“You have to be tough when the jungle is crying!” Jens Knossalla yells through the pouring rain into the camera draped a few meters in front of him. The “King of the Internet”, as the entertainer calls himself, probably didn’t expect it to be so uncomfortable in paradise. The 36-year-old suffers alone, but not the only one. While Knossi is crouching under a palm tree, six other candidates are trying desperately to protect themselves from the tropical tears. All seven are stranded voluntarily – on a densely overgrown island somewhere off the Panamanian coast. For seven days they are completely on their own. It is the second season of one of the, if not the most successful German YouTube format of all time: “7 vs. Wild”. Reality TV has never been more real.

In contrast to earlier survival formats such as “Bear Grylls”, when the viewer watched a British ex-elite soldier in the wilderness in supposed solitude slurp up thumb-thick maggots to get their valuable protein, the candidates for “7 vs. Wild” are actually on their own. No camera crew, no drones, no contact with the outside world: a struggle for survival in selfie mode.

The rules at a glance:

Of course, the footage is cut into bite-sized episodes, but there’s still no guarantee of action for viewers. When it rains (and it often rains), the participants freeze. When hungry, they eat coconuts. And when the isolation gets to them after the first few days, they cry. Only at the beginning of the first episode, when the candidates march into the helicopter hangar in Michael Bay-esque slow motion, accompanied by DMAX-suspicious guitar riffs, does the Rambo feeling arise. After that, the producers exaggerate the smallest twists almost cliché-like with music straight out of the retort. Depending on the need, gloomy sounds announce supposed dangers, tormenting sounds accompany emotional lows and highs.

As a rule, the episodes, which are usually well over an hour long, mostly happen: nothing. It’s just that “nothing” has rarely been so entertaining. When fitness influencer Sascha finds fresh water beaming with joy, when viewer candidate Joris happily bites on a fruit, when Knossi lets himself fall into his hammock with a relieved sigh, “it does something” with the viewer. He doesn’t know why, but he’s happy too. True to the motto “Life writes the best stories”, “7 vs. Wild” returns reality to reality TV.

As in the first season, the participants are so wonderfully different that the viewer longs for, regrets or curses every change of scene. But no one gets through an episode without empathy. What quickly becomes clear: It is not hunger or thirst, not the constantly wet cold, not even the fear of crocodiles in the neighborhood that pushes the participants to their limits. It’s the total isolation that gets to them. The daily tasks (for spoiler reasons, we will not go into more detail here) should not only increase the excitement for the viewer, but above all keep the participants mentally in a good mood. It’s not about winning, it’s about persevering – probably the most appropriate metaphor that a reality format can offer.

Already the first season went, there is no other way to say it, completely through the roof. Each of the 16 episodes has been viewed an average of more than 5.5 million times to date. The new season even tops that: Some of the eight new episodes that have been released so far have already been viewed more than eight million times. As soon as a new episode (Wednesdays and Saturdays 6 p.m.) is available, it takes less than an hour for clicks to reach the hundreds of thousands.

It is exciting for the viewer to observe how the different candidates deal with one and the same situation: if it rains, it rains for everyone. For Meinecke, the mix of candidates is also part of the recipe for success. Because: “Nobody wants to see seven survival professionals. But nobody also wants to see seven complete beginners,” he explained last year in an interview with “World Wide Living Room” – also, how could it be otherwise, a YouTube format. In fact, Meinecke, who was the only candidate who struggled with loneliness in Season 1, rarely gives interviews to “classic” media – if at all, he sends voice messages. It could be because he’s constantly on the go for his job. Or because the 33-year-old simply thinks differently. That would at least explain why after the groundbreaking success of the first season, neither a major TV station nor a streaming service took the helm – or at least paid for it.

When, how and why content “go viral” can rarely be answered afterwards. However, the success of “7 vs. Wild” can be explained at least to a certain extent by this: Numerous well-known streamers have uploaded reaction videos to “7 vs. Wild” on their channels as a YouTube homegrown product. Streaming as a symbiosis, as a self-pollinating system. The Meinecke team is not accountable to anyone, no broadcaster is breathing down the producers’ necks.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” says Meinecke’s online shop. That’s not entirely true: “Real” life begins on the living room couch with “7 vs. Wild”.

Sources: “7 vs. Wild” Season 2 on Youtube; Interview Meinecke at “World Wide Living Room”; “7vswild.eu” (community website)