Select a group of twelve people through casting and competition – winnow out any who are not physically up to the challenge. Inform them that they are to be on a Survivor-style show, but with a twist. DO NOT INFORM THEM ABOUT THE THEME. The theme is, of course, surviving a nuclear war. Invite them to a special “Launch Party”, complete with formalwear, ball gowns, press, paparazzi, studio execs, etc. Get them nice and relaxed, thinking that they will be somewhere on a tropical island tomorrow . . .
. . . and then you sound the “Air Raid” siren, and usher the twelve contestants into a specially-constructed bomb shelter, where they must stay through the “atomic attack” and for three weeks after, in order to ride out the “fallout”. Cramped quarters. Poor ventilation. Bad food. Poor sanitary facilities. Primitive bedding. Evening gowns and tuxedos. And virtually no contact with the outside world. Keep the cameras going “Big Brother” style. As the temperatures rise, people will really get to know each other – and start to hate each other. At any time the contestants may leave via the “airlock” essentially committing suicide.
Three weeks (and three episodes) later, the “bomb shelter” has been trucked to Nevada, to a convenient “wasteland”. Now the fun begins. The contestants are required to don radiation suits, pack their supplies, and make a 10 mile hike across country in the sun to get to an “abandoned army base” in the mountains. Along the way they will have a “Geiger counter” that indicates the radiation level they are walking through. Easy routes will have a high radiation level, hard ones will have a low level. Each contestant gets to accumulate 100 Rads before they “die” and are removed from competition. Along the journey it should be possible for any one of them to collect up to 15 Rads.
Once at the army base (Episode 5) the teams find a cache of water, food, “radiation vaccine” that eliminates the need for a radiation suit (have to give the poor suckers a break, after all) and “weapons” – standard-issue M16s with the army laser “LARS” gear (“Laser Tag”). At the army base they are directed to a blown-out and abandoned gas station another 5 miles away in the desert, where they can find more supplies and possible transportation. The problem? “Atomic zombies” (whose every touch gives you 1 Rad) and hideously scarred survivors are scattered along the way. The team must kill zombies with their weapons (everyone is wearing LARS gear) and assist, if possible, the survivors. The other problem? The gas station has become a zombie stronghold. The contestants have to clear away the zombies to get to it – and there are plenty of opportunities for Rads along the way. Real 1950s era Atomic Age stuff.
In Episode 6 the team has liberated the gas station and found the vehicle – as well as a zombie “captive”, a helpful guy named Oscar who was a mechanic at the garage and can repair the vehicle. Only it won’t run without a part, which can only be gotten from a small cluster of survivors who have taken up residence in an abandoned strip mall a few miles away. The problem? They won’t just give you the part. They want the team to scrounge the materials to build a water still for them before they’ll let it go. Oscar also tells them about an unspoiled section of land he’s heard of called Haven, off to the East (or whichever direction) but says the exact location can only be discovered in Sin City.
Episode 7 starts with Oscar fixing the vehicle and sending the remaining players to another oasis of life in the Atomic Wasteland, “Sin City”, a rough-and-tumble black market of gambling and vice. Along the way they are attacked twice, once by bandits (real Road Warrior freaks who can “kill” them via LARS, at the loss of 10 Rads) and once by a band of zombies. Then they face the final test of the episode, talking their way past the guards at Sin City, where they are more inclined to enslave visitors. Each contestant will have to tell a convincing and compelling story to get in, or risk being “enslaved”.
In Episode 8 and 9 the contestants will have to come up with at least $50,000 in play money to buy the location of Haven from the crimelords here. That can be done several ways: gambling, gladiatorial contests, or scrounging around in the desert for useful items to sell. If someone is enslaved, the others must come up with the money to buy their freedom. But there are other useful things for sale here, including a “vaccine” which reduces your Rads by 10%, and a much better (air-conditioned) vehicle. Players spend two episodes getting the cash to buy the map and anything else they want. There is also a tattoo artist who will put any tats on them that they want – just for atmosphere.
In Episode 10 the map to Haven reveals that it can only be reached via air. Luckily one of the Sin City people has let it be known that there is an abandoned airstrip just 10 miles away – but through the roughest country yet. Zombies, survivors, and bandits haunt their every step. The climax is a huge fake mutated scorpion thing which can trigger their LARS gear for 1 Rad-per-attack of its tail. If the team makes it past this monster, all they have to do is get to the airfield.
Episode 11 has them at the airfield, where they must fight “Giant Cockroaches” (actually remotely-controlled monsters) and more zombies – and slavers – who are using the field as a base and don’t want any interlopers. If the slavers can be defeated, one of their captives is a pilot who is happy to take the contestants towards Haven.
Episode 12 the plane “crashes” in another location, where the remaining contestants have to fight their way past a “real” army squad that has been ordered to keep people out of Haven. If the team can do that, they get to enter the Promised Land, and split the prize money between survivors.
More tasks could be added and more bonuses given. There is a rich literature of post-apocalyptic stories, including Road Warrior, The Planet Of The Apes, Escape from New York, etc., and plenty of room for additional, interesting encounters. An Atomic Age feel to the show would be perfect, with Cold War era signage, uniforms, etc. It would easily be the most grueling Reality show to date – and a ratings magnet!