I've just watched the fifth and final episode of what I've found to be a remarkable, if somewhat short, series. The biggest challenge faced by the producers of ‘Paradise or Bust' (BBC2), and one met with varied success, was in getting close enough to the ground level project whilst retaining an understanding of the online aspect; the Tribewanted community who are ultimately responsible for making the whole thing happen.
Much of last night's drama revolved around the sort of minor theft highlighted in last week's show. Typical issues, if unpleasant, that you'd get in any community - likewise an unexpected £50,000 tax bill dropped out of the blue. Fijian Revenue and Customs want their slice of the pie for every paid up member of the online Tribe, whether coming to Vorovoro or not. Oh Ben, you should've seen that coming! Aren't there any accountants on the forums?
Hiring two professional chefs to whip the kitchen staff into shape was a masterstroke. Clearly the grumbles would've continued with the prevailing attitude up until that point; an army marches on its stomach and all that.
The vegetable gardens are looking fabulous now and, in involving the local school children in a 'green-club', you can really appreciate the positive benefits of the project for the islanders. Another benefit.. and a huge one in the shape of a sponsored wind turbine. That's free electricity folks. How cool is that?
Almost one year into the project at this point and the project has come a long way; Time for Ben to head home. With Tevita in charge as Community Manager, Ben is free to return to the UK to concentrate on the business side of the project after a year of such great responsibility holding it together on the island.
The members of the online community interviewed toward the end of the program pretty much nailed the underlying dichotomy that lies at the heart of Tribewanted.
Yes, the project has delivered in terms of creating a ‘meeting of cultures', enabling a group of highly committed people to set up an ethical community, with firm environmental values; and integrating this into the local culture without the whole thing collapsing into a holiday camp for ‘gappers'.
Where it seems less clear that it has succeeded is in terms of the online community driving it - although I suspect that expectations were more of a problem during the early stages of the project. Apart from voting on issues and posting to forums it's a fairly passive experience. That's an ultimately unresolved condition and has been the weakest part of the TV series. Just like the online community felt they hadn't got a window into the island community, watching Paradise or Bust fails to provide a tangible sense of who the tribe members are and what their motivations are.
It'll be interesting to see what happens next. It's certainly a story that has got a lot left to tell.
You can find out more about the project at http://www.tribewanted.com/