A fractious start
It began to dawn on me a couple of days into the shoot that this was not a high-cost production. Not only were the 'celebrities' about as well known as my father's chiropodist, but there were also no presenters. Instead, the commentary was to be dubbed into the final film back in the UK by an in-house commentator. The show was to be given the illusion of broadcast live through an interactive link back to the UK, where people could phone up and suggest penalties for celebrities who failed in their tasks. In reality, the penalties had all been decided in advance, and the phone calls were to be made locally by people in the production team (I can tell you all this now, despite the confidentiality clause in my contract, because the court case brought the information into the public domain. To avoid further casual embarassment, however, I will not mention either the production company nor the celebrities by their real names.)
My job, initially, was to provide on-site advice about potential health hazards in the jungle. My main concern was the abundant mosquito population, but I was also aware that a wide range of parasites lurked in the ground, local fauna and groundwater. I warned them about not coming into contact with the swamp, about cooking their food properly, about the need to sleep under bednets and so-forth. When the producer gave me a first-aid kit, it became clear that I was also to take on the role of 'camp doctor' as she had previously announced. On emptying the contents of the bag onto my bed, I realised that anything more serious than a graze would require rapid transit to the nearest medical facility, some fourty miles away.
Over the first few days nothing very much happened. Supplies of fauna to be used in the stunts were brought in from outside - mainly containers full of either maggots, cockroaches or fierce looking fish. Filming started on day 4 with the celebrities talking to camera about their 'greatest fears'. Not surprisingly, they centered on claustrophobic encounters with maggots, cockroaches or fierce looking fish. Most of the tasks given to the 'celebrities' were then designed to introduce the celebrities to their 'greatest fear' whilst performing some task designed to reward or penalise the group depending on success or failure. Many readers will be familiar with the concept from other reality jungle programmes, and I don't need to go into any more detail here.
The mosquitos were a constant problem, and I was minded to regularly slather myself in my home-made insect repellant. Everyone else used standard issue repellants that didn't seem very effective. We used a local lad to fetch last minute supplies like the repellant from the nearest village, 25 km due south. I also gave the runner a list of items for the medical cabinet, but after the third trip into town he simply never returned (it turned out that the producer had paid him in advance for the whole shoot. When he was later questioned, he claimed he did not understand the meaning of the word 'contract' and was therefore under no obligation to comply with the producers requests.) There were no mobile phone signals, and the satellite phone link was also down. By day 6 our contact with the outside world had fizzled out completely. The producer had already started drinking during the day to calm her nerves, and the 'celebrities' were constantly complaining of the heat, poor food, mosquitos, cramped living quarters and the lack of communication with the outside world. The crew were a lairy bunch, and the general atmosphere had begun to degenerate before even the frist task had been completed.
By day 8 we had only twenty minutes of unedited film in the can, the water supply was running low due to an undiscovered leak in the water-butt, one of the three generators had broken down, two of the crew were incapacitated due to gut problems, the producer was in a permanently foul mood and the celebrities were threatening to go on strike. Personally, however, I was in rude health and enjoying the feeling I always get when close to nature. There were many specimens to collect, and I found myself with an increasing amount of time available to examine the parasitic populations of several small mammals. If no-one else was going to have any fun, at least I could still practice my scientific skills under field conditions. I thought I might even get enough material for a report in a forthcoming issue of Parasites Weekly.
A happy few days for me then, though the winds of change were beginning to blow across the camp, and in the next few days things would start to go horribly, horribly wrong.....