British Reality TV Show Involves Extreme Sleep Deprivation

Almost 15 years ago, 10 people were tortured in an abandoned shopping center in east London on live TV. They were all contestants on the reality show Shattered, competing to stay awake as long as possible in order to win £100,000 ($121,602). After 178 hours of sleep deprivation, Clare Southern, a 19-year-old police cadet nicknamed “the terminator,” scooped up the prize. For ethical reasons, Shattered would probably never get made today. That’s a good thing, not just for potential contestants, but also for viewers, who complained about the show’s “misconceived and dangerous” premise. Along with American reality shows Survivor and Big Brother, Shattered was part of a series of “social experiment” shows that were generating interest in the early days of reality programming. The show did provide insights into the science of sleep and what total sleep deprivation feels and looks like, but it definitely took a toll on the contestants. The producers set contestants daily “you snooze, you lose” tasks between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. when the body most craves sleep. The challenges were entertaining, though bordering on cruel. Contestants were read bedtime stories by grandmothers in overheated rooms and made to cuddle teddy bears or sit in a comfortable chair while watching paint dry. During the final challenge, when Southern had become the winner, the runners up, Chris Wandel and Jonathan Wood, were sent off to bed and fell asleep within 15 minutes. Southern, however, was so accomplished at staying awake that she up for nearly 2 hours before producers intervened. While none of the contestants suffered significant health consequences, they did suffer from brief hallucinations, which is common with sleep deprivation. Despite the dangers, producers said the contestants were young, healthy, informed of the risks, and closely monitored during filming.