NEW YORK – Get ready for a reality show with a twist: Twelve teenagers drive around California in a Winnebago, get to know each other, bicker about what music to play — and spread the word of God.
TruthQuest: California is a Christian reality program that aims to prove not all of America's youth are selfish deviants, despite ample evidence to the contrary offered on other shows. The brainchild of Baptist Press assistant editor Todd Starnes, the 13-episode series will debut in October on the FamilyNet channel and its affiliates, reaching as many as 38 million homes.
Starnes got the idea after watching a Road Rules marathon on MTV. "I noticed they were using faith concepts, talking about trust and team work, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could do a show like this from a Christian perspective?'" he said. "To show people Christians aren't freaks — they are normal people."
The eight-day journey — which will take place in a Winnebago previously rented by MTV — begins in San Diego and ends in San Francisco, with a stop in Yosemite National Park.
"The show's purpose is not just to capture relationships of the team members but to discover how others are being radical sharing Christ with the world," said Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press. "We're hoping the team will discover that the church is being innovated to reach different segments of the population."
Some of the non-traditional ministries the team will work with include Coastal Community Church, which sponsors a surfing ministry. The group will also hit the notoriously gang-ridden streets of South Central Los Angeles.
And the Lord may indeed work in mysterious ways, as the Yosemite stop has the teens experiencing extreme sport religion, rock climbing and rappelling down steep cliffs with a Christian mountain climbing team that preaches in the park.
Not only will the experiences be televised, but the team members will file daily journal entries and articles on TruthQuest.SBC.net, a site that will include bios, photos and in-depth dirt on the holy haul.
The group of predominately high school seniors may ride in the same RV once used on Road Rules, but members of the group will likely solve their differences in a more "Christian way," producers said.
But there will still likely be some bumps in the road. The group assembled recently for a weekend in Nashville to meet organizers and get acquainted, and some battles of literally biblical proportion started brewing.
"There are some differences of opinion," Starnes explained. During mealtime he overheard some team members having "a difference in interpretation of scripture."
The fictional Ned Flanders, that God-fearing neighbor of Homer Simpson, might think this interaction is juicy. But how will the Britney-barraged generation of today's youth respond?
"The entire Britney Spears set might not, but a chunk of that audience will," said Robert Thompson, a media expert from Syracuse University. "It wouldn't fly on NBC, but I absolutely think something like this could work on a smaller network."
Thompson said much of the drama will come from watching the group preach to people who may be non-believers. He also pointed out that even pious teens have hormones, which may spice up the show.
"It won't be like The Real World in terms of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, or have all the back-stabbing of Big Brother or Survivor. But you put teens somewhere together without their parents and regardless of premise, you've got sexual tension."
Before they set out on the trip, group members must endure a biblical boot camp that teaches team-building exercises and some finer points in evangelism, Hall said.
The "reality" in reality TV may be thrown about loosely now that a decade has passed since its debut, but Baptist Press and FamilyNet have faith that TruthQuest will shed new light on the concept.
"Eating worms isn't our reality," Martin Coleman, executive producer of the show, said referring to some of the latest gross-out reality shows.
"Seeking a path with God is our reality."