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Big Brother With A Twist: Russian Orthodox TV Plans Reality Show At Monastery

A screen grab of the Nilov Monastery, which will be the setting for an intriguing new Russian reality show with an (un)orthodox twist.
A screen grab of the Nilov Monastery, which will be the setting for an intriguing new Russian reality show with an (un)orthodox twist.

"Here, it's just you and God" -- and the other contestants, presumably.

A TV channel affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church is putting out a call for applications for a reality show with a spiritual twist: its setting will be an island monastery on a lake halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"Find yourself and learn about the world of monastery life," an online video advertisement seeking "volunteers" for the show, Ostrov (Island), says.

Describing the setting as "one of the most beautiful cloisters in Russia" as calming music plays over footage of water-lapped stones, gold-domed churches, and a youngish, bearded monk baking bread, it invites would-be participants to spend a month "practicing obedience" at the Nilov Monastery on Lake Seliger.

"Find the answers to questions that have long been troubling you," it says.

"For the first time on television: a reality show at a distance from the world," the ad proclaims, instructing would-be participants to send applications -- videotaped, please -- describing themselves and explaining why they want to spend time at a monastery.

The clip and an announcement posted on the website of the TV channel Spas on October 21 do not include information about how the participants will be chosen or whether they will interact. It does not specify who can apply, but it does not depict women and the monastery is all-male.

A state registry indicates that Spas (Savior), which had private funding when it was created in 2005 to promote Orthodox Christian values, is now owned by the Russian Orthodox Church, the country's predominant religious organization.

'Corrosive' Western Values

Russia's ties to Western popular culture are complex.

Some prominent Russian officials and public figures including the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, have frequently criticized the United States and European countries, asserting that Russia must guard its youth against what they call corrosive and misguided Western values.

At the same time, many of the staples of Russian state TV have their roots in the United States and other Western countries, including game shows, talk shows, sitcoms, and reality shows – some of which have been wildly popular.

Island seems certain to be a far cry from steamy reality shows like Dom-2 (House-2) -- the Russian version of Big Brother, a Dutch-originated program that has been a success in several countries -- in which romantic and sexual relationships are front and center, and hookups are more common than hardships.

The concept of a monastery-based reality show seems to fit in with several trends that are intertwined with the state-supported, post-Soviet resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, including President Vladimir Putin's portrayal of the church as a guiding moral force for citizens and the church's own efforts to appeal to young Russians.

Putin, who is 67 and has been president or prime minister for the past 20 years, has appeared eager to prevent phenomena such as social media and rap music from being used as a platform for protest and to instead harness them in support of himself and the Russian state.

With reporting by Meduza
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    Steve Gutterman

    Steve Gutterman is the editor of the Russia/Ukraine/Belarus Desk in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom in Prague and the author of The Week In Russia newsletter. He lived and worked in Russia and the former Soviet Union for nearly 20 years between 1989 and 2014, including postings in Moscow with the AP and Reuters. He has also reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as other parts of Asia, Europe, and the United States.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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