An expulsion, fighting, nudity: Fox’s Utopia starts strong

Fox’s decision to start Utopia‘s live feeds before the broadcast has already paid off. In their first weekend–first day, even!–there was drunkenenss, fighting. The show is already down two people and it hasn’t even aired on television yet. Big Brother‘s rabid feed watchers have always wanted to see what happens as the cast moves in, and the events of Labor Day weekend have demonstrated both the value of starting feeds early and the potential that Fox’s social experiment brings to reality TV.

A few potential spoilers ahead in the next two paragraphs: Vegan chef Andrea Cox was removed for breaking production rules and never showed up. TMZ reported that, in sequester, she smuggled a phone and used it to learn about the other cast members when they were announced last week. However, Andrea tweeted a Bible quote and a Winston Churchill quote, writing along with the latter, “I love listening to lies when I know the truth!”

On the very first day, Josh sexually harassed women while drunk, and on day two, the group decided to let him stay, but instituted what amounts to a restraining order against him. Feed watchers reported that producers held a meeting about sexual harassment that wasn’t streamed live because of an earlier incident. There was also hospitalization for dehydration, hunger, skinny dipping, discussions of religion, and a disclosure of pregnancy.

Watching briefly Friday night on the Utopia mobile app, I was impressed by the technology and the quality of the free feeds, which don’t even require registration on the app itself. It’s super-easy to flip back to see something again, by choosing either a scene or time, and clips are also shareable. There have been complaints from viewers about feeds cutting nudity and swearing: the free feeds are censored, while the premium ones are not (some reported problems with premium feeds being censored but that appears to have been fixed).

Drunken fighting can make for a successful reality franchise (hi, Real World!), but doesn’t necessarily translate to high-quality storytelling or worthwhile television. But producers clearly have plenty of material for Sunday’s episode, and considering the issues that the events raised in the community, the format looks like it has a lot of potential.

Update: Fox’s reality executive Simon Andreae confirms Andrea was kicked off for researching other contestants. He told The Wrap:

“We wanted them to go in and come face-to-face for the first time. That was very clear to all of them. It was in their contract and they were briefed a number of times about it. Andrea smuggled in a smartphone and she looked up other pioneers on the smartphone.

…It was clearly crossing the boundary of what was in her contract and what we thought was creatively important for the show. So, we sadly had to let her go and that’s the sum of it.”

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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.