How I survived a year on remote peninsula for reality show ‘Eden’
PUBLISHED: 08:18 02 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:51 04 September 2017
Cam-side resident Anton Wright talks about his epic odyssey on a remote Scottish island for Channel 4’s reality TV show.
Along with many others, I really enjoyed Eden, the survival show on Channel 4 which had as one of its participants Cambridge-based adventurer and rower Anton Wright.
The programme took 23 people – 13 men and 10 women – to a remote peninsula on the west coast of Scotland for a year, gave them basic provisions and filmed what happened. The first four episodes were shown a year ago, then there was a long gap before the remaining five aired this summer.
Originally intended as a reality TV show with regular broadcasts, the schedule went very quiet for a long time, suggesting that something might have been going wrong. What?
“Mob rule,” says Anton over lunch at The Waterman. “Those with the loudest voice must be right. I’ve seen this in the rowing community and in the student cohort and in Eden – it’s the minority who spoil it for the majority.”
Anton was head coach and boathouse manager at Clare College for seven years and acquired a further level of respect in 2013 when, with Mark de Rond, a professor in organisational ethnography at Cambridge Judge Business School, he acquired a Guinness world record for rowing the navigable length of the Amazon. So did he enjoy Scotland?
“Loved it! Well, in the end, anyway. It took a good month or so to see the beauty of it… because of the tension in the camp. It was very peculiar, a really interesting dynamic of human interaction. Mark de Rond would have been able to decipher what was going on – it needed something extra to go in.”
Like the Diary Room in Big Brother?
“More like David Attenborough: someone to explain to the viewer what people were doing, what was happening in terms of group dynamics. If they do another one they should embrace the things that go on in everyday life – families, kids, couples, a focus to ease the tension.”
Anton had gone in pretty well prepped. “The brief was you’ll be here for a year, you need to survive, if there’s anything specific you need, let us know.”
He came up with a seven-page document. “It included medical supplies, tools, plumbing supplies, the means to make log-burning stoves. Not the boat or the oars though – that’s why I had to make my own!”
He’d also studied the location itself before setting foot on it. “I researched the topography, the weather patterns. I’d pinpointed the location for the log cabin’s site even before I’d arrived there.”
This prior knowledge meant he knew what he was doing, which made it even crazier that the group elected to stay on the beach through the summer rather than prepare an inland retreat to winter in. “There were 70mph winds from the north-east coming right across the dunes into the camp. It was obvious what had to be done.”
Obvious to him, perhaps, but collectively the group seemed curiously inept at planning ahead. Nor did there seem to be much talk of the world they’d left behind, or any sense of purpose about what they were doing on the island together.
“I tried to fill that role a couple of times – to find some higher moral ground, to discuss wider goals, but it didn’t work, there were so many alpha males there it was one of those situations where if you put your head over the parapet you’re the first to get shot. But there’s always a way and I never let it stop me doing what I had to.”
After a while Anton teamed up with Raphael, a carpenter from Brixton. What a team!
“The bond was forged with Raf because of a similar mentality and way of thinking. Very quickly we’d got annoyed by what was going on and decided, also very quickly, to work on the log camp – Rafton Towers – and we decided to get up at 7 every morning to help achieve that.”
Rafton Towers was the duo’s rather splendid camp in the woods, which had hot water, a stove and a certain level of comfort. It was here that Anton’s “too many logs” slogan was coined: they had more firewood than they knew what to do with.
“I live on a narrowboat on the Cam: I’ve lived off-grid for five years. You survive, you strive, then you thrive. I don’t want to chop wood in winter. I do it in the summer and take it easy during the winter. I was chopping logs in Eden from day five! We spent five months chopping up logs and the others were jealous because they hadn’t done it themselves.”
Indeed, the participants stopped getting along in any sort of cohesive fashion. By the time the shows went back on air this summer the headcount had gone down to 13. Not only had they suffered from hunger and exhaustion, but they divided up among themselves along gender lines, with the males of the group – not least the notorious ‘Valley Boys’ – apparently tone deaf to the plight of the women on the island.
Anton and Raf had long since elected to live and work in the woods, leaving the others on the beach. After they voted the duo off the island the remainers seemed to lose the plot: they started drinking contraband whisky and their diet consisted mostly of meat. They were slaughtering 12 animals a month and eating steak for breakfast. The skulls of the animals they shot – deer, boar – were positioned like totems around the eating area. The set started to resemble something from Apocalypse Now. Were the episodes filmed after you left painful to watch?
“I was disgusted by it. I wouldn’t stop anyone having a meat-only diet, but there’s got to be a level of understanding of other people’s feelings.”
Rob the vet was turned into a one-man killing machine and it looked like he was suffering a high degree of mental torture as a result.
“I thought the way Rob conducted himself with that was amazing – quickly, competently and in an intelligent way. He was shut down every time. I was most disappointed by Jack (the former Army officer). Of all the people there, he had the skills and the training to make things happen but he didn’t. He kind of stirred things up instead of leading from the front.”
After Anton and Raphael were voted off they burned down their log cabin. So how do you follow that?
“When I left I literally flew to Cambridge, said hello to Stella (his partner), picked up my passport and flew to Greece. I was in Cambridge for six hours. She was doing her PhD, so it took a matter of hours to decide to get out of the country. I went to Athens and came back in January.”
He stayed with Spiros, Stella’s father, and found work. During that time, his life took a religious turn, which will result in his being baptised into the Greek Orthodox Church in due course. “I’d go to church every Sunday with Spiros when I was in Greece before Eden, it was a chance to be with him, a chance to reflect, and the Greek Orthodox Church is more in line with what I think a religion should be: it was Greek coffee and cakes, chats, not a religion that’s shoved down your throat but one based on sharing and discussing.”
So what else is next?
“I’ve got a bit of presenting work with Cambridge TV and I’d love to get into panto as well.”
Umm, panto!?! “I’d love to entertain kids, plus it would kickstart Adventure BE.”
AdventureBE, which has been going for three years, is Anton’s vehicle for public speaking, team-building, charity fund-raising and the TV presenting work he’s been doing for Cambridge TV. He’s put in lots of graft already, having started the Parkside Rowing project three years ago, which saw underprivileged Cambridge pupils getting lessons in rowing from a world-class rowing athlete. “They’ve been the most enriching things I’ve done. I’ve got a Guinness world record for rowing the Amazon but the thing I’m most proud of is taking the Parkside kids into a project to row the Thames.”
“Me and Raf are going to record a song. Watch out for the ‘Too Many Logs’ single, coming your way soon!”