I apologize in advance for the rather frivolous nature of today’s blog but the topic I am going to briefly talk about comes under the banner of ‘extreme’ behaviour. Back in the early 2000s, I would be the first to admit that I was a bit of a ‘rent-a-quote’ when it came to national newspaper interviews here in the UK. It was when Dr. Rachel Bromnick (a psychologist at Lincoln University) wrote into the Guardian newspaper with this letter under the headline ‘The Prolific Professor’ that I realised I needed to start being a little more selective with who I gave interviews with:
“I was interested to read Professor Mark Griffiths’ confession [in the August 10, 2002 edition of The Guardian] that he was a collector (I knew he was a psychologist). I wonder if he hoards his own cuttings? If so, he must have a house full of paper to add to his stamps, postcards, books etc, because whenever I read a paper, magazine or journal, there he is. For those who wish to add to their Professor Griffiths cutting collection, he was also to be found quoted on the same day in the main section of the Guardian (Labour’s big gamble on casino debts, page 3)”.
The reason I mention this because I recently came across a newspaper article that I had written for my local newspaper (the Nottingham Evening Post, now re-named to the shorter Nottingham Post) that in all honesty I don’t even recall writing. At the time, I was constantly being asked by the British media about reality television shows (particularly about the new Big Brother programme), because at the time I was doing research into the psychology of fame with Dr. Adam Joinson).
One of the television shows that was aired back in 2001 on Channel 5 was a bizarre show called Touch the Truck which I would define as an ‘physical endurance game show’ that was part of the channel’s reality television programming. If you have no idea what I am talking about (and I guess most of you won’t as the series was never re-commissioned in the UK), the Wikipedia entry says:
“Touch the Truck was a British Channel 5 endurance gameshow which aired in 2001. It was hosted by Dale Winton and involved a group of 20 contestants holding onto a truck with the last person left touching the truck winning it. The show was filmed at the Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock, Essex. Jerry Middleton, 39, from Winchester, Hampshire, was the winner who managed to stay awake touching the vehicle for 81 hours 43 minutes and 31 seconds…The format was devised by Glenn Barden and Dave Hills and is owned by Vashca. It has been subsequently licensed to the Philippines, Indonesia, Portugal and Turkey”.
The show only ran for five episodes and the format of the show was arguably based on an annual competition that is held in the US, and was turned into a 1990s film (Hands on a Hardbody). I also saw a similar ‘touch the car’ competition on a recent repeat (2005) episode of the wonderful US comedy My Name Is Earl (check out Episode 10, Season 1: White Lie Christmas). The Wikipedia entry on the film said that:
“Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary is a 1997 film directed by S.R. Bindler documenting an endurance competition that took place in Longview, Texas. The yearly competition pits twenty-four contestants against each other to see who can keep their hand on a pickup truck for the longest amount of time. Whoever endures the longest without leaning on the truck or squatting wins the truck. Five minute breaks are issued every hour and fifteen minute breaks every six hours. The documentary follows the 1995 competition which lasted for seventy-seven continuous hours”.
When the show hit the airwaves on March 11 (2001), I remember doing various radio interviews and being asked about the psychological motivations of the contestants taking part, and about the psychological effects of the participants as the competition progressed. I honestly can’t recall what I said to the broadcast media but (as I said earlier) I came across an article that I wrote for the Nottingham Evening Post about the show. I’m a little embarrassed at re-reading what I wrote but here are some of the things I said. Obviously my thoughts were for my local paper and not an academic paper:
“What a bizarre piece of television but what compelling television…It’s an endurance test and people want to almost share the agonies and the miseries that people go through. In a way, you live vicariously through them. It’s emotional and sometimes draining to watch them. As long as there is medical supervision, there is no problem in what they are doing…People aren’t bonkers for doing it, they want to win [the car], they want to win a big prize. It might be equivalent to a year’s salary, so it’s quite an incentive. The only thing I would say is that you would need training to do it. All of us may think it’s easy, but it’s not…People were hallucinating, and an Albanian-born man started speaking in Albanian, even though he didn’t realise it. Daydreams, headaches, these are all known side effects. On the Channel 5 show there was a woman who was so tired, she was forgetting to breathe and her blood pressure was dropping, so you do need medical people on hand who can stop you if necessary. It’s a person’s own choice if they want to do something like this. Hopefully no-one is going to have long-term damage from this. Certainly no long-term psychological harm. It seems that [Channel 5] has chosen people who are used to standing for long periods. Personally, I couldn’t do it for more than an hour”.
The show only lasted one series on British television (presumably because the viewing figures were not as good as the channel expected). Over at the UK Game Shows website, the overview of the show said:
“Touch the Truck is a typical attempt by people who don’t normally commission [or] make game shows to do a game show. Such people think that game shows should be all about (a) tacky sets and lighting, (b) fabulous prizes, (c) cheesy catchphrases by the bucket-load, (d) real ‘characters’ as contestants. With the prospect of truckers, tonnes of throbbing metal and 20 members of the public who can’t run away, they’ve been able to wheel in Dale Winton, the consummate professional, to try and generate mass hysteria…The programme is more like a documentary on the effects of trying to stay awake as long as possible. People going mad is quite interesting, although there wasn’t as much of that as perhaps the producers were hoping for…Ultimately, the concept lost all credibility on day 2 when the favourite was pulled out of the competition against his own will for ‘medical reasons’ whereas he looked and sounded perfectly fine”.
My own vague recollection was that the show was compelling to watch (I was going to say it was ‘car crash TV’ but it didn’t seem like a good analogy to use), but maybe it was because I knew I was going to be asked to make comments on it by the media.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Driving test not a mini marathon: A psychologist’s view. Nottingham Evening Post, March 22, p.19.
UK Game Shows (2013). Touch the Truck. Located at: http://www.ukgameshows.com/ukgs/Touch_the_Truck
Wikipedia (2013). Hands on a Hardbody. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hands_on_a_Hardbody
Wikipedia (2013). Touch the truck. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touch_the_Truck