Hell Times Five

The terrible trials endured on <i>Solitary</i>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Sure, the nine contestants on the second season of Solitary were made to stay awake for long stretches, deprived of food, and subjected to amplified infant screams. But that was only the beginning. Here are a few other ways in which the players were kept busy.

1. Playing with her subjects’ sense of time, Val (the omniscient computer-voiced host) has each enter a cramped black box with a ridged floor, which is subsequently heated to a sweltering temperature. Players, sans watches, are told to exit the box after exactly three hours; the one who comes closest earns a pass on the next “treatment.” A couple of contestants emerge from the box prematurely, and two come very close to three hours. The others, however, express surprise when, after more than four hours, Val alerts them that the contest is long over.

2. Players are asked to stand barefoot on a board covered with wooden pegs for as long as they can. Says J.P., a 33-year-old Survivor alum, “It feels like someone took two metal rods, implanted them right underneath your heels, and shot ’em both up your leg.” Two female contestants endure the “footbed of nails” for close to three hours.

3. In a Flowers for Algernon moment, each player is given a white mouse in a cage to ponder as a metaphor for his or her own situation. In a later episode, they race to help the mouse escape confinement by piecing together a Habitrail-style rodent tunnel. To earn the 51 tunnel pieces, they must ride a total of 2,040 revolutions on a treadmill.

4. Players are asked to grate 10 large onions, an eye-searing task for which they earn 50,000 “vallers” (Val’s imaginary currency). Later, Val hosts an auction. Among the prizes players bid on is the ability to punish a rival with an hour of sirens, additional time in the black box, or the removal of something the rival treasures.

5. Wearing handcuffs, contestants are presented with a giant bowl of ultrathick gruel. (Could the key to the cuffs be in there?) Soon after, their pods are filled with roughly 100 playground balls of all sizes and colors, each of which Val has given an arbitrary weight—players must determine the combination of five balls that totals 211 pounds, 12 ounces. Following the test, Val tells her still-handcuffed players that a clue on how to escape their manacles may be found in a huge box crammed with enough packing peanuts to fill the pods ankle-deep. They search, listlessly, and nobody succeeds.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate