000 grand prize among however many of them didn’t wave the white flag and ask to go home before the end of winter.
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Personalities and tensions emerged as early as Day 1: There was Johnny, an arrogant loner who’d smuggled in a lighter in his sock and chose to sun himself on the roof rather than help gather water, find food or make fire. There was Esther, the manipulative model who casually hid path markers to improve her own chances. And then there was Tommy, an environmental activist so nice that he helped injured geek Daniel make the hike — worries over his own potential elimination notwithstanding. Oh, and what to make of Sabina, who seemed to magically appear at the encampment first — without anyone seeing her get there? (Is she perhaps a ghost? Or a producer in disguise? Or an alien? Or a mutant? So many possibilities!)
A first-night campfire brought the players together — until animal noises of indeterminate origin drove everyone terrified into the cabins. In the morning, Daniel found a three-legged frog; Irene and Miljan found a weird, locked shed; and Annie, Natalie and Tommy set off to try to find special mushrooms they’d learned about from “The Revealer,” a giant metal box programmed to spit out clues and helpful items over the duration of the game.
You could tell things were about to get not good — and not just because Victoria had to go and say “We don’t want a Lord of the Flies situation on our hands.” Natalie and Annie returned to the camp with mushrooms — but no Tommy, who’d wandered deeper into the forest than they’d wanted to go. Cue: A camera guy with a giant, bleeding head wound, muttering in Russian, who was quickly led away while confusion built among the contestants. And cue our host, coming out and sharing that Tommy was badly injured. “Unfortunately, it’s fatal,” he added. What to the what-what?
And thus ended Episode 1 — with grouchy older dude Sam declaring, “Nobody’s supposed to die: It’s a game,” and the contestants having to decide whether to drop out and take home a consolation $5,000 or stay in the game despite a lack of any detailed information about what happened to Tommy. We the audience, though, got one final bit of found footage of Tommy and the cameraman fleeing from some unknown, apparently terrifying presence — the soon-to-be dead man’s screams the final note of the unsettling, spooky Siberia premiere. (*Also, don’t feel bad if you miss the Peacock net’s Love in the Wild, either. And by “you,” I’m mainly referring to myself, BTW.)
What did you think of Siberia? Grade the premiere in the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!