An Emirati reality show? Yes Image Nation is making it happen

This April, Abu Dhabi-based film and TV production house Image Nation is planning to take a group of Emirati kids to the Philippines for a reality show with a difference.

The group of Emiratis will be taken to Manila in the Philippines to live with Filipino families. Nicky Loh / Reuters
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Who doesn't like the idea of an all-expenses-paid trip abroad? And how about becoming a TV star? Well, Image Nation, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, the publisher and owner of The National, is looking for six candidates to fly to the Philippines this April for a forthcoming 13-part documentary series. Sounds like something you could handle? Keep reading.

Sign me up

Sadly, the producers of the show are being rather specific. They're looking for English-speaking Emiratis, between 17 and 21 years of age, from a broad range of backgrounds. And keeping the balance, there will be three boys and three girls, who will be sent to Manila for, according to the brief, a "journey of personal exploration" where they will be "documented as they struggle with their new surroundings and the challenges they face in a developing country".

So, it'll be like Survivor?

"It's not Survivor," says the show's executive producer, Marc Lorber, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker who has been brought over especially for the project. There won't be winners or losers, or any form of public voting.

"It's not your typical reality show. Obviously we have to protect these kids, they're minors. I do hope for some emotional epiphanies, but we're not going to push these kids to a bad point."

The basic idea behind the show is for the group to experience life in a country that doesn't enjoy the same privileges in places such as the UAE, while also helping them appreciate the sacrifices people are forced to make to get by. "It's just to make them really appreciate what they have and how they can affect change when they're back here."

Destination of choice

"We chose the Philippines because it's where a lot of these kids' - not all - maids and nannies come from," says Lorber. "And when you walk into a store or restaurant [in the UAE], you're often served by people from there."

The group will be based in Manila, where they will stay with two families (one for the boys and one for the girls). "Not low class, but not more than lower middle class. They might have an extended family member working overseas, maybe even in the UAE, and have kids of similar ages. We'll be spending some time with them, but this is really about seeing the world there through these Emirati kids' eyes."

Task at hand

With the Filipino capital as their base, the group will be travelling around the city and outer regions, experiencing first-hand what it's like to live somewhere where goods and services aren't within easy reach in malls or by delivery.

"We aim to show them experiences of how food and clothing and technology are created, what you might earn for that, how it gets to market and how many hours it would take to buy that product," says Lober. "We also hope to see what happens to products that get tossed away, how other people make labour or recyclables out of garbage." There are plans to work with local NGOs and charities, so the kids can engage in hands on activities that help leave a lasting impression.

In good hands

While the TV show will certainly take the group out of their comfort zone, Lorber is keen to emphasise that they will be safe.

"What we're telling the parents is that we'll be taking our own Muslim chaperones. But what we don't want to take is parents or family members. This is really to get them away from here. But they will be in good hands, there will be a lot of people surrounding them, there will be security."

When will it be broadcast?

Although nothing has yet been confirmed, Lorber says the plan is to broadcast the show on local television during Ramadan. "There's nothing like this in the UAE or the region. It's meant to be a little more immersive, a little less clean. We intend to see some of the beauty and the culture of the Philippines, but it's not a tourist documentary. We're not going to focus on poverty, but we're not going to ignore it."

Further shows

Depending on the success of the first, there are plans to turn it into a returning series. "We could take other kids back to the Philippines, or to India, Sri Lanka or other places where a lot of UAE expatriate workers might emanate from and who these kids might interact with," says Lorber. "There's already talk about going forward, but let's get the first in the can."

If you or someone you know fits the bill and would like to apply, email with contact details and a recent photo