Dermot O'Leary


Experts: Neil Stanley and Dr. Gareth Smith


Endemol UK Productions for Channel 4, 4 to 10 January 2004 (7 episodes in 1 series)


The concept of Shattered is simple. Put people in a house, give them things to do, and don't let them fall asleep. The jackpot of £100,000 is reduced whenever someone catches some zees. Or mentions that BBC3 ran a similar documentary towards the end of 2003.

The game lasts seven and a half days, and even though live streaming didn't begin until late Sunday evening, the pace had already been kept up. The ten contestants had, amongst other things, been given a lecture about triangles, peeled potatoes, counted peas, been put through their physical jerks, and watched videos.

The premiere on Sunday explained what the lack of sleep could do to the human body, and featured Dermot O'Leary going round the Shattered lab (it's not a house, it's a lab) making sure everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion, while Dermot O'Leary provided the voiceover. The effect was mildly comical, and vaguely reminiscent of some of the explanatory skits on Scrapheap Challenge. Could they have brought in Robert Llewellyn for added science gravitas? Probably not, as that would stop the show being C4's aspirational fare and made it properly educational.

Sunday's show also featured the host staying awake for 50 hours. At the end of this self-inflicted ordeal, Dermot O'Bleary thought just how hellish it would be to stay awake for the whole week. (That was the big bad pun for which the whole show was a setup. Did you like it?)

Each day, the lab rats are tested on their co-ordination and spatial awareness and concentration and other skills that deteriorate as one doesn't sleep. The worst performers go into the Elimination Room, and perform a quick task to determine who loses. The format of the show means that, from beginning to end, the elimination process cannot take much more than 15 minutes. The format of the tests puts the day's worst performers up for elimination, so someone who manages a gradual decline won't be up, while someone who performs well on the opening days but takes a large decline one day will be up.

Host Dermot O'Leary lives with the bleary-eyed housemates, in a room the far side of the elimination room. This could have been an interesting gimmick, but very little was made of it beyond a daily O'Leary Versus The Weary challenge to regain a grand for the kitty.

The prize started out at £100,000, but shrunk every time someone took a sleep or otherwise closed their eyes for ten seconds or more. Tactics could have come into play - so long as one keeps one's eyes closed, it's perfectly legal to catch a whole night's sleep within the game, and only lose the group one thousand pounds. To prevent this, a very loud buzzer sounded after about 20 seconds of sleep, enough to wake anyone up. After a week of this, the jackpot was still at a mind-boggling £97,000.

The whole enterprise reminded some of Dale Winton's Touch the Truck from March 2001. In that Channel 5 situation game, twenty people tried to keep their hands on a jeep so that they could win it and sell it and start their own political party or something. That show came from a shopping centre in Essex, for no adequately explored reason other than it was local for most of the contestants, and featured contestants catching their zeebs in shop doorways. The last two remained in station for five days before one of them got so annoyed with Dale Winton's rubbish puns that they lashed out. Or was that the other viewer?

Anyway, TTT allowed and encouraged its contestants to sleep during the fifteen minute breaks every six hours. Oddly enough, Shattered allowed and encouraged its contestants to sleep for two hours each day. Host Dermot O'Leary said that the contestants had been "sleep-deprived," rather than that they "hadn't slept." Careful choice of words there.

Shattered had one new development, an Ethics Panel. The group consisted of a sleep researcher, a psychologist, a safety expert, and a medical expert - slash - lawyer. Their recommendations included a complete ban on alcohol, plenty of humidifiers on set, unrestricted access to bottled water, and round-the-clock cover by medical specialists fully briefed on sleep depravation. They also insisted on an independent advocate for the contestants, as the players may not be able to argue their corner in a cogent manner. Plans to allocate punishments to the players were vetoed by the panel, as this would not be obvious and may lead to confusion. Similarly, Endemol's plans to use mild electric shocks on the doors in Monday's memory test would not only cause fear and unnecessary suffering amongst the players, but might give the audience false ideas. Such as the idea that Jimmy Carr's Distraction was worth watching. The committee insisted that all contestants received after-care for as long as they needed it.

One contestant left the house of her own volition on Tuesday, before another was eliminated when Dermot recreated the Two Ronnies' famous Mastermind sketch in a quiz that tested short term memory and general knowledge. It appears that the contestant weakest on knowledge lost out.

Wednesday's elimination challenge was the return of the Tosser's Challenge. Contestants were invited to gamble on the toss of a coin, and the highest score won. In the event, both contestants tied, and the decision had to be taken on who had deteriorated the more in that day's scientific tests. A bit dull, all told.

Thursday saw the show relentlessly climb from good television to A Proper Spectacle. One contestant watched paint dry, others saw a video of people yawning, and all five were entertained by a mime artist. For one player, this all became far too much like an episode of The Surrealist Link, and The Ethics Panel recommended that the daily nap be brought forward a little to give him chance to recover.

That night's elimination asked the players to give as many words as they could beginning with a certain letter. Decently easy, you might think, but try performing any feats of mental agility after a night on the tiles and you'll know how tricky this is.

Friday saw someone watch a video of people dressed as sheep jumping over a stick, the contestants briefed on proper etiquette, and some blisteringly accurate estimations of time. The contestants managed to time 53 and 67 seconds to within a few tenths of a second, a feat most of us couldn't do when fully awake.

To the surprise of not too many people, Clare Southern won the 2004 series. The final challenge was to be the last person to fall asleep in a blacked-out bedroom. Remarkably, both runners-up nodded off within 1/4 of one second of each other. They lasted 30 minutes, Clare took two hours to nod off thanks to her tactic of playing blinking games and singing Will Young songs to herself. Clare later mused that one of her competitors was trying to put her off by snoring. "I think I was actually asleep by then," replied the vanquished contestant.

In the final analysis, Shattered wasn't so much entertainment as a televised science experiment. The psychologists found some early results: very tired people don't get horny, nor do they lose their gross motor functions. How much of this was down to the televised circumstances is, as yet, an unknown quantity, and one inviting further research.

Web links

Wikipedia entry


Trainee policewoman Clare Southern, who took home £97,000 for her patience. Seems like she's suited for long-term stakeouts, then.


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