The children were paid $5,000 each for involvement in the show. At the end of each episode, one child would receive the "Gold Star" award, which was worth $20,000. The "Gold Star" winner was determined by the appointed council.
The production began on April 1, 2007 and almost immediately drew controversial comments from critics. The promo for the show was only four minutes long and yet people like Brian Lowry at Variety wrote "Kid Nation" is only the latest program to use kids as fodder for fun and profit, which doesn't make the trend any less disturbing. Some argued that the younger children would face stress factors that they would not know how to handle emotionally. To CBS' credit, they had adults off screen including cameramen, producers, and a medic. A child psychiatrist was also on hand, but the interaction between the adults and children was as minimal as possible. Each child was cleared for production by a team of psychiatrists and could quit at any time, which some did.
There were a few injuries reported from the set. An unmarked bottle that contained bleach was mistakenly drank by four of the children, one girl sprained her arm, and another girl was burned by grease while cooking. The mother of the child that was burned called for an investigation as to whether CBS was in violation of child labor laws. The sheriff's office of Santa Fe County found no wrongdoings.
Four children were interviewed by Maria Elena Fernandez of the Los Angeles Times. They reported that it was rough without electricity or running water. It was also a challenge to cook, clean, and run businesses for themselves. While most said they worked harder than ever, all four said they would happily do it again. This was before the show had been broadcast, so no one really knows how seeing the show on television may affect the children.
Questions have been raised as to whether contestants in a reality show such as this are to be treated like subjects in a documentary or like actors. It seen as actors, the production would need to comply to certain union rules. AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is investigating whether any of their code was violated. The producers of the show deemed the set a summer camp to avoid calling it a workplace, but the New Mexico laws now prevent a production such as this from being called a summer camp.
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