The hottest reality concept in Tinseltown involves a search for the world's most wanted terrorist: Osama bin Laden. Hollywood insiders say that "Bounty Hunter," set on the Afghani-Pakistani border, could begin airing as early as this summer. The $25 million question: how involved was the White House in developing the unorthodox concept?
Next on Fox: Ten Teams Join the Hunt for OSB
By Russell D'Arby, Arts and Entertainment Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, CA–The White House is denying reports that it has teamed up with a Hollywood production company to develop a reality show in which 10 teams of ordinary Americans, all with military training or backgrounds, will hunt for elusive terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. According to insiders at Fox Broadcasting, the network on which the show will reportedly air, "Bounty Hunter: Afghanistan" could be coming to a TV screen near you as early as this summer.
At a press conference yesterday, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett did not mention the novel reality concept, nor did he refer to bin Laden by name. Bin Laden is believed to have escaped Afghan and U.S. forces near the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan in late 2001.
The amazing search
"Bounty Hunter: Afghanistan" is reportedly being developed by Rocket Science Laboratories, the television production company behind such hit reality shows as Joe Millionaire, Temptation Island, and Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy. And despite the lack of official comment from the White House, news is already beginning to filter out about the concept and the participants who have been selected to join the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Unlike most popular reality shows, including the Amazing Race, Survivor and the Apprentice, which are shot in advance and parceled out to viewers in weekly installments, "Bounty Hunter: Afghanistan" is reportedly being developed as a live concept. Viewers will follow the ten teams each week as they attempt to locate bin Laden, who is said to be hiding somewhere in the mountainous terrain of eastern Afghanistan. (Click thumbnails to enlarge images.)
The ten teams chosen to participate reportedly include the co-owners of an auto-parts store in Watson, CA, a gay couple from Elizabeth, NJ, two school teachers from a Chicago suburb, and a pair of single moms from Cheektowaga, NY; each team will have 2 weeks to locate the world's most wanted man. The White House is reportedly offering the winning team an unprecedented $5 million, a fraction of the $25 million bounty that the Bush administration has placed on bin Laden's head.
In addition to facing the usual trials and tribulations that confront reality show contestants—from in-fighting to shifting alliances—contestants on "Bounty Hunter: Afghanistan" must also deal with an environment as dangerous as any on Fear Factor. Forces loyal to Taliban commanders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, and to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, still operate with impunity near the mountainous Pakistani frontier.
American false idol
Contestants are also unlikely to receive the warm welcome they're routinely accorded on such globe-trotting reality shows as the Amazing Race, in which participants bungee jump in New Zealand, search archaeological digs in Egypt, crawl through temples filled with rats in India, and help build huts in Ethiopia, all to the delight and amusement of their native hosts.
American visitors to the Afghan-Pakistani boarder are typically cautioned to keep a low profile. But that may prove difficult for the 20 "Bounty Hunter: Afghanistan" contestants, who've been fitted out in custom-made gear designed to withstand the hot days, and cool nights, of the Afghan summer. There is no word from the production company or the White House about whether the contestants will also be provided with body armor of the sort worn by some soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who's your daddy?
But the contestants may have the most to fear from the 10,000+ active-duty US military personnel currently in Afghanistan. Many of these soldiers are reportedly extremely unhappy about having to share the arena in which they've been operating since 2001 with 20 high-profile interlopers. Another source of friction, says one contractor close to military officials in Afghanistan: prize money which active duty soldiers would dearly love a chance to compete for.
"Officially the word is that no one knows anything about this show," said the source. "Unofficially, the leadership is bullshit. They see this as yet more evidence that Bush and the Pentagon care more about gimmicks that will get the headlines than they do about putting boots on the ground and giving our guys the support they need to wage an effective campaign and smoke this rat out of his hole."
The biggest loser
There are also reports that some Special Forces officers operating in Afghanistan are unhappy that the Bush administration would send in untrained personnel to hunt for bin Laden. But Fox Broadcasting insiders and some "Bounty Hunter" contestants bristle at the suggestion that the teams lack essential training, noting that applicants were required to have either military training or experience. "The folks who agreed to participate in 'Bounty Hunter' are some of the bravest, most fearless people you could ever hope to meet," said a Fox spokesperson. "I would put these folks up against our commandos or Special Forces any day."
Cheektowaga resident and "Bounty Hunter" contestant Margaret Kowalski is still hoping that she'll have a chance to show America what she's made of—and compete for the $5 million prize. "I'm definitely ready," said Kowalski, who served as an assistant chaplain in Operation Desert Storm. "I've been hiking in the mountains to prepare for the terrain, rationing my food, you name it."