It was ‘Big Brother meets ISIS’ when an Australian reality show actually brought its participants to the war zone inside Syria for an upcoming episode.
According to a trailer for the show, a trio of reality stars and their film crew crossed over the Syrian border with Kurdish fighters and ventured just a half-mile from battle lines with the Islamic State.
The show, called “Go Back to Where You Came From”, aims to change Australia’s perceptions of the global refugee crisis. The Syria episode was, as one participant called it, “a lot more than we bargained for.”
The reality series takes six Aussies on a three-week trip around the world, following the path that migrants take as they try to reach Australia, in order to see “through the eyes of refugees.” Half of the participants are actively anti-immigration, including a woman who runs the Stop the Boats Facebook page and a schoolteacher who fights against the supposed dilution of ‘Australian culture.’
A noble goal, perhaps—but no one wins with the show’s latest stunt, a foolhardy trip into Syria, where most foreign journalists no longer dare to work and humanitarian groups struggle to provide citizens with food and medicine.
In the show’s third season, which airs at the end of July, part of the cast gets escorted into Syria by Peshmerga fighters, who hosted the crew at their camp and then shuttled them to the frontlines.
“When we crossed the border from Iraq into Syria, I kind of thought we would maybe go to a refugee camp near the border, meet some families, but once we crossed the border we drove for like four hours and it kind of dawned on me we were going to an active war zone,” a 25-year-old activist named Nicole told News.com.au.
The fighting was happening around villages that had been bombarded by the terrorist organization ISIS, and the participants say they were around 900 yards from the towns when ISIS fighters realized their position and began shooting directly at them. Clad in bulletproof vests and sturdy sneakers, they ran from the artillery.
“They’re coming toward us,” one of them says as blasts echo through the air in a preview clip, called “Participants Encounter ISIS,” which was released by the network on Thursday.
“We had to move because they were shooting at us,” Nicole said. “Then we decided as a group—stupidly, I think—that we would go closer.”
“Probably the worst part was going as close as we could and knowing that their bullets could reach us,” another member of the team told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We were told to listen for any whistling sounds coming through the air and that would mean a mortar had been fired. We were told we had 30 seconds to run 100 meters.”
She added that if it weren’t for family commitments back home in Australia, she would have personally joined the Peshmerga fighters.
The award-winning show launched in 2011 started off as a way to address the bad reputation Australians have made for themselves overseas. The first season took four skeptical Indian citizens around the country to meet a variety of Aussies and marvel at all the Outback had to offer. At the end, the show asked those visitors, per the IMDB synopsis, if they “still think that Australians are DUMB, DRUNK & RACIST?”
In later seasons, the focus has shifted slightly to focus on Australia’s perception of incoming refugees, and in this latest season, the group experienced an immigrant’s journey through Iraq, Jordan, Cambodia and a detention center in Darwin, Australia.
As good as the show’s intentions may be, though, one has to question their judgment in dropping Australians into Syria’s hell just to get some action shots.