Hunted, a new reality show on CBS, is dressed in the genre's usual sexiness and silliness—breathless pauses, nervous thousand-yard stares, frenetic camera work, edited tension, and just the right balance of cast diversity. But it also highlights a naked truth of our times: there is no hiding from our digital lives.
Think about it. Could you escape your electronic footprint if you had to forgo technology and elude detection on your wits? One local couple recently faced this question, and, while the answer is still unknown—no spoilers here—their attempt to hide from a team of investigators for a month raises unsettling questions about privacy and security in the social-media age.
Hillsborough's Stephen and English King are "fugitives" on Hunted, a televised game of high-tech hide-and-seek in which nine teams of two go off the grid, anywhere within a hundred-thousand-square-mile area of the Southeast, while "hunters," based in a glitzy "command center," track them. The hunters are former intelligence officers, cops, and retired U.S. Marshals who use electronic surveillance, behavioral analysis, and old-fashioned footwork to corner their prey.
Fugitives who avoid capture for the full four weeks win $250,000. Six episodes in, the Kings, a couple in their late thirties, are still on the run. But they weren't in it for the money, at least not at first. In fact, they never even auditioned for Hunted.
Longtime fans of CBS's The Amazing Race, Stephen, a stay-at-home dad, and English, a clinical audiologist, applied to be on the show more than a year ago. They never heard back—until producers approached them about Hunted. After checking out the original British version and undergoing a lengthy casting process, the Kings went for it, partly to test their own mettle.
"I wanted to push ourselves out of our comfort zone," English says. "There were lots of people who thought we couldn't do this and I wanted to prove that we could rely on ourselves."
Producers and cast members, citing trade secrets, are mum on just how investigators obtain fugitives' phone records, social media profiles, and closed-circuit footage, which collectively paint an eerily accurate prediction of how they will behave. In one episode, hunters analyzed the likes on one contestant's Facebook page and correctly determined which friends that person was most likely to turn to for help. The ease with which the hunters uncover vast amounts of data on the fugitives' lives seems almost unfair.
One of the hunters is Muhammad "Shadow" Bilal, a military veteran, special-forces instructor, and security-company owner based in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
"You'd be amazed at how much information you can find even doing a simple Google search," he says. "I suggest your readers do research on themselves on social media to see how much they can find in a short time."
The Kings developed a detailed plan based on their complementary personal strengths.
"I'm adaptable, personable, and have the intangible ability to throw myself into any situation, with anyone, and find a way to succeed," Stephen says. "English is stubbornly determined and detailed and always has a solid plan." But they quickly realized how dependent they were on Google, cell phones, ATMs, Facebook, and digital technology, struggling with simple tasks like finding a place to sleep for the night, contacting friends, or renting a car.
One of the biggest challenges for the Kings, and one the most compelling aspects of their story on the show, was leaving their three young daughters at home.
"It becomes so hard when you can't pick up your phone to find what you need or to check in on loved ones," Stephen says. After they finished shooting in June, they faced a different challenge—one that finally comes to an end when Hunted's finale airs March 1 (or watch all the episodes at www.CBS.com).
"The hardest part since then was keeping quiet about the outcome and dealing with the online comments that people leave about your decisions," English says. "I've learned that interpersonal communication is better for some things, talking to people."
It's a lesson that hunter Shadow affirms. "If you want to be secure in this digital world you have to be in control of your social media presence," Bilal says. "And you have to learn to interact with people again. You have to speak."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Nowhere to Hide"