The reality television show Roughin’ It was meant to follow a typical fish-out-of-water format, as various c-list celebrities attempted to live on a ranch according to frontier restrictions. 1200 hours of raw footage, roughly equating to 10 episodes, was shot before the network pulled the plug. Due to the near-total death of the cast, the footage was shelved indefinitely following criminal proceedings. Repeated viewing of the footage has allowed investigators to construct a rough timeline from the inciting incident to the final episode.
[exterior. The cast had gathered for the day’s challenge: assemble an ancient wash-mangle and do laundry. Celebrity chef A_____ and actress J_____ are conversing as they sort through machine parts. P_____, contestant from a previous year’s reality show, is sitting on an overturned trough attempting to roll his own cigarette.]
A:—and I mean, it’s not that I, like, hate it—
J: —no, you don’t really know enough to hate it—
A: —right. It’s just that I haven’t had a good experience so far and I need, like, a manual or something—
[P_____ drops his rolling papers and swears.]
A: *laughs* gonna have to bleep that one.
J: *joins in the laughter.
[K___, a transplant from a reality show about vintage cars, approaches the two women]
K: Okay, so we’ve got, like, thirteen moving parts, and then we’ve got this gizmo—
J: Oh. Hey. [She is looking somewhere off camera.]
[K stands up and follows her line of vision. He appears to follow the approach of another person with his gaze. K nods affably.]
K: Oh, hey [inaudible].
This footage is notable as containing the first appearance of what is most likely a shared delusion of another contestant. The cast would continually refer to a figure that did not appear on camera as if it had been part of the cast from the beginning. No microphone, whether it be worn by a cast member or fixed to a tripod, was able to pick up a name. The figure’s appearance marked a dramatic and ultimately violent turn to events, as cast members began acting upon orders not issued by the network but by said figure.
[The “cow pie toss.” Actors were encouraged to toss “cow pies” fashioned from wet clay as far as they could. The winner, predetermined by the network, would win a phone call home and a sports drink. Y___, a runner-up in a national singing contest, was the predesignated winner. The event director was coaching her on her performance in the contest.]
Director: Okay, now I really want you to play up the smell of these things, okay?
[Y___ makes a noncommittal noise and tosses some hair behind her shoulder.]
Director: Like, really—pretend it’s doggy doo.
Y: So are cow pies, like, poop? I never knew *director speaks, rendering the rest of her sentence inaudible.*
Director: Look, honey, I just want a lot of “yucks” from you, okay?
Y: Should I take off my heels?
Director: No, leave ‘em on. It’s better—it’s good for the show, okay?
[the director turns to instruct P_____ on something. Y___ relaxes slightly, shifting in her stance. Y___ stays in neutral position for 23 seconds before appearing to notice the approach of an unseen figure. She mouths “hi” and holds an inaudible conversation with her back turned to the camera. The Director calls for all cast to take up their positions. Y___ appears to finish her conversation, smiling and nodding. As soon as “action” is called, Y___ trips P_____ and presses his head into the mud.]
Director: Stop! Stop! Are you crazy?
Y: I know what I’m doing, jeez.
Director: Let him up, he’s—man are you okay?
P: *coughing* What the fuck, Y___?
Director: Look, sweetie, improv is not your strong suit. So just stick to the outline, okay?
[Y___ shrugs again.]
Director: okay, are we all on the same page? Action!
[Y___ promptly repeats her previous actions, this time crawling on P_____’s back to press his face into the mud.]
Director: Cut! Cut!
The cast began to deviate from studio-issued orders on events. Due to the hectic nature of the shooting season, the bulk of the footage was shot by stationary cameras hidden in various points around the ranch while live crews were called in only for supervised events. Behaviors that might have called for an early end to the show went undetected, perhaps facilitating the breakdown of order within the group.
[“Campfire” segments were shot as a sort of break between scripted activities. Cast were allowed to set up the camera as long as they made sure they were all visible in-frame. Cast members T___ and R__ were seen to have a budding relationship spark and encouraged to play it up during shooting hours. During this campfire segment, T___ and R__ sat off to one side, sharing a blanket.]
P: *holding a stick and digging into the fire* …and I just wonder if it’s all worth it, sometimes.
K: You can’t think that, man. Like, if everyone thought like that, like, no one would get anything done, ever, you know?
[T___ and R__ simultaneously look to a point off camera. They hold their gazes for ten seconds. The couple then turn back to one another, blank of all expression. They hold a rapid-fire conversation that does not slow or stop once for the entire segment. Their body microphones pick up no audio.]
A: So, what, I have to just keep chugging along, just because I need to?
K: Well, yeah. You have to think of it like—
[K___ suddenly undergoes what appears to be a seizure. He drops his ams to his sides and makes a buzzing intonation in his throat. Drool can be seen escaping his open mouth. His face is tilted roughly up to the night sky. During this period, A_____ and P_____ behave as if nothing remarkable is happening. The entire event lasts three minutes.]
K:—holistically, like, we’re all connected, you know?
[Conversation resumes as if the pause did not happen. In the background, T___ and R__ sit facing one another, mouths hung open, for the rest of the footage.]
[The cast was instructed to milk a cow. Instead, after conferring with the unseen figure, they slaughtered the cow and skinned the body. The cast continued to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary, assuming the playful nature they used for scripted events. J_____ picked up a femur and pretended to play it like a flute. T___ and R__ began a splash fight with cow viscera. Once the cowhide was completely removed and put into a barrel to tan, the cast stood still and faced the open doorway of the barn, uttering the same low intonation. This went on for an hour.]
The cast’s behavior became increasingly erratic. However, because they did not shed their on-camera personas, they largely escaped detection by the live crews. One noticeable shift was that P_____ became a whipping boy of sorts. Everything that went wrong was jokingly blamed on him. Other cast members would frequently point to him and make a throat-slashing gesture, which he would return with a thumbs-up. The filming crew did not think this odd. P_____ had been set up as a martyr from the planning stage: his departure in the mid-season finale was meant to be a ratings boost. However, crew found the cast’s increasingly sadistic treatment of P_____ disturbing.
[A simple relay race, played with lumps of coal. Y___ can be seen horsing around with T___ as R__, confined to another team, looks on with a slight frown. P_____, back to them, turns around and accidentally knocks a piece of coal out of Y___’s hand.]
P: Whoops! *chuckles*
Y: Boy, looks like you better eat what you spill, P_____!
[P_____ laughs as he gets to his hands and knees. The director can be heard shouting as P_____ cracks the lump of coal with his teeth. The cameraman zooms in long enough to catch a small amount of blood trickling from his mouth before the director calls cut.]
[The cast’s assignment is to draw a map of the surrounding area. Instead, they gather at a granite formation and hold an extended conversation with the unseen figure. Having discarded their body microphones, the only evidence of this occurrence is a camera set up on the barn roof to capture establishing shots. The cast returns after three hours. The paper that was suppose to be marked with the map instead holds a 27-point star. The cast insists that it is a map of the area.]
[A gaffer is setting up for a scene. K___ is lounging off to the side, holding an idle conversation. The gaffer is apparently only half-listening during this exchange.]
K: …and it’s just like, it’s always been there, you know?
K: Like, east and west, those are just human determinations, you know? The only real direction is inside.
[The gaffer puts a length of tape down and scatters straw over it.]
K: I could die tomorrow and I wouldn’t really be dead. Just shed another layer. I want to eat the dead skin from the outside of me, give me life for my new rebirth.
[The gaffer checks off points from a clipboard.]
K: P_____’s the one. He will open the way for the rest of us. I’d like to sup his misery and call it wine. The only way out is inside. The only way inside is through. Like [inaudible] said. Got to cut, cut, cut away the fat.
Gaffer: *finally appears to tune back into the conversation* Wait, what?I
The cast’s erratic behavior finally began garnering attention. The director called a meeting and informed the cast that they must behave in line with the contracts they signed with the studio. The cast greeted this with puzzlement, claiming they had been. P_____, despite having to get medical attention for injuries sustained during the coal-eating incident, denied any wrongdoing.
[R__ and J_____ are preparing a dinner of shoo-fly pie and boiled potatoes. R__ is kneading dough. J_____ peels potatoes while speaking at great length in a monotone.]
J: They lived here 12,000 years ago, when man was still sucking at the teat of summer. Slipped their skins every solstice and made wild. Descartes was wrong. There is no sun, there is only the illusion of light reflected in the moon. Man is a peach in the eye of god. God is a leaf in the eye of [inaudible]. 12,000 years is nothing to the stone. Man is carved from his own excrement. Life is a face laughing at the mirror. When I die it shall be to plant my own future. I will slip my own skin and slither into eternity. *she drops her peeler into the boiling pot and reaches in to grab it without hesitating or flinching. After retrieving it, she shows no sign of pain despite her skin visibly reddening on camera.*
R: I want to be sliced like a pear. My blood a gown. My entrails the crown.
J: *puts a hand on her shoulder* Time is the flight of a dead sparrow.
[the two women finish dinner without further comment.]
Due to increasing disquiet with the cast, network handlers were dispatched to supervise the remainder of the shoot. They arrived to find the ranch empty.
Investigating the surrounding area, they found the cast at the nearby granite formation. The cow hide they had tanned had been cut into a single strip of rawhide, which was then used to mark a 27-point star over the whole formaton. After setting up a stationary camera, the cast then ritualistically sacrificed P_____, who continued to smile and laugh during the entire process. The footage past the point where they began flensing his torso distorts almost irretrievably, repeated viewings have only been able to pick out several images. R__ stabbing J_____. K___and T___ painting an intricate symbol on the granite in blood. Y___, bare breasted and seizing in what appears to be religious ecstasy. P_____’s skin, hung up on a crude framework, flapping in a sudden breeze.The entirety of the cast staring at a single spot in the camera lens.
The cast was found dead, having attempted to flense their own skin off. The only survivor, oddly enough, was P_____. The actor was flown to a nearby hospital where he was put into a medically-induced coma. His body lingers on, despite repeated rejection of tissue donations. His family is currently fighting a legal battle to withdraw life support.
This footage was compiled as evidence and promptly shelved after the trial. Do not reproduce.