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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britons Blindfolded and Lost on Solovetsky Islands

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When Charles McFall arrived in Russia last Saturday, it took him a while to realize what country he was in.

That was because he had been blindfolded and had his ears plugged before arriving at the Archangelsk airport on a private jet from London. Immediately after landing he was rushed off into a waiting helicopter and whisked away to the almost deserted island of Anzer, part of the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, where he and eight other Britons along with their baggage were pushed out and left to fend for themselves.

The nine were lost in all senses of the word and deliberately so as they are contestants in the pilot of a new game show called "Lost" being filmed for Britains Channel Four. The aim of the game is for three groups of three to race each other back to Trafalgar Square in London from an obscure location anywhere in the world. Each member of the group has only $200 to complete the task, and the winning group goes into a final competition to win ?20,000.

As the nine contestants stared round last Saturday wondering what continent they were on and which way Trafalgar Square was, they were unaware of being carefully watched from a boat floating off the coast of the island. Checking to make sure they didnt really get lost were the Archangelsk emergency service and the producer of the program, Rob Davis.

"What theyve allowed us to do has been amazing," Davis said of the emergency service. "They were so keen on the idea of nine British people in the middle of Archangelsk. They saw it as a social experience."

Both the emergency service and local customs agents helped out the program in a particularly enthusiastic manner.

When the jet arrived at the airport, the contestants stayed aboard blindfolded as customs agents came on to check their documents. Because the producers didnt want them to know where they were, they asked the customs officers to swap their uniforms for plain clothes.

"They all agreed to wear jackets and ties and to come on board the plane," Davis said. After getting the blindfolds removed for a second so customs officers could check their passport photos, the contestants were through customs and off to the helicopter.

The emergency service crew on board the chopper to Anzer also played their part.

"All the pilots wore balaclavas and sunglasses," said Davis, who spent his time keeping the contestants looking the right way so they didnt see the Russian flag on one side of the helicopter.

The only thing the emergency services drew the line at was when the program makers said they wanted to equip the contestants with global positioning systems, which operate off of U.S. satellites.

Three years ago, an American citizen, Richard Bliss, working for a communications firm was accused of spying on off-limit military sites after being found with a GPS system in Rostov. Bliss was jailed for a couple of weeks, but then released.

Once out of the helicopter, the three groups headed off in different directions although there was only one way off the island, via the only man with a boat.

"Theres only one family on the island," Davis said. "Oh and the monks, but theyre into their own thing."

Five days after their arrival in Russia, McFall made it to Moscow and made a breathless call to The Moscow Times just before he got on a train to Brest in Belarus.

"Ive only got 45 minutes," said a flustered McFall before explaining how his group had made its way from Anzer. A boat trip to Kem, which is 50 kilometers away, followed by a 30-hour "awful" train trip to Moscow.

"Most of the people on the train had been fishing, so the whole thing stunk. And whats that pig fat called? Salo? It was horrible," said McFall, saying the team had spent $170 of their combined $600 so far.

"My feet are killing me; there are blisters everywhere," he said.

As well as telling the Moscow Times his position, McFall gave us his web site address (www.blackrosecc.co.uk), which has been tracking his position. From the day he realized where he was, McFall has been using his mobile phone to call a friend in London, John Taylor, who has been posting updates on the site, which includes an advertisement from a camping shop that provided McFall with discount equipment for the trip.

McFalls telephone call to the paper, though, was met with less than approval by the program makers, Windfall Films. Worried that McFall would give away the end of the program which is not set to be screened in Britain before Christmas Windfall Films told McFall to stop talking.

"Im fairly sure that they didnt have it in the rules that you cant contact journalists," Taylor said.

"The game is that you use all your skills. Maybe someone will decide that, oh look we can make a story out of this and we can get Charlie home quickly."

The Moscow Times didnt offer to help Charlie get home, and his group will have to cope on the $430 they have left. And on Thursday night, McFalls web site fell strangely silent.

When clicking on the "Wheres Charlie" button, Charlie was still stranded in Moscow waiting for the train to Brest.

Meanwhile, people in Arkhangelsk didnt seem to be looking forward to the premier of "Lost."

"Let them get lost if theyve got nothing to do. Weve got enough problems of our own," said one Archangelsk resident on learning of the English programs quest, the newspaper Izvestia reported Wednesday.

Staff writer Anna Raff contributed to this report.



http://www.blackrosecc.co.uk/ www.blackrosecc.co.uk