Tonight at 10:00pm I will feature in a Virgin Media show on Irish television, called Eating With The Enemy. As it happens, I ordered the vegetarian risotto (which was very tasty) but I wanted to make a a few notes on how the sausage was made, in terms of the production process behind the scenes. I was invited to participate as a Pastafarian, within the Irish Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Eating With The Enemy is described as a social experiment. Strangers with opposite views are paired for a meal. They are presented with a set of topics to discuss, which have been designed by psychologist Malie Coyne and psychotherapist Richard Hogan. Part of the premise is that guests don’t know beforehand who they will meet or what the topics of discussion will be. Everything you see in the show is a spontaneous reaction to a novel situation, rather than a pre-rehearsed soundbite.
My lasting impression of the entire process was the professionalism and diligence of everyone at the production company, Amino TV. I can specifically recall starting the day by arriving into an enormous and entirely empty car park, as filming took place at a large sporting venue that wasn’t being used for anything else at the time. There was an incredibly energetic person waiting for me, who was highly motivated by which of the many hundreds of empty parking spaces I should pick. I later realised that this was to keep me separated from the person I would dine with, until the moment I walked into the restaurant. They didn’t even want me to catch a glimpse of the other person. The series includes some well-known personalities in Ireland, and I guess even a quick glance at their dining partner might allow someone to recognise the other person in advance and prepare what they would say. I was there literally all day, and the team from Amino TV went to great lengths to keep dining partners apart until they sat down to eat and talk. There was no cheating at all, in terms of meeting up in advance to contrive a mutually agreed conversation.
As it turned out, my dining partner was Susan Hughes. She describes herself as a Psychic Medium. I’m given to understand that she is a well-known person in those circles, but I hadn’t heard of her beforehand. I believe that she applied to appear on the show and then the production company contacted me and invited me to appear. I had known of the show itself because my friend Fr Joe McDonald had appeared on it before, but at no point did anyone from Amino TV tell me in advance that I would be dining with Susan. At no point during the filming day did I ever meet or speak with the psychologist or the psychotherapist. At no point did I get advance notice of the questions that they had composed. I was really impressed with the entire team at Amino TV. They were as good as their word in every respect, and there was no attempt whatsoever behind the scenes to dodge the core concept of the social experiment. There were more than 8 months between filming and broadcast, but Amino TV kept in touch throughout this period to offer various resources to any guest who may have become a little apprehensive.
In terms of the content, given the period of time that elapsed between filming and broadcast my memory may not be too reliable. I’m certain though that there was a lot more material left on the cutting room floor than included in the show. Much of that would have been because I was dull and incoherent. As one example, I recall that during the interview in advance of the meal, I was asked to provide three words to describe myself. I believe I came up with “curmudgeonly” and “sedentary” but couldn’t manage a third. If I had been given some notice that this question was coming up, I would of course have been well prepared. I suppose that is the other side of the coin when the production demands spontaneity rather that well-rehearsed delivery though. Often, in my case at least, off-the-cuff responses were in no way impressive or compelling and would have made for awful television.
There were a few memorable exchanges from the meal itself that didn’t make the cut. I can recall trying to put Susan under some pressure for taking money from vulnerable people who had been recently bereaved. I also remember asking why there are still enduring historical mysteries if it is possible to speak to the dead. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this sequence was cut out, since for some reason I used the example of Alexander The Great’s lost tomb. If the living can converse with the dead, why would this location or any other open question from history not be resolved very quickly? In retrospect, that seems like a very strange example to pick though, so it may be for the best that this was cut. Lastly, one exchange I was looking forward to watching back related to Susan’s reticence about putting her psychic skills to the test in a scientific laboratory. I referred to the many large cash prizes on offer for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities in a controlled environment. If I recall correctly, Susan said that she wasn’t interested in the money. To me, this seemed at odds with her insistence that she should charge people who are going through an incredibly difficult period, in order to communicate with their recently departed loved ones.
That is my memory at least of the exchanges that still remain on the cutting room floor. Perhaps there were also interactions that Susan was disappointed to see omitted, but I don’t think I’m supposed to say anything about the discussions that actually made it into the show. The episode including the Pastafarian versus Psychic Medium exchanges will be broadcast tonight at 10:00pm on Virgin Media Television in Ireland. I don’t know if it means anything that this program is scheduled directly after Love Island, but if there is some deep insight to be drawn from that fact then Susan might know what it is.