Reality TV Strands Senator Flake On Desert Island

By Stina Sieg
Published: Friday, September 12, 2014 - 10:10am
Updated: Monday, September 15, 2014 - 10:41am
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(Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake is getting a new title: reality TV star.

Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake spent six days and nights on a remote, desert island. He had no food, no water, and hardly any tools to survive. Instead, he had a Democratic senator by his side. It was all for an upcoming reality TV special meant to send a message to Congress – and the public.

Yes, the Discovery Channel’s "Rival Survival," starring Flake and Democratic New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, is kind of like that famed show "Survivor." But don’t expect anyone to get voted off the island. Instead, this one-time TV special is all about working together. Flake said he and Heinrich came up with this concept to prove a point.

"We thought that maybe if a Republican and a Democratic senator can survive on a desert isle, then maybe our colleagues could reach across the aisle," Flake said.

And it should be mentioned that Flake’s isle had no water sources and was surrounded by a shark refuge. The senators brought nothing but the clothes on their backs and three “survival” items between them.

Senator Heinrich is honest that at first he thought the idea was "a little crazy," he said. 

But the more he thought about it, the more he decided something as strange as this might actually help Congress work better - and together.

"And I think humanizing an institution that has gotten far too partisan and has gotten far too partisan and is very frustrating for people on the inside and the outside right now is very important, as well," he said.

But will it make good TV? NPR's Linda Holmes thinks it's too early to tell.

"My first reaction to it was, 'This is a dumb idea,'" she said. "But my second reaction was, 'I’ve heard dumber.'"

Holmes is the editor of the pop culture blog "Monkey See" and host of the podcast "Pop Culture Happy Hour," so she's watched a lot of reality TV. She said it’s unprecedented to have a show like this, featuring two politicians, let alone sitting US Senators. But she thinks the success of "Rival Survival" may hinge on the same thing all reality shows do: whether or not its stars allow themselves to drop their guard.

"And I think that people with active political careers are probably among the most difficult to put in a state of being unguarded," she said.

And speaking of which, that brings us to a big question. One that might not be covered on camera. On a desert island with no water, what did the senators drink? As a few media outlets have already asked, what is their own urine? Flake is emphatic.

"No!" he exclaimed. "Absolutely not!"

"Rival Survival" premiers Oct. 29 on the Discovery Channel.

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