One of the critical elements in any non-medicinal healing work is stripping away the ego, which is what prevents most people from delving into the memories and emotions they are trained to keep locked tight in order to conform to civil society. The manner in which one strips the ego varies based on the background of their spiritual practice, but in some systems removal of the ego coincides with removing material items, which can be seen as the physical manifestation of the ego itself (objects that are not necessary for living are often seen as status symbols, and therefore an extension of a false self). Removing one’s ego from any kind of healing is vital to the work being done because it serves as the removal of the first barrier. When the ego is removed, it becomes easier to ask harder questions of oneself: What did I do to get myself to this place I need to from? What accountability have I not been taking in life?
Detaching from one’s own ego is extremely difficult and can take months, if not years. Such a practice is inherently at odds with the concept of a reality show, where a story needs to have a beginning, middle, and reasonably happy ending in a matter of weeks. Yet that seems to be the situation on TBS’s newest reality series, Lost Resort, where the topic of the ego did not seem to be broached with the show’s contests prior to beginning their healing retreat. Investigating one’s ego on camera is counterproductive to reality TV, where big egos make for big ratings.
Lost Resort follows nine participants who travel to Costa Rica in an attempt to solve their problems using spiritual practices instead of the usual vices, like compulsive exercising or therapy. While the show aims to be bigger and more altruistic than a typical reality show, that’s precisely what it is—but rather than winning a prize or getting a sunset proposal, its stars will merely improve themselves and hopefully carry on their newfound healing tools into their real lives. However, while I hate to question the judgment of the four facilitators who run the retreat, it’s hard to understand how any of the nine participants are supposed to focus on inner healing when there are cameras pointed at them through every exercise.
The healing methods offered to Lost Resort’s participants include a rage ritual, an ecstatic dance ceremony, yoga, meditation, and sound baths. (I am a believer in most of the methodologies used on the show and have done some myself, although ecstatic dancing was new to me.) The women participants arrived in full glam sporting false eyelashes, red bottoms, and 15 layers of lip liner in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. The only woman who did not do this was Becca, the pastor. The two men on the retreat do not sport camera-ready makeup, but they are doing some peacocking of their own. Greg, a restaurant owner with self-professed anger issues, talks over a woman during the welcome circle even though she had already grabbed the talking stick, asserting a certain degree of dominance with his tone and taking up space as men are trained to do. On the other hand, there is Vairrun, whose ego is tied to his six-pack and bicep muscles the size of small cantaloupes, which he flexes 24/7. Even one of the facilitators keyed in on how much flexing Vairrun was doing just sitting down.
The entire scene is far removed from the participants’ desire to heal what they themselves admit are life long deep-seated emotional wounds, which include parental abuse, spousal abuse, and being abandoned beside a garbage can as a child. Instead, Lost Resort is fully geared toward being as TV-friendly as possible, calling into question why these people are there in the first place. It reminded me of the first season of Temptation Island, a show that had the premise of couples working to fix their relationships but really ended up being an hour-long display of aspiring Instagram models.
If for a moment, you forget that this is, in fact, just a reality show and not a visual self-help guide to follow along with, the show makes sure to tick off all of the necessary reality show drama requirements. Hot guys? Check. Hot girls? Check. Daddy issues, love interest, and a roommate situation that is a thousand percent forced to guarantee some screaming and hair-pulling? Check, check, and hard fucking check.
Of course, the disappointment I feel isn’t the show’s fault—it’s my own for forgetting that reality TV has morphed into a career path and is no longer what it was in its infancy, a window into another life. For the most part, people who go onto reality shows claiming to be looking for something—love, change, or help in general—are more often just looking for fame. While I don’t think every person on Lost Resort is trying to fast track their celebrity, there are some who don’t even try to hide the fact that they’ve signed up for what should be a life-changing retreat in order to do a little self-promotion on national television.
Putting aside for a moment that the show itself if commodifying spiritual practice and self-healing, there is a sliver of honesty that comes through in the first episode. Becca, the pastor, shares during the welcome circle that she had lost her son during childbirth a year prior and had since not been able to see, feel, or hear God. The next day the participants came together in what was called a Rage Ritual, which explains itself—the participants were meant to stand in the middle of a shala (that’s spirit language meaning room) and vent their anger at a person or thing they visualized in their mind.
Naturally, everyone was reluctant to stand in the middle of a group of strangers and cameramen and producers to scream. One woman, Meco, even went so far as to say that she wasn’t angry about anything even though in the same breath she shared that she’d been abandoned by her parents and left to suffer in the foster care system. After a brief demonstration from lightworker and healer Atasiea, the participants gave it a shot. They were asked to visualize a person they were angry at and tell that person how they felt. Becca did not name the person she was speaking to but simply said, “I’m so angry at you. You hurt me and you don’t even care,” and released several guttural screams that brought me to tears on my couch. The sound was familiar; she was angry at God. Who isn’t these days?
Underneath the talking head interviews and narration by lead healer Chrissie, the show is trying desperately to showcase relevant work that most people will never do in their lifetimes. It is especially significant that the show features participants and healers of color, as any spiritual practice is often relegated to “white people shit” despite its roots in various indigenous cultures and belief systems, thanks to the contributions of companies like Goop that make holistic practices seem overpriced and inaccessible. But in just a single episode, the show falls into the Goop trap of showing people that spiritual work requires certain material things like beads, drums, bells, maracas, and a special retreat set in a jungle; it does more to show the capitalist version of spiritual healing than it does the act itself. Certain material items do play important roles in spiritual work (I for one have a collection of various crystals, sage, stones taken from the sea at a specific hour and tarot cards) but for the beginner spiritualist, the trappings of spirituality are just a distraction. People could start this kind of work with just themselves a quiet room and a notebook if they wanted.
As a fan of the methodology, I desperately want to take the whole thing at face value and believe that more people will become curious about self-healing and give it a try. But the lingering breast shots, the cutaways to a visual paradise, the musical cues that function to let the audience know when its okay to laugh at these people—it all strips away any ounce of sincerity that the participants or the healers might attempt to share.