WASHINGTON – Maybe Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate really can work together: They just need to travel to a deserted island to do it.
Sens. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, and Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, spent a week together last month on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as co-stars of a Survivor-type reality television show being filmed for the Discovery Channel. In the process, the two telegenic freshmen managed to spear fish, find water and build shelter – and live to tell about it.
“We spent all that time together and we’re both still standing,” Heinrich told the Journal.
The one-episode show – called “Rival Survival” – is scheduled to air on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. MDT, less than a week before the Nov. 4 elections. Neither of the surviving senators is up for re-election.
Heinrich said no taxpayer money was used to fund their travel expenses or Discovery’s production costs.
The show’s premise aims to demonstrate that people with opposing viewpoints can get past them and cooperate. The two senators spent six days on the island with nothing but three pieces of gear and their wits.
“At a time when partisanship in U.S. politics litters the media landscape … ‘Rival Survival’ brings together two real-world political adversaries and maroons them on a remote island for a week,” the Discovery Channel said in a statement Thursday.
“Disconnected from the world on an uninhabited island surrounded by shark-infested waters that mirror the seemingly treacherous terrain of the U.S. Congress, (Flake and Heinrich) must put their political differences aside and work together to find common ground through compromise if they want to survive.”
The senators spent their week on the island of Eru, home to the wreckage of a downed WWII aircraft. The island – halfway between Hawaii and Australia – is in the largest protected shark sanctuary in the world.
While the show will play up the senators’ political differences, the fact is they have been pretty good friends during their first term in the Senate. In April, the two lawmakers traveled to New Mexico and Arizona together on a fact-finding mission to discuss forest restoration and wildfire prevention. Heinrich and Flake have also sat together at bipartisan congressional functions.
A Discovery Channel representative told the Journal the idea for the show was the senators’ and that additional episodes could be filmed featuring other lawmakers, or rivals from other walks of life. The challenge is finding people with the skills to survive on the island, the representative said.
The Discovery Channel’s headquarters is located in Silver Spring, Md., where Heinrich lives. The two men, both married with children, are experienced outdoorsmen. Heinrich is an avid angler, hunter and camper who proudly displays an elk rack in his Senate office.
Five years ago, on a personal mission, Flake spent a week alone (later highly publicized) on a small island in the middle of the Pacific, subsisting on coconuts and fish, and sleeping in a hammock.
In a joint statement, Heinrich and Flake said they hoped their novel approach to bipartisanship would serve as an example to their congressional colleagues and others.
“Both of us know just how frustrated people are with Washington right now,” they said.
“We can both attest that no one is more frustrated than those of us trying to get things done in this environment,” the senators’ statement said. “We recognize how difficult it can be to cut through the partisanship. So we decided to do something completely out of the ordinary and frankly a little extreme to show the world and our colleagues that, even if you have serious differences, if you want to survive, you have to work together.”