In a bizarre twist of fate, the contestants of a fake reality show now find themselves the stars of a real reality TV show.
“The Great Reality TV Swindle,” airing Dec. 3 on the U.K.’s Channel 4, details the exploits of Nikita Russian (real name: Keith Gillard), who duped aspirants into believing he was producing a reality TV show that was never to be.
Some 30 contestant wannabes were lured with the promise of instant fame and a $150,000 cash prize for the winner. Many sold their homes, left their partners and chucked in their jobs to compete on the nonexistent show.
Alarm bells rang when Russian’s first task was launched; the group was split in three and the teams were ordered to race to raise £1 million ($1.5 million). He offered no living expenses to players and demanded full access to the teams’ bank accounts.
Christmas TV & Film Co., which made the “Swindle” docu for Channel 4, was alerted by a disgruntled applicant and began filming as the walls came crashing in and Russian disappeared.
Ironically, “Swindle” producer Caz Gorham had to convince victims she was the real deal. The contestants, she says, were “understandably suspicious of us. They were shell-shocked, and some were very depressed by Russian’s cruel trickery.”
Finally, after a two-day stakeout at a southwest London tube station, the docu team confronted Russian on his doorstep. He whimpered a vague apology, but remained belligerent. Contestants have been told there is no criminal charge to bring, as Russian did not take any money from them. A civil case is hamstrung by a lack of funds.
But Gorham likes to think there has been some closure: “Their story’s on telly, so I’d like to think we’ve given them a happy ending if only by detailing what’s happened to them.”