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Utopia: Fox's Big-Budget Reality TV Disaster

The story behind Fox’s big-budget reality TV disaster

Illustration by Justin Metz

During the premiere of Fox’s reality series Utopia, the host, a mustachioed man who has the sly air of a children’s magician, divulges the ambitious premise. For the next year, he explains, 15 participants will be living together, “building a new society from scratch,” on a ranch in the wilds of Southern California, with little more than a barn house, some livestock, and five acres of fertile soil. There will be no artificial challenges, he says, and no prizes. Instead, the show’s “pioneers” will be conducting “the biggest social experiment ever televised,” a clinical field study in self-governance captured on 130 covert robotic cameras, live-streamed to the Internet, and broadcast on Fox in near-real time. “Who knows what the future will hold,” he intones, “as this newborn society stumbles to life.”