The Late Movies: Meet the Natives

Ransom Riggs

You may remember a few posts I've done on the remote island nation of Vanuatu, where I visited back in March. The gist of my blogs on Vanuatu thus far have been how strange and fascinating and exotic a place it is -- so imagine how surprised I was to learn that not one, but two reality shows have been made about people living on the most remote part of Vanuatu I visited, the island of Tanna. Meet the Natives took five tribal guys from Tanna and sent them to live with families in the UK -- to "meet the natives" there. Producers sent along a film crew but also gave the Tanna guys a video camera of their own, to record first-person all the culture shockingly crazy things they would encounter.

In this clip, the guys go to an English pub for the first time. "Pubs" in Vanuatu don't generally serve beer -- they serve a narcotizing liquid made from ground kava roots, called Kava. They're quiet, dark, contemplative places -- called "nakamals" -- due mainly to the quiet and contemplative state of mind that drinking kava puts you in, as opposed to beer. It's fascinating to see the Tannese guys' reaction to the loud, rowdy world of the "English nakamal."

In this excerpt, the Tannese guys prepare to leave for their journey. It's especially fun to see them try on winter clothes for the first time -- they're headed to England in winter, though it's summer in Tanna and probably pushing 100 degrees.

No one is homeless or hungry in Vanuatu -- if you need a house, you can build one out of branches and leaves. If you need food, you can fish it out of the ocean or pick it from a tree. The guys encounter homelessness for the first time in the urban streets of England.

In a quest, I assume, to make the guys from Tanna as uncomfortable as possible, the producers dress them in tuxedos and send them to have an awkward dinner with aristocrats.

The UK version of Meet the Natives did so well that, premiering next week, the Travel Channel has a new version called Meet the Natives: USA. Yep -- five more guys from Tanna make a culture-shock-laden journey abroad, this time to America, where they hang out with ranchers in Montana, a family in Peoria, soldiers in Georgia, politicians in Washington and some real housewives in the OC, God help them. Here's a sneak peek:

Thanksgiving in Peoria. Of football, watched on television during Thanksgiving, as is custom, the chief wisely observes, "the aim of this game seems to be death."

They encounter snow for the first time in Montana: