The legalization of psychedelics might not yet be upon us, but if and when it arrives, reality television might stand to gain. After all, reality TV has so far been famous for subjecting it’s participants to a mixture of twisted plots and ploys aimed to disorient, scare, excite, shame and otherwise manipulate in any conceivable way. And what better way to manipulate minds than using the ultimate mind-blowing substances which even the CIA was famously involved in using for purposes of mind-control?!
Psychedelics, tell us the psychiatrists and psychologists who studied them, basically magnify and enhance the mind’s dominating patterns. With psychedelics things can become quite majestic, or equally quite horrid, all depending on the set and the setting in which they are taken. Mid-twentieth century hallucinogenic drugs researchers were thus divided into two camps. One, the CIA funded psychotomimetic (psychosis-mimicking) wing, specialized in using psychedelics to induce and intensify feelings of anxiety, discomfort, fear, disorientation and despair. The psychedelic wing of hallucinogen research, on the other hand, specialized in inducing feelings of wonder, awe, creativity, compassion, happiness and joy. Both ends were achieved spectacularly, with both parties arriving at opposite results and conclusions about the effects of the drugs. It was not for nothing that Aldous Huxley described the range of psychedelic states as “heaven and hell”, a metaphor which was adopted by many later observers who described psychedelics as a magnifying glass for consciousness. And since reality TV likes it bigger, stronger, more emotional and more intense, psychedelics might supply exactly what’s needed.
Sure, such programs might cause some public outrage, but this might be exactly what is needed to revive a once glorious TV genre which has been stagnating in recent years. After all, with shows like Man Vs. Beast which pitted sumo warriors against orangutans, or Who’s Your Daddy, in which contestants had to discover the identity of their real Daddy, from a bunch of fake dads who wanted their money, reality TV has already gone as low as possible, hitting a glass flooring which prevents its further development. Well, with legalized hallucinogens it can go lower and further than ever, if it follows the hellish logic of psychotomimetic TV shows like “Acid Survival”, or “Psyched Brother ” (described below). Conversely, should hallucinogenic reality TV follow the psychedelic model, this might lead the way to a more humorous, laid back and humane version of current reality shows.
Whichever way it goes, and to leave no doubt, I wish it doesn’t go the psychotomimetic way – though I do find the idea perversely amusing – hallucinogenic reality TV can take reality TV to the next level. So let’s move on and meet our competing TV formats for the age of psyched TV.
Psychotomimetic Television shows
1. Acid Survivor: Nature can be amazing on psychedelics, as countless psychonauts would readily testify. Psychedelically inspired visions of indigenous life have already shaped the aesthetics and ideology of the modern ayahuasca culture as well as the trance party scene. Nevertheless, a psychedelic nature experience is a generally relaxed and laid back experience of “connecting” to nature. Should this pastoral harmony be broken by an induced sense of danger, suspense and struggle, it could easily be subverted into a psychotomimetic nightmare.
Now imagine our contestants balancing themselves on a plank while crossing a barrier, trying to stir a boat through a stormy sea, or performing complex coordinated team missions – all while high on acid. The combination of physical challenge and mental challenge is likely to exacerbate both in a circular loop. Thus, for example, competitors will no doubt find it difficult to balance themselves when crossing physical barriers, which will surely enhance feelings of uncertainty and fear, impairing their performance even more, thereby again further escalating fear, and so on. Competing teams will also have to tackle increasingly complex group politics, as some of the members might develop paranoid tendencies, while others might not even be able to play the social game, being too occupied with contemplating the limits of their ego and existence.
The potential winners here would be those who can ride the shamanic wave; those who can use psychedelics to connect to the experience of the body and the intuitive knowledge of indigenous existence. Only in this way will they be able to see through the game show’s tension and stress evoking manipulations. The acid survivor will be of the same tribe as those individuals who withstood Ken Kesey’s acid test, i.e. individuals who are able to flow with the experience and avoid freaking out. Should our contestant be present in the here and now, connect to the body and breath, and not fall back to the social game, he shall graduate survivor’s acid test and become the acid survivor.
2. Psyched Brother: Even without psychedelics, big brother is one of the biggest mind-f*#ks ever invented. With a varying set of conniving flat mates who spend 24 hours a day together for months at a time in an entirely and strictly secluded setting, where disturbing group dynamics are allowed to play themselves out, Big Brother is a powerful mind-altering tool. In fact, it is known to have driven many Big Brother contestants to the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Now imagine the panopticonic claustrophobic world of big brother, with its constant mind-f*#k of one-way mirror separation from an always viewing national audience, and a melodramatic, conspiring group dynamic synthesized by big brother producers. Now imagine this powerful mind alterant combined with psychedelics, as contestants are required to ingest acid every 8 hours in order to remain in a constant state of high. What you get is not double or triple impact, but a plethora of new fractal realities which is bound to turn on millions of viewers at home.
Bathing in the pool will be much more fun, that’s for sure; and so will munching in the kitchen, getting tanned in the garden or just chilling out with your friends in the house. Nevertheless, such enjoyable experiences are likely to become overshadowed by the adverse effects of mixing big-brother with hallucinogens – a clear example for the contra-indication of certain combinations of mind-alterants, if there ever was one.
The surveillance and treason atmosphere of Big brother, in which allegiances and alliances rapidly shift, has been known to cause an incredible amount of politicking and scheming. With hallucinogens around, social relations between contestants are likely to not only become much more intense, but also be experienced as infinitely more intense than they already are. Worse yet, analysis of social relations is likely to become increasingly ambiguous, fuzzy and confusing, as everything about the people in the house becomes increasingly weird. In such a situation fits of paranoia are unavoidable, and big brother will have to decide whether to step into the set with a shot of thorazine or let the flipping contestant ride it out. In fact, a contestant’s call for a thorazine shot would probably mean admittance of defeat, of failing the test. Thus, contestants will be motivated to avoid calling for medical help and the freaking-out process will probably be allowed to reach it’s natural resolution, in the hope that nothing goes wrong.
It is in this situation that the true hero of big brother emerges, and here again we encounter the shaman, in his role as the curandero: the one who offers healing and meaning. The curandero who sees beyond the social game, who can fill himself with love with compassion, and who has explored his own consciousness so that he can guide his fellow-man back from strange and alarming worlds, is the one who will come to the help of the house’s failing psychonauts and bring them back to safe shores. By playing the good Samaritan of psychotomimetic realms, he will win the allegiance of his fellow-players in need, as well as the support of viewers at home.
3. The Psychathlon (In honor of Hagar Shezaf) – Much more than just a TV show, the psychathlon is to drug abuse, what crocodile bungee is to extreme sport. Inspired by such multi-stage sports competitions such as the triathlon or the decathlon, the psychathlon takes psychonautics and turns it into a professional spectator sports. The rules are simple. In each stage of the psychathlon race participants have to overcome various challenges which are made more difficult by the effects of a pharmacopeia of stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens they must consume. Here is a proposed layout for a basic five stage race.
- Each of the contestants takes three shots of vodka and needs to cross a narrow wooden beam without losing balance and falling.
- Now, each of the contestants takes a joint of pure high-grade cannabis. An academic lecture in a topic such as the historical reasons which led to the Second World War, or introduction to macro-economics, is played to the contestants, who are required to concentrate and listen intently. Afterwards contestants need to write down an accurate summary of the contents of what they just heard.
- Contestants drink seven successive cups of espresso coffee in a matter of a few minutes. Now they need to thread three sewing fibers into three needles of diminishing size, a task made increasingly difficult by caffeine induced shaky hands.
- Contestants shoot some heroin. Next they need to run up a steep hill while carrying a heavy backpack, a task made significantly more challenging by the depressive effects on heroin both upon the central nervous system as well as upon participants’ will power.
- Finally, contestants ingest 200 micrograms of LSD. After the effects of the drug have set in, they are required to paint a realistic vignette of the face of a human model.
Note to producers. Of course the production team should not be so careless as to take any responsibility for the possible contradictions between the effects of these drugs. After all, this stuff could be dangerous!
Psychedelic reality TV
While psychotomimetic reality TV sometimes offers a psychedelic edge by allowing the possibility of a constructive break into psychedelic consciousness which can help win the show, psychedelic reality TV is based by design on a positive setting which fosters positive psychedelic experiences. Such programs would thus be less about competition and stress induction, and more about pleasure, sensation, relaxation, humor, and inner introspection.
4. Psychedelic Kitchen – Hosted by an experienced psychonaut with a healthy dose of interpersonal intelligence and an amiable character, this program welcomes a new chef into the kitchen in every episode.
Psychedelics greatly enhance our appreciation of food, as Albert Hofmann himself famously found out following the first acid trip in history. This intensification of the appreciation of food and nutrition can occur on many levels in a cooking show. Thus, for example, the cooking materials used by our cooks are likely to feel much more vivid and alive, and as our cooks give up everything they knew about cooking, they will be confronted with the reality of food in its most primal and immediate sensation, as well as with the philosophical implications of food and nutrition. They are as likely to gaze intently and with growing sense of wonder at each ripe and fleshy red tomato they hold in their hands, as they are to cut through its body with an awed sense of respect, or to contemplate the chemical and biological wonders of food.
An LSD trip usually lasts around eight to ten hours in which feelings of hunger are generally absent. This will give our contestants plenty of time to cook. After the trip, however, food is greatly appreciated by a famished body who has just been through a prolonged and intensive cleansing experience, and it usually tastes incredibly tasty and feels incredibly good to eat. In fact even a simple dish ingested after a powerful trip can taste orders of magnitude better than a gourmet menu served at a top restaurant to the standard diner. It would be interesting to watch people who have dedicated their life to food relishing it like never before, surrendering themselves to the full blown experience of eating with unprecedented intensity and relish.
5. The Psychedelic Traveler – With the variety of planetary traveling destination almost exhausted by a myriad of traveling shows, it seems that the genre needs a bit of a shake-up. Like food, which becomes a whole lot better with a bit of psychedelic help which helps appreciate simple tastes, rather than by searching for the next culinary novelty – so can traveling improve not by endlessly scanning our planet in an attempt to find new objects to examine, but by changing our subjectivity, or the way in which we experience new places. After all, everybody knows that traveling is more dependent on that magical combination between a certain place and a traveler’s mind-state, rather than being a simple cause-effect process. It is not about where you go, but rather more about how you go about it.
Psychedelic traveler will combine the best of geo-traveling with the best of psycho-traveling sending our psychonaut host to various psychedelic locations around the globe. From Portugal’s romantic Palacio de Pena with its enchanted gardens and castle, to Israel’s majestic Avshalom Cave, to the outlandish landscapes of Spain’s Torcal de Antequera, our intrepid psychedelic guide will lead us across exotic landscapes which can best be appreciated under the effects of a psychedelic. Meanwhile, instead of just hearing boring historical details about who built what and when, the show will follow the psychic process experienced by our host as he goes through his trip. Instead of getting the official tourist version, viewers will get the gonzo version of travel, as our host struggles through and charts new external and internal landscapes. Instead of being a tiring pre-packaged deal, traveling a can once again become an adventure, a journey encompassing both space and mind.
6. Extreme Psych-Makeover: Back in the days make over reality shows like Extreme Makover or Ambush Makeover would take self-neglected or otherwise supposedly aesthetically unpleasing man and women and put them through a rigorous regimen of exercise, plastic surgery, hair dressing and wardrobing in order to help them make the transition from ugly swan to sleeping beauty. Hell, even participants cars’ got a makeover in TV shows such as Pimp my Ride. Nobody ever bothered to ask contestants how they feel about being told that they needed to completely change their appearance in order to be accepted into society and be loved. Nobody ever tried to heal their soul.
This is where psychedelic make-over TV comes into the picture. Research shows that between 65% to 75% of those who have a psychedelic experience in a carefully controlled setting will regard the experience as one of the five most significant experiences of their lives. One out of three will regard it as the single most meaningful experience of their lives. Other research shows that positive personality changes can be arrived at through such psychedelic peak experiences and maintained for the long term, transforming a person’s life for the better.
Extreme Psych-Makeover will take depressed, anxiety-ridden, OCD inflicted or just generally bitterly sober and existentially discontent individuals of the type produced in abundance by our consumerist society, and help them undergo a spiritual transformation which will imbue their lives with a new sense of meaning, joy and wonder.
Participants would begin their path towards a make-over with a psychotherapeutic process in which their current situation in life will be observed and analyzed, as well as the various experiences and complexes which led them to arrive at this sad state. Such sessions would generally follow the scheme already outlined by current research into psychedelic therapy. After a few sessions of psychotherapy, through which viewers would get to know the participants, they would finally be ready for their first psychedelic session. Such sessions can take place within a modern psychotherapeutic setting of the kind used in contemporary psychotherapeutic psychedelic research, or they can take place within a traditional and more shamanic context. The psychedelic sessions will form the core of each episode of the show, allowing viewers entrance to participators’ innermost dramas, as they struggle through the revelations, insights and challenges which make up their experience. Such dramatic sequences will be laced with intercuts to relevant moments from the pre-session therapy, as well as with commentaries made by participants after the fact, while watching the full video documentation of their journey. Each show will end by this week’s participant summing up the experience they’ve been through, and everything they’ve learned from it. Finally, each show will also feature a short segment called “Integration” which will revisit the life of past participant in the show and examine their efforts to integrate the insights of their experience into their new life.
Towards an hallucinogenic reality TV
The theoretically conceivable future inclusion of hallucinogens in reality TV promises to make the genre so much more interesting, powerful, visceral and real. Meanwhile, TV programmers will have to decide which path to take: should psychedelics be used as yet another way to manipulate contestants and to send them to the edge of psychosis, or should they be used to enhance pleasure, expand minds, face inner challenges and learn to become better persons.
* All the TV formats appearing in the article are suggested in a way of humor. The writer does not endorse drug abuse or the actual realization of any of the following fictional TV formats.
 In actuality, the concept of psychedelic big brother was already tried in the1960s psychedelic commune of Millbrook, only without a reality TV format, when Richard Alpert (Later known as Ram Dass) closed himself in a house with fellow psychonauts committed to ingest increasing amounts of LSD (to counterbalance LSD tolerance) on a non-stop basis. The experiment which reached dramatic crescendos is described in Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now” (1971).
 R R Griffiths et al., “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance,” Psychopharmacology 187, no. 3 (August 2006): 268–83; discussion 284–92, doi:10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5.
 Katherine A. MacLean, Matthew W. Johnson, and Roland R. Griffiths, “Mystical Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin Lead to Increases in the Personality Domain of Openness,” Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England) 25, no. 11 (November 2011): 1453–61, doi:10.1177/0269881111420188.