Imagine a dystopian, totalitarian future full of fear, violence, and running. Lots of running.
No, I’m not talking about our current state of affairs (ha-ha *collar pull*). I’m talking about Stephen King’s hit sci-fi novel, The Running Man. Written in 1982 and set in 2025*, King’s vision of the future is a grim, if not prescient, one: the worldwide economy is completely wrecked, violence is at an all-time high, and the country exists in a culturally-censored police state**. For entertainment, people tune in to a new reality game show called The Running Man – a show where contestants travel all over the world to escape the assassins who were hired to kill them. If they survive 30 days, they win freedom and the grand prize of one billion dollars. Only thing is: no one has survived longer than a week.
In a prime example of life imitating art (or is it art imitating life?), a Berlin-based production company ExtraMile was so inspired by King’s story, they decided to make it a reality – and in August of 2000, they did just that.
The concept was the brainchild of triathlon athlete, Alexander Skora, and was broadcast over the then-burgeoning internet at “RealityRun.com”. Viewers followed along as Roger, a Dutch gym teacher, did his best to avoid getting spotted by his would-be captors. If Roger was able to go undetected for 24 days, he’d win the grand prize of $10,000. If he was caught before then, his captor would claim the reward. Here’s the wild part: anyone and everyone could be a potential capturer. Spectators observed Roger’s whereabouts via the RealityRun website, which gave out clues and hints as to his location, and they were encouraged to seek him out and take his potential winnings.
Coincidentally, much like the contestants in The Running Man, poor Roger only lasted a week out in the wild: a young German woman spotted him in a library, nabbed him, and won the grand prize of $10,000. Roger walked away without any money, but at least he was still alive.
The internet show proved to be somewhat of a hit. After a bit of rule-tweaking (mainly, lowering the survival span from 24 days to a mere week), subsequent “episodes” took place in the United States. The idea was to have all the winners from the cumulative episodes converge in a “Mega-RealityRun” winner-take-all grand finale, for the grand prize of $100,000. There was even talks of turning the web-based program into a TV show. Unfortunately, the contest was to take place on September 10th, 2001. Any plans for a reality show about people hunting a fugitive were scrapped in the wake of September 11th, 2001.
Strangely enough, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were trying to get their own identical reality show, The Runner, off the ground at the same time RealityRun was being eyed at for network TV. After 15 years of laying dormant, the show finally premiered online in July 2016. A second season is in the works.
* The movie version, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, takes place in 2017 – which is just a liiiitttle too spooky for me.
** I don’t know what’s scarier: the fact that Stephen King predicted reality shows almost 20 years before they became a thing, or that he predicted our current social climate 35 years before it happened.