With Hunted quickly coming to an end and the verdict still out on whether or not the reality show will live to see another season, fans are wondering if the show is real or fake. (The show also has a longer-running sister version in the UK.) The goal is for a fugitive team to evade hunters for 28 days. If they succeed, they win $250,000. And although you might think this show couldn’t possibly be real, it actually is a lot more “real” than you might imagine.
The Hunters Use Real-Life Surveillance Techniques
As we discussed in our story here, the hunters use a number of surveillance techniques that are used in real life to track down the fugitives. Now, some of the hunters’ scenes on the CBS reality show are re-shot for dramatization purposes. But they aren’t made up. The hunters are using techniques that law enforcement can use and often do use. In addition, much of the research is real. In many cases, the hunters simply find information through social media research and finding information available publicly on the Internet. They also interview family and friends to gather clues.
Of course, there are some liberties that must be taken since this is a reality show and not real law enforcement activity. Clues that require search warrants etc. might be replicated in some ways.
For example, the UK version has a disclaimer that reads, “For the purposes of this series, some powers of state have been replicated, including CCTV and ANPR (automatic number plate recognition).” And this article by The Sun (also about the UK show) says that the hunters “replicate the powers of the State and what they’re able to do.”
Information That Would Require Search Warrants or Subpoenas Is Only Released If They Would Have Enough Evidence For Them in ‘Real-Life’
RealityBlurred fact-checked one episode on February 1 and found a few things that seemed off. For example, the hunters appeared to search for rental cars under David and Emiley’s names (two of the fugitives.) Enterprise told RealityBlurred that non-employees couldn’t do that. (However, it’s possible that the part where they narrowed down the search to Enterprise and then called the employee for the request was edited out.) Enterprise did say that this kind of information could be obtained with a subpoena. Obviously one was not obtained on the show. However, the show did try to stay as true-to-life as possible.
RealityBlurred talked to a producer who told them: “It might have been that … the producers … deliberately took a photo of the rental agreement with the assumption that, had we had real law enforcement powers, we would indeed have been able to subpoena the rental car company for the information.”
It turns out that production for Hunted serves a bit as the “wall” separating the fugitives from the hunters, RealityBlurred discovered. The producers decide if something the hunters request would be given to them in real life (such as whether a warrant or a subpoena would be granted.) If so, they pass the information on. As RealityBlurred wrote, “Part of the production documented what happened to the hunters, and then secured that information until it was properly requested.” And as RealityBlurred added, “I was told the production team did considerable research to ensure that the requests … simulated what would happen in the real world, such as waiting for a subpoena.”
This makes sense. The fugitives do have a camera person with them all the time.
Timelines Might Seem Off Because of Editing
One more thing to point out. Some fugitives may appear to be caught a lot quicker than they really were. This is because a lot of footage must be edited out due to how short the show is. So you may think a fugitive was caught in a few days when they were actually caught after two weeks. Sadly, the US show doesn’t always tell us when a fugitive was caught. Last week, one duo was caught and we were never told exactly how long they had been on the run before they were taken in.
The Rules Do Constrain Some of the ‘Reality’
Some of the rules of the show do, however, constrain the “reality” to a degree. The hunters are less constrained in what they can do, but the fugitives are very constrained. For example, they must move at least five miles every 48 hours. And they can only use one debit card, given to them by the show, and take out $100 a week.
Of course, this might balance out some of the huge advantages that the fugitives have going into this. It’s likely pretty easy for them to find people who will give them rides or let them stay overnight, considering they have a camera crew with them and are on a reality show. That’s completely different from what it would really be like to be on the run.
And Some Rules Make The Show Much Less ‘Real’
In this fascinating article, RealityBlurred found out more about the rules that aren’t revealed to viewers. Emily Cox and David Windecher talked about some of the rules during a radio show interview. Teams can’t return to the same location twice and they can’t be helped by the same person twice. They must use the ATM twice, even if they could survive without the money. And no one else can give money to the teams, and certain other resources are constrained. Emiley also said that producers could “create a rule or take away a rule at any point in the game.” For example, friends were bringing David and Emily burner phones, until it gave them too much of an advantage, so the producers put a cap of $30 on gifts.
In conclusion, this is reality TV, so of course it isn’t completely reality. But I still think, overall, the show tries to keep things as true-to-life as it can, and to keep things balanced between the hunters and the hunted. The fact that the fugitives are more likely to get help from strangers because they’re on a TV show is a huge advantage. So some of the disadvantages don’t seem quite so unfair in light of that. Even keeping these rules in mind, Hunted is still an enjoyable show — both the UK and the US versions.