You’re minding your own business, doing something else while the TV provides background noise. The commercial break gives way to a continuity voice-over that grabs your attention. A reassuring female voice explains that a new game show is airing live tonight. Here it is: Emigration!
A brief musical flourish and light effects introduce our host. He smiles and looks directly into the centre camera. “Welcome to Emigration!” he announces, “a gameshow for citizens without jobs, property, or prospects to get an opportunity to start over elsewhere. Tonight on the show, we have three contestants all competing for a re-location. Meet Tom, Danielle, and Michael.”
The camera changes to show the three contestants, sitting in high chairs on a side stage, as they smile awkwardly and wave. The Host moves into view alongside the contestants.
“Let’s begin our introductions with Michael. Tell us a bit about yourself Michael.”
“I’m 25, and I’m from Donegal,” Michael begins, receiving a cheer from a pocket of the studio audience at the mention of his home county. “I’m a qualified teacher, but I haven’t had anything more than substitution hours for the past three years, so I’m really hoping to find work elsewhere.”
The host makes a quick wink to the camera. “It’s a truly pathetic story, Michael.” The crowd laugh along as Michael blushes. “Welcome to the show” the Host continues, “We’ll move to Danielle…”
Danielle starts: “Hello, I’m 27 and-”
“Sorry to interrupt, Danielle,” the host interjects with fingertips to his ear, “but we have a new development. Tom, can I confirm that you are the only son of a dairy farmer?”
Tom, clearly surprised by the directness of the question, stutters in reply “Eh, yes… I am…”
The Host extends both arms and addresses the studio audience. “Well Tom, I’m afraid I have news for you. Your father has just died of heart failure and the farm has been left to you. Unfortunately, this means you are automatically disqualified from the contest as you now have both a job and property.”
Before Tom can react, two security men sweep in and take him by an arm each, escorting Tom off the studio floor. The Host carries on regardless. “Our sympathies are with you on your loss, Tom. Of course, he’s one of the lucky ones, ladies and gentlemen. It’s sad that his father has passed on, but on the bright side, no need for Tom to emigrate now. A round of applause for Tom!” The crowd applause is not loud enough to drown out Tom’s objections:
“No! No! Don’t send me back to that fucking hole! I need to get out! Everything smells of cow shit! Everything smells of cow shit!”
A consummate professional, the Host presses ahead: “Well folks, it just goes to show you that not everybody needs to emigrate our fine country. We’ll see if our remaining contestants truly want to emigrate in our next round, after this short break.”
Short break, he says, but you know that means enough time to make a cup of tea. You return to the couch just as the ad break ends.
The Host welcomes us back to Emigration! “Well, with only two contestants left, it’s time for our special challenge round,” the host explains. “We’ll start with Michael.”
Michael gives a brief wave as he steps down to the centre stage to join the host. Assistants in the studio have placed a table and two chairs on the stage and the Host invites Michael to sit down.
“Now Michael, you’re the only child of your family remaining in the country, is that correct?” the Host inquires.
Michael tilts his head a little, before responding “That’s correct, yes.” The Host gives a slight gesture encouraging Michael to continue. “I… I’ve a sister in Australia and a brother in Canada. But I’m still living at home in Kildare (brief cheer from a section of the audience) with my parents.”
The Host turns out to the audience and moves off the stage. “Alright then. We have a very special game for you, Michael. This round is called Say it to my Face.”
A spotlight focuses on the table and chairs as a hush descends on the studio. The Host explains “Michael, to win this round, you will have to tell a loved one that you’ll be leaving the country. That loved one is… your mother, Maura.”
An assistant helps Maura into the seat opposite Michael. Maura appears to be extremely confused. “Michael, what’s going on? Are we on the telly?”
Michael looks as though he has seen a ghost. “Mammy, I…” Michael struggles, “I need to tell you something…”
Maura asks “What is it, love?”
Michael stutters “I have to… I have to leave, mam. There’s nothing for me here, no opportunities for me, not like there are in other… I mean… I’m saying… I need to emigrate…”
“What?” Maura starts, with genuine hurt in her voice, “But… where… and, am I to be left on my own, is it?”
“You’ll have dad, like…”
“Your dad can’t be around all the time. And sure you know he has a bad back. The pair of us can’t keep the house together… Did you ever think of that? Who’ll be able to help us?”
“I… I don’t know, but…”
Maura slumps back in her seat with an air of resignation, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “Oh I… I suppose it’s something you have to do. Just like the other two. Mad for adventure, and while you’re young is the best time… I wish you’d said something though. Instead of all this…”
Michael’s head has dropped into his chest. He appears to be trembling, looking pale and unsteady.
“Oh, don’t worry at all,” Maura continues, “we’ll manage some way. We’ll get by. We’ll have to. My arthritis isn’t so bad yet. I’ll be able to get the house painted at some stage. I can’t afford getting a painter in, but your dad might help too. Although his back would be ruined…” Maura’s voice trails off for a moment. The cameras flicker between Maura and Michael, tension building in the silence between the two. “Ah,” Maura finally recovers, “we’ll manage some way, I suppose – don’t you worry about us at all.”
Michael lifts his head a little. “Well, I could get the house painted. It’s not like I’m leaving in the morning…”
For the first time in what feels like an age, the Host intervenes: “Actually Michael, if you win here today, you’ll be heading straight to the airport after the show.”
Michael reacts in shock. “What? Nobody told me that before!”
Maura is equally taken aback. “You were just going to skip out of the country tonight without so much as a word? You wouldn’t think of saying anything to your father or me about it? Do we mean that little to you?”
An expression of blind panic crosses Michael’s face. “Honestly mam, that’s the first I heard of it – I didn’t think it’d be straight away!”
Again, the Host explains: “The show is Emigration, Michael – you win, you emigrate.” As he speaks, the Host joins Michael and Maura on stage, standing between them at the back of the table. “So Michael, what will it be?”
Michael stares into space as a camera provides a close-up on his anguished face. “I… I – I… I can’t. I can’t.” He turns to Maura. “Let’s go home, mam.”
Maura crosses her arms. “Oh, it’s home you want to go to now, is it?” An assistant arrives to help Maura off the stage but she rises by herself and begins to walk back from where she entered, letting her words travel behind her. “Would you ever decide what it is that you want and not be breaking my heart with all your carry on – And on the telly! I’m mortified – I’ll bet the neighbours have this recorded – I’ll never hear the end of it – playing us all for fools, God give me strength…” Michael cuts a dejected figure as he follows Maura out of the studio. The camera follows briefly before returning to find the Host on a cleared centre stage.
“Well, let’s hear it for Michael,” the Host exclaims and the audience respond with a polite round of applause, “he gave it a great shot, but it just wasn’t to be. We’ll be back with our last remaining contestant, Danielle, after this break.”
That part had you hooked. So much so that you realise that you’ve let your cup of tea go cold. Not to worry, there’s time to make another. You return to your viewing position as the music signals the final part of the gameshow.
The Host welcomes us back to Emigration! He stands near Danielle on the centre stage with only a podium for Danielle between them.
“Welcome back to Emigration as we begin our final round” the Host announces. “Danielle, this will be a quick-fire round and we require five correct answers for you to win. Danielle, are you ready?”
Danielle nods and the Host prepares his cue cards.
“First question: In Ireland, what job position requires a minimum of one or more third-level qualifications, 3-5 years of relevant experience, and a willingness to work evenings and weekends?”
The camera fixes on a close-up of Danielle. “An unpaid internship,” she answers confidently.
“Correct. Next question: On returning home at any time, what two questions will every Irish emigrant face?”
Danielle considers this for a moment. “When did you get in and when are you heading back?”
“That’s correct,” the Host proclaims. Third question, how can you find other Irish people in a foreign country?”
Danielle pauses briefly. “Uh…oh, wherever you go, there’s always someone in a GAA jersey.”
“Correct. Next question is in two parts. What reasons do government members claim to be behind the substantial number of young Irish people emigrating annually?”
“Desire to gain experience and return, or out of some sense of adventure,” Danielle ventures an answer.
The Host pauses. “Yes, I can accept those answers. And, the second part of the question, what are the actual reasons behind the substantial number of young Irish people emigrating annually?”
Danielle takes a long, deep breath. “For better employment opportunities, a substantially higher standard of living, and to escape the inherently broken social and political systems of this country that are not bound to change in our lifetime.”
Tension builds as the Host delays in confirming whether or not Danielle’s answer will be accepted. “That is…” he pauses to extend the silence, “correct!” Danielle sighs with relief. The Host addresses her directly. “Only one more correct answer required, Danielle – good luck!”
Danielle crosses her fingers and looks down as the tension builds towards the final question. “For five out of five and our top prize of Emigration, Danielle… While in a foreign country where there is a language barrier, what is the standard practice in a situation where you have been rude, obnoxious, or disorderly?”
Danielle raises her head instantly, her expression showing that she can hardly contain the answer. “Standard practice, in that situation…is to pretend that I’m actually English.”
A moment of stillness follows before an explosion of music and lighting effects confirm that Danielle has won the top prize. She is overcome with emotion as the Host embraces her with a congratulatory hug. The cheering and celebrations of the studio audience are softened as the Host tries to restore order, preparing to speak. “Congratulations Danielle on a superb performance,” the Host enthuses. “I know it must all be a bit of a shock to the system, but have you any thoughts on where you’d like to emigrate to?”
Danielle wipes away her tears of joy and attempts to compose herself before answering. “Well, there are a few places I had in mind,” she begins. “As long as it’s somewhere that respects a woman’s reproductive rights, I’ll be-“
“And that’s all we have time for tonight,” the Host quickly interrupts. “Congratulations once again to Danielle. To our audience here and those at home, thank you for watching. Tune in next time – if you’re still in the country – for another game of Emigration!”
The end credits roll with the theme music playing the show out. You sit back in your seat and think that wasn’t a bad show at all. But… but they missed a trick there, didn’t they? Instead of the quiz format, the production should be based on a Gladiators-style gameshow. Imagine that. Two people competing to emigrate in an obstacle course inside an airport, first to the finish line wins. You’d have ready made travelators and everything! Now that would make for great television. You know, I thought the same thing myself.