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5 reality TV shows that defined Celtic Tiger Ireland

Words: Eva O’Beirne

Artwork: Paul Smith

The Celtic Tiger provided almost too many opportunities for mildly-recognisable Irish people to jump on our screens and give the ol’ reality TV a go.

From failed boating expeditions to “five eggs per bloke per day”, District has compiled five reality TV programs that perfectly encapsulate everything Y2K about Ireland.

Treasure Island (2001-2002)

Set in Tonga and the even more exotic Connacht, Treasure Island pushed Mark Daly into the spotlight. If you don’t know who he is, he’s currently the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. His gruelling participation in “physical and psychological” challenges on a tropical island has truly prepared him for Irish politics.

Check out the clip below where he takes part in a ceremony that could easily be a deleted scene from Midsommar.

Treasure Island was arguably Ireland’s first reality show, with almost 31,000 people applying to take part in the first series. The prize pot was a whopping £50,000. It was eventually axed and replaced with Cabin Fever in 2003.

Cabin Fever (2003)

Treasure Island was clearly a tough act to follow. So naturally, RTÉ decided to stick eleven people with no sailing experience on a 90-foot schooner and documented what happened.

Assisted by two professional crew, the wind-powered ship was supposed to (emphasis on supposed to) sail around the Irish coast with one contestant having to “walk the plank” each week if chosen by the audience. The final surviving contestant was to be considered the winner and would receive €100,000.

You may be thinking that something might be off. And you’d be right. The boat sank after two weeks, and they didn’t even get it on camera.

Image from RTÉ Archives

On 13 June 2003, the ship ran aground off Tory Island with all the nine remaining contestants and crew rescued by the Arranmore Lifeboat. The wooden sailing ship broke up on the rocks.

Tallafornia (2011)

Now I know that Tallafornia didn’t technically air during the Celtic Tiger, but the trends, tan and talk will awaken all the Y2K memories you’ve forgotten. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, this was RTÉ’s answer to Jersey Shore.

Filmed in Rathcoole, the series focused on the lives of seven housemates aged 19-28 and their daily activities in their shared lavish townhouse. The cast was sensationally described by Senator David Norris as “[encouraged to] behave licentiously and compete to bring people home to bed them”.

Eventually axed in 2013, the show depicted the very best of Ireland’s obsession with fake tan, hair extensions, quiffs and popped collars. And it also blessed us with the iconic “you’re 19, shut your face”.

RTÉ’s Celebs Gone Wild (2007)

Ah, the glory days of Irish television, where you could watch one of the Healy-Raes and Daíthí Ó Sé go bungee-jumping.

According to RTÉ, the show followed eight “top-secret celebrities” who were let loose in the wilds of West Ireland, “turning their back on pampered lives for a week-long trek through the unforgiving landscapes of Connemara.”

Micheal Healy-Rae was eventually crowned “The Wild Man of the West”, but as with everything to do with the Healy-Raes, it was not without controversy.

In 2011, it was reported that of the votes cast in support of Healy-Rae, thousands of them were made from a phone inside Leinster House. Over 3,600 calls were made in support of Michael Healy-Rae from a phone line within the Oireachtas, costing the taxpayer over 2,000 euro.

Reports said the calls were all made over a 31-hour period, suggesting that whoever made the call was simply redialling for hours on end. Healy-Rae denied any involvement but promised to pay the money back.

Celebrity Farm (2003)

There’s truly nothing like gathering eight of Ireland’s C-List celebrities to spend seven days on a farm and calling it television. Inspired by I’m A Celebrity….Get Me Out of Here!, Celebrity Farm has been referred to as one of RTÉ’s worst atrocities.

The “shuddering memory” of Twink, George McMahon and Kevin Sharkey acting as farmhands has haunted producers for years, and for good reason.

Despite the excursion lasting a mere seven days, Sharkey declined to attend the reunion due to “disagreements” with his fellow castmates. The producers were also accused of rigging the series and had to release a statement in response.

Image by RTÉ

The prize pot consisted of 50,000 euro for the winner’s choice of charity, but according to the Irish Independent the series brought out “the beast in us all”.

Would I still pay to see some Dubliner influencers get “turfed out” on a farm? Perhaps.

Elsewhere on District: We need to talk about the Electric Picnic headliners