I was in Italy a few weeks ago for a journalism festival. One night I was out to dinner and couldn't stop staring at the TV. There was a show on that was part game show, part Wipeout, part... Honestly, it was just one crazy thing after another.
I snapped a bunch of photos with my phone, and soon discovered it's called Ciao Darwin.
The reference to Darwin seemed like recognition of the fact that the show is a hot mess of stereotypes, insane human behaviour, and a healthy dose of sexism. At least that's what I thought after looking at the screen for about 5 or 10 minutes and not understanding a word of what people were saying.
So I did what I do whenever I've made a snap judgment about something I know next to nothing about: I tweeted.
So I sent another one around 2 a.m. Italy time. My good Canadian self didn't want anyone to be offended.
I learned that Ciao Darwin was an old show that was making a comeback. And it seemed to be something of a guilty pleasure.
Lots of people referred to it as "trash" television, but in an endearing kind of way.
Others said it's a terrible, sexist show.
Or the best thing ever.
Some people thought I was American, so there were a lot of Jersey Shore references — as in, how dare you talk smack about our TV when you air that kind of crap!
One of my favourite exchanges was with a woman who pointed out the horrible things North Americans do to Italian cuisine.
TFW you learn Italians think we're nuts for mixing spaghetti and meatballs.
Things eventually calmed down. Then, days later, the tweets started up again. What the hell was going on? This guy filled me in:
My tweet was posted on an Italian Facebook page that has almost 1 million fans. The page is called "The Factory of Degradation."
Underneath my tweet the page admins posted a comment with this image. The guy in these photos became a meme after appearing on the show. I guess they're suggesting this dude killed me? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I did what you're not supposed to do and started replying to comments.
I learned what "jerk" is in Italian.
I tried to answer questions people had about Canada and Canadians.
I also posted a comment inviting everyone to come to Canada so they could judge our trash TV. One guy didn't seem too into the idea.
Exactly a week after sending the tweet from Italy, people reached out to let me know the show was airing again. I tweeted with #CiaoDarwin to ask if the guy in the dinosaur costume was back. I soon heard back from the writer of the show itself.
If he wanted me to come back to Italy, I was game.
I tried to watch the episode, but my VPN failed me and I was blocked.
Marco from the show messaged me one morning to say my tweet was cited in a big article about the show in one of Italy's largest newspapers. He sent me photos. What the hell?!
(Note: In all future public appearances I will require refer people to me as a "super analista del web.")
In the story, the journalist asked Ciao Darwin's host, Paolo Bonolis, if I was right that the show is the end of humanity.
"Silverman has a point, it is what I wanted to tell [to the audience]: Ciao Darwin simply shows the warning signs of the apocalypse," Bonolis said. "We don't just show monsters, that kind of humanity really exists: it is our neighbor."
Shit just got deep.
That same day, an Italian website wrote all about me discovering Ciao Darwin. The Google translation was rough, but I can for sure say they did a good job writing a BuzzFeed-style headline.
Honestly, the auto-translation spat out such beautiful jazz poetry that I didn't want to know what was really being said about me:
At this point I realized I still had no idea what the show was about, or why my tweet had kicked off so much reaction. So I went to the only expert I knew: Ciao Darwin writer Marco Salvati.
"Ciao Darwin is a politically incorrect anthropological laboratory. The idea is to set two opposite human categories against each other and see which of them prevails after a series of physical and mental trials (i.e., rich vs. poor, beautiful vs. ugly, etc.)."
"The naked truth is that we show the real human aspects of these types of people with all their brutality and competitive nature. They look like monsters, but they actually are our neighbours."
"We show the grotesque. The audience laughs not knowing that they are laughing at themselves. This might be cruel, but at the same time it is realistic and honest."
I also asked Salvati what he thought of me calling his show the end of humanity. "I found this comment very interesting and exciting because I felt it was a compliment and that you have understood the essence of the program," he told me.
"Is this show really the end of humanity? We hope so!" he said. "Your comment captured the real aim of the show — this is what we wanted to transmit to the audience. A warning sign: The end of humanity is coming, and you can watch it, in primetime."
He told me the next episode, airing this Friday, will be of particular interest.
"Don’t miss our next episode: 'Italians vs. Foreigners,'" Salvati said. "Whose side are you on?"
By now the answer is obvious: At the end of humanity, I stand with the Italians.