When a colleague and I encountered the cast of National Geographic Channel’s new Doomsday Castle at a recent network event, we thought we’d stumbled on the cast of an MTV reality series and their rather intense agent who’d gotten off the elevator on the wrong floor and decided to stick around for the eats.
Instead, we’d happened on Brent Bruns Sr. and half of his ten children — Brent II (no juniors in this clan), 41; Ashley, 24; Lindsey, 22; and twins Dawn-Marie and Michael, 20 — the latest in NGC’s growing stable of doomsday preppers.
In the series intro, Brent Sr — a former military man turned real estate agent who is convinced that end times will come sooner rather than later — says he hopes that “when chaos consumes the world, his family has what it takes to survive.” To ensure that outcome, and with Y2K looming, he began building a castle on a hill in the North Carolina wilds in 1999 and has now called upon the willing among his children to help him finish the job. Or, perhaps, land a TV show. But that’s just the cynic in me. The one that’s aware that Brent II found the casting agents, not the other way around.
Brent the elder is especially concerned about an EMP — that’s electromagnetic pulse, for, uh, long — which could take out the entire electrical grid. He says the EMP could come naturally from a solar flare. But most likely it will come from a small nuclear warhead launched by an enemy country and detonated 25 miles above the atmosphere.
Either way, he wants a fortress for “his kids and their kids and their kids’ kids” (OK, maybe end times aren’t actually that close) to have a place to call home should that happen. So he selected a place near a devoted populace of fellow preppers and just near enough to everything else.
“That was one of the hardest things,” Brent Sr. told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “I needed it to be secluded but not totally isolated. It had to be somewhere we could get in a relatively short period of time. It needed to be near a major metropolitan area. When I say ‘near,’ an hour to an-hour-and-a-half drive so we could, in the meantime, be able to get whatever we needed. And then within that, I needed it to be in the center of an extremely large piece of land with only a few people there, in a very kind of undeveloped area, but [with] all the needs already in place or almost ready to go off the grid, [like] our own water system.”
What he seems to have failed to consider is whether his children — the products of two separate broods of five — would actually want to spend the rest of their lives locked in a castle with their siblings or if they’d ultimately prefer to take their chances out in the wilds, where at least self-described “big-city boy and beach comber” Brent II would have access to what’s left of sand and skyscraper, and Ashley might be able to find the remnants of a mall and/or nail salon.
In any case, after scaring the bejesus out of the kids shortly after their arrival via a bunch of friends enlisted to make like armed militiamen and women, which sends them scampering for cover (and comes off like a cheesy, homemade terror-in-them-mountains film), Dad begins teaching them the business of surviving the real deal.
Since Michael is most devoted to his prepper genes, he gets the plum job of helping Brent Sr. create a drawbridge at the castle entrance. The rest of the kids are dispatched to turn the 2,000 sq. ft. bunker, which looks like your basic neglected family basement, into a homey spot for a sparring family of six to coexist whilst the rest of the castle goes up.
“I was just on a cruise in Jamaica and then they throw me in this … bunker thing,” whines Ashley, who is suddenly toting a Chihuahua in a fur-trimmed camo dog coat. Dad let you bring that to the practice apocalypse?
“This is not a good use of my brain,” crabs Brent II, who feels bunker makeovers are women’s work. Leaving home décor to Ashley and Lindsey, he and Dawn-Marie decide to tackle the serious-prepper task of fortifying the bunkers windows, making a run to a local junk shop for things that have nothing to do with fortifying windows. Like an ancient lawn tractor that factors into Brett Two’s cringe-worthy plan to reclaim his father’s attention at the end of the premiere.
As the series soldiers on, the Bruns offspring will learn the intricacies of gas masks, catapult construction and chicken farming, and, no doubt, deal with more sneak attacks from dad. And, says the family, it’s all in the name of getting folks like us to realize that the days no iPhones, electric fridges and indoor plumbing are but an EMP away.
“We want more people to accept that prepping is more logical the more that time is going on. And it’s getting worse out there, so it’s smarter to at least have a plan,” said Michael at the TCA panel, adding that the show is really about a family working together toward a noble end. “It’s foolish not to think that something bad can never happen.”
Like being assigned to clean a bunker with some girls, ain’t that right, Brett II?
Doomsday Castle premieres Tuesday, Aug. 13, on National Geographic Channel.
Images/video: National Geographic Channel