A taste for the exotic

Liquorish hit prime-time just over a week ago, with another season of spectacular scenery and even more spectacular behind-the-scenes gossip.I caught up with hostess Andrea Cassar to find out what’s in store for participants this year.

“It’s going to be a fun ride in Morocco  – following feedback from viewers about last year’s production we decided to offer a longer show this time round, a two and a half hour bonanza every week. The set is also something else,  continuously changing and revolving.  I’m really excited to see what impact it will leave on the viewers. This is also the first time that the show is on One TV and I am keen to get feedback from a new section of viewers,” Andrea starts off.

Right after the announcement about the finalists two weeks ago, it was good-bye mobile phones, goodbye watches, goodbye gadgets and goodbye home comforts to the lucky chosen. The rules and regulations that being part of the Liquorish contingent brings with it are mind-boggling.

“Participants are allowed no contact with family or friends back home at all. Their luggage was actually scanned twice in order to ensure that no prohibited items make it through. This time round they weren’t even allowed personal knick-knacks with them and…perhaps worst of all for some… Liquorish is a totally non-smoking set.”

Wow. I try to picture myself without mobile, without MP3 player, without…well, without anything. I fail. Yet, apparently, most people take to the new lifestyle rather well.

The participants in Madagascar

“As soon as the plane left Malta for Morocco, they all adapted to the fact that now they’re all dependent on each other. It does become like a family. All past participants say that the experience has changed their lives and they all keep in touch after the show is over. These people don’t even have any money with them, so you really start looking at life differently.”

She confesses that, as seen in past editions, some contestants are less effective at coping than others. One particular incident springs to mind, where during the India adventure a participant got extremely homesick and had to be flown back home. Others, who maybe weren’t as bad as this but who still didn’t quite get into the spirit of the challenges, include Carmen and Natius from the previous seasons.

“They did become the butt of every viewer joke,” Andrea says with a smile. “Neither of them wanted to carry out the challenges! Carmen’s case, in particular, was hilarious. Everyone – and by everyone I mean the audience at home too! – was getting a tad irritated with her and boy, did they let her know it. Apparently there was quite a good Carmen imitation going on, particularly amongst school-children,” Andrea chuckles.

In past editions  Andrea has accompanied the group to every destination, bar two. Which one was her favourite destination? She shakes her head and predictably replies that this is a tough one, given that all editions come with their own individual memories.

Filming in Borneo

“If you push me I’ll probably say it was Brazil. The whole experience was really inspiring, in particular where we reached the Amazon. There is nothing quite like it on earth. You read so much about this place, you see so many photos… and yet nothing quite prepares you for the impact. It is so pristine, so unimaginably beautiful. It took us seven days to get inside the forest, we were living on a boat throughout all that week but it was definitely worth it.”

Andrea goes on to say that the experience is quite emotional and that yes, she did shed a couple of tears as the reality of the place hit her.

“We saw pink dolphins, they’re so beautiful…to think that they are almost extinct now. The amount of creatures you see there is incredible. The river water is pitch black because it’s extremely rich in minerals and dense with life. We all followed the lead of the locals and jumped right in; I have to say, however, that when we came back from the trip I saw a documentary about it and I doubt I’d have gone in if I’d known what I know now.”

At this point Andrea goes off on a tangent, digging out old photos and describing the group’s experience at this place, telling me that the forest is alternately beautiful and scary, stormy and serene. By the end of it I confess that I’m feeling quite jealous that I, too, haven’t enjoyed this same experience.

“We all bonded in Brazil I guess. It was a particularly good group, the team-work element was extremely high and everyone pulled their own weight. I suppose you could say my memories with that group are some of the best Liquorish related ones I have. They’ve totally kept in touch too; so have the others mind you, but these took the friendship to a different level.”

Namibia is another destination that brings back fond memories. The whole trip involved us living and travelling in a

India turned out to be a disappointment

landrover – and by living in a landrover, what she means is that the group would stop for the night and actually set up camp on the roofs of their cars. The adventures, some of them very frightening, were many. Andrea recalls the time when one of the landrovers ended up going off course, winding up in a ravine. Another time, two members of the group were meant to pick up two other members who had completed a challenge in a cave. The location being quite close to camp, they didn’t take any satellite equipment with them and somehow they got totally lost and ended up having to spend the night in a landrover in a leopard infested zone.

“That was an extremely worrying situation actually. The two of them had, rather rashly, set out without taking with them any means of getting in touch with us. They figured that with such a short distance they’d be back in under half an hour. They certainly didn’t expect to end up wandering, lost, in the dark – particularly because that area was chocabloc with signs cautioning against being out and vulnerable after nighttime. Thankfully it all ended well. We take safety very seriously, of course. But sometimes, something will happen to make the participants veer off course – it is an adventure challenge after all.”

With a smile, Andrea adds that the Namibia participants were a very sweet mix of personalities; just the previous weeks, she mentions, the same group were the movers behind an impromptu reunion that somehow managed to get together some two score people overnight.

On the list of countries that turned out to be rather disappointing – perhaps surprisingly so to many – was India. In Andrea’s words, we’ve been exposed to so much marketing about the beauties of this country that perhaps it’s natural to feel a bit let down when confronted by a reality that certainly doesn’t match up to the pictures we see.

“I’m not saying there is no beauty, on the contrary. However, the initial shock of the dirt, poverty and primitive way of life that hits you when you arrive pretty much affects the whole experience. Anyone travelling to India can’t avoid this massive station which, I’ll be blunt, is a rather nasty experience. Huge rats everywhere, people relieving themselves on the floor right in front of you, people left there to die with crowds literally stepping on them…”

Group shot in Thailand

Andrea shudders in recollection. I point out that surely, poverty is equally rampant in Brazil and Africa? She agrees and hastily clarifies that it is not the presence of poverty that leads her to view India as one of her least favourite destinations. On the contrary, she tells me she did witness extreme poverty in places like Namibia and Brazil, a poverty that touched her heart. However, she says that she also found a marked difference in the lifestyle and nature of these people.

“In Brazil we actually lived with the children, on the streets. Of course there is poverty on these continents too. But somehow, the overall aura is a healthier, the people more welcoming despite all the disadvantages they have to put up with. India gets more beautiful the more south you travel, but somehow it didn’t leave the same impact on my heart that the other countries did,” she tells me half-apologetically.

As she whips out more photographs from past Liquorish experiences, I glance around Andrea’s office, which is a pretty unique mix of corporate paraphernalia and…kiddie toys! It’s pretty obvious that Isaac, Andrea’s two-year-old son, gets to spend quite a bit of time with his mummy here. Andrea nods and explains that Isaac spends one day of the week with his maternal grandmother, another day with the paternal one and the rest of the week with her. It is pretty obvious that Andrea has done up her office precisely to ensure that the toddler spends as much time as possible with his mother without being bored. Still, given her daytime job as CEO of a leading shipping company, how does she manage?

“I juggle everything…like every other working mother has to, I guess,” she concludes with an engaging grin.

Liquorish airs every Monday at 20:30 on ONE, with daily updates between Monday and Friday. You can also check behind the scenes footage streamed on www.liquorish.tv. An edited version of this interview was published on The Times TV Guide.