Early on in the show when his children were hungry and he had lost so much weight that he thought he was ill, Clune and some of the other men took their videocams and used them to "hunt." They got close enough to pose with a deer, Clune said, then took their video quarry to the show's producers to prove they would have been able to kill their own meat had the rules allowed it. They asked for a comparable amount of meat, but their request was denied.
Clune also proposed setting up targets with animal silhouettes. Every two weeks, homesteaders would get one shot. If they hit it, their diet would be augmented with meat. If not, tough luck. "Oh, no," he recalled the show's producers saying. "It'd be too much like a game show then."
Causing almost as much stir as guns and trading for meat was Adrienne's penchant for cosmetics. Few television reviews neglected to ridicule the 40-year-old homemaker for a mini-crying jag over the makeup ban for a group photo before the families set out.
"Of course I knew I was going to have to live without makeup," recalled Adrienne, wearing a pink floral dress and a modest amount of makeup for a presentation at a fund-raiser for Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles later that morning. "But this was before we had left for the frontier, and I thought I could wear it. I wouldn't have cared so much if it was just us out there, but the fact you have a camera crew and you know millions of people are going to be watching you completely bare made a difference."
But the frontier changed her. Her makeup habit has gone from heavy everyday use to occasional, more subdued applications for public outings. Most days, Adrienne now only puts on tinted sunscreen and Chap Stick. "It was good for me to live without it," she said. "When you get out there, it's such a low priority. You're thinking about survival, and makeup just seems so ludicrous.
"It's a distraction away from the real you," she said. "The inner person. When you've stripped that away, it's the beauty within that's important--the beauty of being content with yourself. I definitely found that out there."
"Contentment" is not a noun readily associated with the Clunes. For many viewers, such words as "whiners" and "complainers" seem a better fit. There was Gordon complaining about the more than 30 pounds he lost, leaving him looking like an Amish Bee Gee. There was Adrienne complaining about missing her friends and romance. The teenage girls--daughter Aine, 15, and niece Tracy, 15--complained about milking cows, the cold and 1883 fashions. Son Justin, 11, complained about the "endless" task of chopping wood. And even 9-year-old Conor complained that frontier life in general "sucks."
But the show didn't make much of the few notable things the family did not complain about: The horse accident in which Conor was thrown from the wagon and Adrienne was nearly trampled. Though the horses may have become unmanageable anyway, a lengthy photo session for the producers featuring the wagon train certainly aggravated the animals, according to the show's animal handlers.
The whole family had diarrhea for several weeks. They slept on a hardwood floor for three months--with mice. "No matter how many mice the boys caught each night, there would always be three or four new ones by nightfall. They'd run over your hair, your hands and your feet," said Adrienne. (Gordon made rope beds that got them 14 inches off the floor and solved the problem.)
"[The producers] never wanted to show us as we were," said Adrienne. "They were after television ratings."
The show's executive producer, Beth Hoppe, said the series strove to be both entertaining and educational, but every attempt was made to show the families in a balanced light. For instance, when the Clunes were caught cheating by trading for meat, the show gave Gordon's side of the story, she said.
"Gordon was a strong character, and he had lots to say," said Hoppe, who works at Thirteen/WNET in New York and also was the force behind PBS' "1900 House," a similar experiment set in Victorian England. "He had his argument for why he did what he did, and we tried to portray that fairly. I think some people agreed with him."
The Clunes believe an essential part of who they are is their homesteading roots. Gordon lived on his grandparent's homestead (with no running water) in Manitoba, Canada, until he was 5. Adrienne grew up on a farm in Ireland where her family struggled to make ends meet.
"I thought the series was going to be more of a historical documentary," said Adrienne, a former history teacher. "I thought it would be something history teachers could take to the classroom, but I don't see how they could do that unless it was a psychology class."