"If we could start again, what kind of world would we build?" asks a narrator during the first episode of Eden, which aired in July 2016 in Britain. The answer, it turns out, is a damned horrifying one complete with starving reality show contestants openly feuding with their producers, regular visits from bomb-disposal squads, moonshine, a chef desperate for his own spin-off, weaponized hammers hidden under pillows, and more. "It still haunts us," one former contestant tells the New Yorker, which takes a deep dive into "reality TV's wildest disaster." For Eden, 23 contestants were sent into the Scottish Highlands to (theoretically) fend for themselves and create a new society. The show was pulled from the air after just four episodes, but the cast remained in the wilderness (more or less) for another seven months.
When filming started, producers were cautiously optimistic. "This could either be great, or it is going to be Lord of the Flies," one camera tech remembers thinking. It quickly proved the latter. Multiple contestants left Eden over fights, hunger, and loneliness before the first episode even aired. “They were out of their depth,” says a man who lived across the bay from the contestants and could hear them loudly cursing their situation. “I don’t think we realized ... quite how dark it was going to get,” adds a Channel 4 employee who helped bring Eden to TV. One contestant became convinced she was being held captive on the show for life. “That is how ill we all got in there," she now says. There were only 10 contestants left by the time filming wrapped last March. Read the full story here for stories of rebellion, abuse, and attempted pub runs. (Read more Longform stories.)