Can you imagine abandoning everything, your job, your family, your friends, your home to participate in a reality show and discover that it never existed? 21 years ago six young people became the big news in the United Kingdom overnight. They were the protagonists of the biggest lie ever to occur on television. Now, two decades later, Lucy, Tim, John, Daniel, Jane and Rosy search for answers in the newly released documentary on Prime Video, The greatest show ever made.

It all started with an announcement. In 2002, at the height of the Big Brother television boom in half the world, a certain Nikita Russian published an advertisement in the newspaper: “Take part in a reality show. 100,000 pounds in one year.” The prize was clear. The concept? Not so much. The contestants…?

The only thing they were clear about from the beginning was that they would have to give up their lives for an entire year. They didn’t even know what channel the secret program was going to be on, but that didn’t matter. The first editions of GH had discovered a new world for thousands, millions of young people. Television, unattainable until then, had opened its doors to everyone: if you participated in a reality show you had the opportunity to fix your life forever. 100,000 pounds, fame, success and television were the perfect ingredients to fall into a trap that they were not aware of until it was too late.

Hundreds of people signed up for the casting, driven by the dream of becoming famous or of getting out of the monotony that their lives had become. “In 2002 I was living at my parents’ house in Manchester,” she says in the documentary Jane Marshall. She was 21 years old and had “the typical job from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon.” Along with Jane we meet Tim Eagle, a frustrated playwright and professional clown, who was chosen to be the cameraman for the fake reality show. Rosy Burnie, a financial worker who had gotten bored with her job and wanted a new challenge. John Comyn and Daniel Pope, university graduates who were attracted by the financial prize. And Lucie Miller, a carpet saleswoman from Birmingham who dreamed of being a television presenter. Television offered fame, an experience and, of course, money. Who wouldn’t accept it?

Although of the hundreds of applications that were submitted, only 30 were accepted, only six of them wanted to participate in the documentary, probably the six who after discovering who was hiding behind Nikita Russian, the mastermind of this whole big lie, have known not not only rebuild their lives but also recognize that he deceived them, but they also let him.

“When you found out who Nikita Russian Productions was, Nick, you realized that there was something strange, but we didn’t know anything about television and at that moment you thought that it was normal that there were crazy people out there called Nikita Russian,” they confess For everyone Nick, fake name by the way, was an “impressive man.” “He walked with great confidence and seemed to have a lot of ideas in his head. He was an ethereal, tall, vain being,” he admits. They were all bewitched by that man they knew nothing about. Nor did they know anything about the type of program. “The only thing they said was that he had been commissioned by Channel 4 and that he was going to be a hit.” Neither bomb nor Channel 4. It was all a big lie produced by an unstable, “dysfunctional” man, who did not control the consequences of his daydreams.

“Money is the biggest obstacle to achieving personal freedom. If you solve that, you won’t worry. To do this, I found 30 people crazy enough to do something crazy. We will challenge money on its own turf and we will win,” was the mantra that Nick Russian He explained in the few recordings that there were of him at that time and to which the documentary has had access. An experiment of a disturbed mind that destroyed the lives of dozens of people, at least, at that time.

I felt ashamed, I didn’t want to go home, I felt stupid

The program never actually existed. Nick was not a television producer, he was a man called Keith from Surrey, who had dropped out of university and was then working part-time in a bookstore. No television channel had commissioned the program and Nikita Russian Productions did not exist either.

After being selected, the fake production company called on all the contestants, each from a different part of the United Kingdom, to meet in central London and learn about their mission – to work together to collectively win £1 million. There was no longer a prize of 100,000 euros, nor was there magic, nor was there any television involved. Things quickly began to fall apart.

When the contestants realized they had nowhere to live, no jobs, and no money, two of the three teams immediately dropped out. Those who remained, moved by this desire for fame, for experimentation, for improving their lives, found themselves abandoned in east London, “in a ghetto”, crammed into a small apartment and sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. They were “devastated.”

Everything exploded when Nick handed them the contracts. You had to open an account and deposit all the money from the activities you did during that year into it. They couldn’t make any transactions without Nick’s authorization. “We generated the prize money and put it in that account that only Nikita Russian had access to,” they explain in the three-episode documentary. “All the alarms went off.” They all decided then that they would not sign that contract. Goodness.

Among the remaining teams they began to communicate and discovered the truth about Nick. He was not a producer, he was nobody, he was an employee, just like them, without a penny and without any agreement with any channel. And they sought revenge. A revenge that for several weeks put their dream on a plate: to be famous. And although in the documentary that moment of going to the media, of locking Nick in the apartment so that he would not flee, is shown as the great triumph of these six contestants, the reality is that they became the joke on television. In fact, Channel 4 documentary The Great Reality TV Swindle focused on one question: how could they have been so stupid?

I was recognized everywhere and little by little I started drinking. It was completely isolated and sunk

“Everything was false and everything had been in vain,” says Daniel Pope in the documentary, which after 20 years manages to answer the question they all asked: why did he do it? It took months of informal conversations to get the contestants to agree to participate in this documentary, as the wound does not seem to have completely healed. And it took two years of comings and goings with Nikita Russian until a private investigator managed to find him. Now his name is Nick Quentin Woolf and, surprisingly, he agreed to participate in the documentary to not only defend himself – “I didn’t do it in bad faith”, but also to recognize that “it was an error in judgment” and that he himself also went through his own way. crucis

The team’s decision to call the press and appear on the legendary London Tonight show put Nick in the spotlight. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been kidnapped by a group of people, but I wouldn’t recommend the experience,” Nick says. “I was scared,” he confesses.

“At that time I was under brutal stress,” he continues, “I heard a kind of mosquito inside my head and I felt like I was bleeding to death (…) My life was hell,” he says and acknowledges that he cannot enter into details, but that he was an “extremely dysfunctional” person who had let his imagination save him from that hell. His big lie also destroyed his life: “My life was completely transformed. I spent several weeks on the street. I was recognized everywhere and little by little I started drinking. I became an alcoholic. I was completely isolated and sunken”. But he wasn’t the only one.

For Jane, facing her own reality was difficult to accept, particularly after the media coverage of what had happened to them turned her into a television star. “When we left the show, I just didn’t want it to end,” she says. “I didn’t want to go back to Manchester and admit it was all a lie.” “The damage he did to us was enormous,” Lucy acknowledges. “I felt ashamed, I didn’t want to go home, I felt stupid.”

Now, after so much time, in a world where reality shows are seen with different eyes and that fame is no longer what these programs provided then, the six contestants of Nick Russian’s big lie have a full, happy life where His dreams ended up being different: “We were all guilty because we all participated.”