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Rise and Fall is a microcosm for our whole class-obsessed country

Your enjoyment of Rise and Fall is going to depend greatly on your tolerance for watching capitalism in action.

Rise and Fall contestants

Greg James with the Rise and Fall contestants: some of the most immediately despisable people on television this year. Photo: Channel 4

Channel 4’s latest high-concept reality show, Rise and Fall, creates a society of haves and have nots, one with power over the other, and makes them absolutely hate their rivals. It’s not a new idea – Big Brother flirted with this sort of enforced segregation a few times, but it’s certainly the most on-the-nose reality TV “social experiment” we’ve yet seen.

Like BBC One’s The Traitors, the producers of which are also behind this, it’s another opportunity for people to work together or screw each other over in the pursuit of increasing a prize pot (which could reach £100k) that only one of them can win. Unlike The Traitors, producers have packed the competition (with a few exceptions) with some of the most immediately despisable people on television this year, with all of the desperate energy and misplaced confidence of the average Apprentice contestant.

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The show plays out like a cross between those three reality staples, the back-stabbing and duplicity of The Traitors, the naked greed of The Apprentice and the hothouse intensity of Big Brother. It’s already fiercely addictive. Hating everyone is always fun.

Rise and Fall's boiler-suited "grafters". Photo Channel 4
Rise and Fall’s boiler-suited “grafters”. Photo Channel 4

Hosted by Radio One’s Greg James, the show divides its 15 contestants into six “rulers”, living the life of Riley in a luxury penthouse, served amazing dinners and sleeping on feather beds, and nine “grafters”, boiler-suited grease monkeys, living off “potato peel soup and bread”, enduring rock-hard mattresses and cold showers. The grafters must endure physically exhausting “work shifts” (the first one involves electric shocks) to boost the prize pot, the rulers must decide how much they work and how hard they can be pushed. Every night they vote a ruler out altogether and promote a grafter. It’s a solid format that’s precision tooled to make one group of people resentful and one feel superior.

Already we’re seeing those patterns emerge. Down in the boiler room of the grafters, resentment’s building among the proles as they observe their new overlords giving out their instructions… there’s also absolute joy as they watch them pull each other down. Meanwhile, in the ivory tower of the penthouse they’re already plotting and manoeuvring. Producers knew this would happen – how could they not? It’s exactly what happens in the real world every day.

Brits are famous for our obsession with class. We’re a nation that likes people to know their place. It’s rare to see it so specifically stratified like this though. Rise & Fall immediately becomes a microcosm for, not just our jobs, but our entire country, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how it all turns out. Will the grafters essentially unionise, down tools and stop making money for their pent-housed masters, for example? Will they stage an armed revolt? Or will the chance, however small, of getting their hands on that massive prize pot – which only a “ruler” can win – keep everyone docile? Ooh, it’s clever.

Classism is one of our biggest cultural problems as a country, and should be a source of national shame. Weirdly, it isn’t. We tend to accept that some of us are grafters and some of us are rulers, that a few of us get rich from the work of the rest. Is putting that on telly every night such a great idea? Is it something we’re questioning here? Or just something we’re exploiting?

It probably depends on your point of view. There’s a chance someone on this show can work diligently and obediently for the whole series and walk away without a bean. There’s also a chance someone could bully their way from one end of the show to the other and stalk off with the lot. It’s probably what would happen in real life.

Your enjoyment of this show is going to depend greatly on your tolerance for watching capitalism in action. It’s going to be fascinating, but good grief it’s also going to be bleak. Let’s hope for a revolution.

Rise and Fall airs on Channel 4 and is available on All4

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