For one brief season in 2004, there was a PBS reality show called Colonial House, in which modern day participants lived round-the-clock in a replica of a 1628 Plymouth Colony village. Colonial House had some very special guests when Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King dropped in to live and work with them for an episode of Oprah's talk show but no one could have known that their episode would turn out to the one of the funniest TV moments in recent memory.
Colonial House was designed to be a realistic recreation of what it was like to live in colonial America. Filmed at a remote outpost in Maine, the show was overseen by historians and experts to insure a high level of accuracy, but they were not prepared for the likes of some of television's most sophisticated queens. Though the two friends would take away some meaningful lessons from the experience, it was, first and foremost, a hoot to watch them try to adjust to a very different life.
Here is a rundown of their time in seventeenth century America.
When they set out for their epic colonial adventure, Oprah anticipates a valuable learning experience and parallels to her own childhood. Her own family had no television and grew their own food. As for Gayle, she isn't feeling it as much. "I grew up with a toilet and a maid," Gayle says, already reluctant before even reaching the set. Perhaps Gayle's reservations were well-founded, though. She and Oprah had no idea the challenges and hilarity they were about to face.
One of the first things Oprah and Gayle have to do to play authentic Puritans (or African Puritans, as the duo call themselves) is give up their way-too-comfortable modern clothing. Women in 1628 didn't wear bras, panties were unheard of, and corsets were the norm. The restrictive clothing reflected the restrictive lives women were expected to lead. As Oprah and Gayle find out, adjusting to a life without panties is much more difficult than one might first imagine. "I should have asked more about this project before I came," Oprah admitted.
Oprah and Gayle were Colonial House's first participants of color. "[We were] the first Puritan African sojourners to pass through the colony," Oprah remembered. The experience prompted a conversation about what it must have been like for black people during that era. Oprah noted that, though the show was realistic, it was not at all feasible to believe that two people of color - women of color, no less - would be such an equal part of village life. "We wouldn't have been sitting at the table," she said.
Obviously, there were no cellphones, televisions, computers, refrigerators, or deodorant in 1628. Every cushy aspect of present day life had to be surrendered to make the experience realistic for both participants and viewers. At this point, Oprah and Gayle began to suspect that this isn't exactly going to be a peaceful, relaxing retreat from the modern world. "There's nothing simple about the simple life," one Colonial House villager says. "It's hard work."