Solitary renewed for third season; second season winner compares it to death row

Fox Reality’s quasi-torture series Solitary has been renewed for a third season, according to a detailed report on the show in Mother Jones. It will air this fall.

The magazine examines the cable reality competition as part of its issue on torture, and finds that “[d]isoriented and stripped of control, players shed their inhibitions with results that range from depressing to perversely funny” but that “the program’s most brutal aspect isn’t the physical treatments but rather [host] Val’s manipulations, her monopoly on information. On most competitive reality shows, a player knows when the others have quit, but on Solitary, four contestants are left to agonize on the ‘bed of nails’ for 90 minutes even after a fifth has given up and made the others winners.”

Before the show, season two winner Phu Pham “signed a 30-day contract and endured a battery of tests. Doctors drew blood, gave him a cardio ultrasound, and measured his lung capacity,” according to the magazine. “He met with a show psychologist and still recalls some of the scores of written questions. Do you ever have the urge to kill anyone? Do you hear voices at night?”

During his season, the second season, the magazine notes that “contestants [spent] hours in simulated torture chairs, drooling through ball gags. ‘Thith ith torthure!’ spits a humiliated Pham. ‘Thith thucks!’ To which Val replies in a soothing voice, ‘I agree. This rocks!'”

Of the torture chair/ball gag test, Pham said, “It’s very hard to explain. You’re trying to ham it up and let yourself have fun, entertain them, making the best of a pretty horrible situation. It’s like when you’re on death row. How sad can you be on death row? You’ve got to at least have as much fun as you can when you know you’re coming to an end.”

Executive producer Andrew Golder, who also produced Fox’s Unan1mous, said that his original pitch to networks was rejected. “I think they basically thought, ‘You’re fucking crazy!'” he said. But the Fox Reality Channel eventually picked it up. Network VP Bob Boden says, “We loved it. It had a catchy title, and it was producible on our limited budgets. We couldn’t recall another show that was about confinement, about lacking human contact.”

Voluntary Confinement [Mother Jones]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.