Alex Casey watches Hunted Australia, a high-octane reality series that pits high-level intelligence officers against classic Aussie drongos on the run.
With Celebrity Treasure Island coming to an end and FBOY Island pulling another petal off the reality romance rose with every passing week, Hunted has come storming onto TVNZ to fill the void. The action-packed series sees 18 Australian “fugitives” (read: classic Aussie drongos) go on the run from an expert team of detectives and high-level intelligence tracking their every move. If they manage to avoid capture by the end of the 21-day hunt, they win their share of $100,000.
Think early-2000s high-concept Julie Christie reality shows like The Mole (which person is the mole?) and Going Straight (how long can you walk in a straight line?). As the experts pace around central HQ in the middle of Melbourne, the fugitive teams instantly scatter from a van in Federation Square and the big game of tag is afoot. There are aunty/niece teams, soon-to-be-wed teams, best friend teams, and an unlikely pairing of a hairdresser and a cop.
No expense is spared on selling the idea that this is a real hunt for dangerous criminals, rather than for a gentle account director named something like Sandra. There’s a fleet of helicopters, covert blacked-out vans and rabid sniffer dogs. It’s shot like an action film, with stealthy camera operators following our fugitives around the state of Victoria, who also capture the action with GoPros. All the while, former intelligence officers eff and jeff their way around HQ in Succession-style crash zooms trying to figure out where the hell everybody is.
The idea of actually disappearing in 2022 is a challenging one. Contestants have to be careful about what they do with their phones, where they get cash out and even what colour their hair is. One team immediately dons mullet wigs and tradie outfits. Another young woman dresses up in a large polo shirt and aviators in an attempt to look like a young boy at the ATM. Even if you have no need to go on the run, it is interesting to mull over how you might attempt to disappear, and what your digital footprint reveals about your life and habits.
Finally, outside of Dame Susan Devoy on Celebrity Treasure Island, Hunted provides some mega reality laughs. In one instance, a fugitive crumbles into a pile of shaking tears halfway through packing up her bag in a remote campsite. Could the pressure be too much? Is it a panic attack? Is she going to hand herself in? “It’s a grasshopper,” she wails. “Little spiky legs.” Some of the teams are total duffers and immediately get caught by staying with one of their close friends on Facebook, while others make a narrow escape by using an old lady decoy.
There’s a disclaimer that comes at the very end of every episode that says “some powers available to government agencies including electronic surveillance have been simulated in the production of Hunted”. Although you don’t need to be FBI to understand that a lot of reality television is manipulated, you really do have to suspend your belief an awful lot when these former MI5s pull up footage of someone buying snacks at a servo in the outback within seconds. But this is Hunted, where everything is made up and rules of civil surveillance don’t matter.
The verdict: Run, don’t walk – and pack a wig just in case.
Hunted Australia screens at 8.30pm Tuesdays on TVNZ 2 and is available to stream on TVNZ+.