Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nothing hot about duo's adventures in 'hell'

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It's like travelling back in time.

The producers of the History documentary 7 Days in Hell would like their hour-long reality-TV adventure to make you feel like you've been transported back to the late stages of the 19th century, to a time when fortune-seeking prospectors risked all for a chance at a Yukon gold strike.

Instead, however, 7 Days in Hell (which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on History) will probably take many local viewers back only as far as the dawn of the 21st century, when local production companies Credo Entertainment and Frantic Films were revisiting the hardships of pioneer life with ambitious living-history series such as Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West, Quest for the Bay and Klondike: The Quest for Gold.

And the feeling, for anyone who recalls those sturdy TV efforts and takes time to tune in to the comparatively weak 7 Days in Hell, will likely be that, well, they just don't make 'em like they used to.

7 Days in Hell follows a pair of adventure-minded buddies, Brett Rogers and Cliff Quinn, as they attempt to re-create one of the most desperate survival situations that might have confronted circa-1885 Yukon gold prospectors: trying to make it back to the safety of civilization after an accidental fire incinerates their tent and most of the supplies needed for an extended gold-seeking foray into the wilderness.

Rogers and Quinn stage a mock fire at a remote campsite location, then bundle up a couple of swatches of charred canvas and an armful of period-appropriate tools and weapons and begin a lengthy (week-long, as the title suggests) trek through the bush toward the safety of an abandoned camp on the banks of the Yukon River.

The press materials for 7 Days in Hell state that Rogers is an experienced adventurer who has travelled the world, visited more than 30 countries and led expeditions in many of them (often with Quinn as his wingman), but their performance throughout his back-in-time ordeal suggests those more modestly modern ventures must have been augmented by lots of equipment and support, and hampered by substantially less hardship.

Simply put, from their first steps into the boggy outback, they both seem very much out of their depth. Rogers and Quinn appear to be unfamiliar with the equipment they're carrying, have very little idea how to start a fire in the wilderness (but soon find out that mixing gunpowder with tinder isn't a bright idea) and profess no prior experience at hunting or trapping (but still, in one of the hour's more dubious sequences, manage to knock a squirrel off a high tree branch with an 1880s-era rifle).

And through it all, the pals complain endlessly about the difficulty they're enduring. Really, the title is self-explanatory; viewers don't require a once-every-two-minutes reminder that the stars of the show are "in hell."

Yes, it's a difficult slog, but placed in context alongside Pioneer Quest and its Jamie Brown-produced living-history successors, 7 Days in Hell seems like not much more than an admittedly unpleasant walk in a sparsely populated park. The Quest shows from a decade ago were far superior in terms of content, casting and production values, and current docu-reality contemporaries such as Discovery's Naked and Afraid feature tougher, more intriguing challenges and much pluckier participants.

The press materials for 7 Days in Hell include a passing mention that this is a "pilot," which suggests History will assess the results of this one-off airing and then decide whether to send Rogers and Quinn out on other adventures.

Based on this initial misstep, the betting here is that the answer will be a simple "Hell? No."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 G9

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