We arrive at the hotel an hour before filming the judging segment. Everything is peaceful, and everyone is relaxing as if nothing is happening. No one knows about the recent developments. Do we tell them or let them find out during the elimination? I try to conceal my emotions and frustrations, acting as if everything is fine, cracking jokes, and making small talk with everyone around the pool. Casually, I ask, "Where's Tarana?"
"She's at the beach with Dino, the director, and his sister," someone tells me.
"But I just saw Dino and his sister…" I reply, puzzled.
The Drama Behind the Scenes
It got really quiet, and everyone exchanged glances, knowing what the other was thinking. An entire silent conversation unfolds, fueling our irritation with the director.
I walk up to Jake and Dimitra and say, "Well, it looks like Tarana and the director are at the beach together. She probably heard everything we said on the phone. This is a complete breach of trust."
Jake responds, "After we finish filming this episode, I want to fire the director. Whether he's alone with Tarana again or not, I no longer trust him, and we are just not on the same page."
"Jake! Are you serious?! Do you think you can finish the episodes without him? That means you will have to be the director. Can you manage all of that? Are you really able to do this?" I ask.
"It will be tough, but I think I can do it. I might even do a better job. We won't have to fight over everything I want, and there will be a lot more peace around here," Jake asserts confidently.
Then Dimitra interjects, "You realize that his sister will leave with him, so we will only have two cameramen for three cameras."
"I've already thought that through. The static camera can operate without a cameraman, and the other two will be manned. When I'm not being filmed, I can run the third camera. We can do this," Jake reassures us.
Balancing Fairness and Compassion
My phone rings, and it's Anna, Eva's friend, calling upset. "Elli, Eva told me she will eliminate herself. She told me why, too. I think you can have compassion for her circumstances and understand the stress she's under, which the others aren't experiencing. She's been helping you out so much. She was married at that church where you filmed, and it breaks her heart even to step foot there. You can see why she did it!"
"Yes, Anna, I get it. But we can't just overlook someone cheating, especially when one of the contestants saw it and reported it. We're going to let her eliminate herself. It's the only fair way," I respond.
"Well, if Eva is not on the show, I'm not sure all the people I introduced you to will let you film and help you anymore. You may find a very unfriendly island if you eliminate Eva," she warns.
"Anna, are you threatening me? I'm sorry, but we aren't going to give in to extortion. If their kindness towards us is conditional on Eva being in the show, then we'll have to deal with that," I firmly state.
"Well, I guess we'll see how the islanders take the news," Anna retorts.
I look at Jake and Dimitra, shocked, and relay the conversation.
Jake then says, "I think the real reality show is the one happening behind the scenes! This is crazy!"
Integrity on Trial: Addressing Cheating
Everything was happening so fast that we barely had time to process and determine if we were making the right decisions. I still wasn't sure if we were eliminating someone else or just Eva. We filmed the judging, and as suspected, Tarana's piece was evidently the weakest. When assessing a piece of artwork through the lens of the elements of art like proportions, value, edges, composition, color, etc., it's easy to remain objective. Despite what the director said, I knew in my heart I was being fair.
Personally, I don't harbor any ill feelings toward Tarana. I actually admire her a lot. She's unafraid to confront issues, and she's a fighter. I love strong, bold women like that. However, I also see that she's broken and insecure and sees things through a skewed filter at times. This competition has revealed another side of her: she thinks everyone is out to get her. I can only imagine the director has poisoned her in their alone time. But I know in my heart I don't dislike her, nor do I wish her to fail.
We decided it was too early for a double elimination, hoping Tarana might improve her painting in the coming challenges. If she continued painting as she was, she would most likely be eliminated in the next round.
After filming the eliminations, the contestants expressed deep sympathy for Eva, wondering why we hadn't allowed her to stay. They didn't know Tarana had told on her and our subsequent confrontation with Eva. Eva, visibly uncomfortable being perceived as some sort of victim, chose to leave and go home. We called a meeting with everyone to explain what was happening.
Confronting the Unpleasant Truth
During the meeting, I explained, "Hey guys, what you don't know, which we want to explain, is that after we filmed the competition, Tarana told Jake and the director that she saw Eva had marked little guide dots on her canvas beforehand. We confronted Eva, telling her we watched the footage and saw the dots. She admitted she cheated and chose to eliminate herself."
The tension grew as everyone's eyes turned to Tarana, questioning her timing or why she said anything at all. You could sense Tarana's defensiveness in her expression and body language, looking like she was ready to fight.
Then the director interjects, "Are you going to tell them that you were planning to let Eva slide and eliminate Tarana instead?" As he spoke, Tarana threw her shoulders back and looked at me with evident disgust.
Jake points at Tarana and says, "We weren't planning to let Eva slide, but Tarana, by your reaction, it's clear you already know everything we discussed with the director. You were with him at the beach when we were talking about it."
"That's right, I heard everything you guys said about me," Tarana retorts.
"That's a complete breach of trust. And we will have a talk as soon as we are done here," Jake said, directing his gaze towards the director.
"Hey man, no need for that talk because I quit! I'm out of here," the director announces, storming off with his sister following behind him.
We all sat there, somewhat shocked. I could tell everyone was wondering if we could continue filming without them. They didn't know we were about to fire him anyway and were prepared for this scenario. "Hey guys, don't worry. It's going to be okay. We can totally do this without them. Jake directed last season and can do it again this season. You're in good hands," I reassure everyone.
The Fallout and Resignation
That night, we stayed outside, eating dinner by the pool while the artists came in and out. The director starts a campaign, talking to each of the artists as they go to his and his sister's room. Wild stories began circulating about us, where I was painted as the ultimate villain.
Murmurings began, and we heard that Tarana was leaving as well. Another key cameraman was planning on leaving, and the director was pressuring different people to leave, too. It was a jarring and confusing time for everyone. For the first time, I started to wonder if the entire project and investment would all be for nothing. I was angry and felt betrayed. I was surprised how quickly people could be poisoned and turned against us.
Emotional Toll on Contestants and Crew
Some crew and contestants were experiencing culture shock and feeling homesick. Others missed their families and children, and all this drama, uncertainty, and turmoil didn't help. I'm sure every artist considered leaving and giving up on the show. It was a dark night, and we all went to sleep, not knowing what the morning would bring.
We knew that the director, his sister, and Tarana had ferry tickets leaving the next morning at 9 am. We requested to meet with Tarana before she left in the morning, but when we arrived first thing, she had already left early, avoiding our planned meeting. We felt sad that she left without any resolution or opportunity to talk things through. It was frustrating to watch the sabotage unfolding and feel helpless to do anything about it.
We learned that another contestant and the key cameraman also bought tickets for that ferry, leaving the island. This was a devastating blow we hadn't foreseen, and we wondered how the show could recover from this.
A Meeting of Clarity and Commitment
We planned a meeting with everyone for this afternoon, requesting that the two people leaving, plus Eva and everyone else, please be there. It was a long day filled with sickening uncertainty. We threw ourselves into God's hands, resigning to His will. We saw ourselves at the opening of the threshold, fighting the dragon, trying to hold our ground and balance the freedom and will of others with what is right and just. We navigated the complexities of everything happening the best we could. Maybe we made mistakes, and maybe we didn't, but we made our decisions as best we could with the information we had.
Everyone arrives at the meeting, and we sit in a large circle under the shade without Tarana, the director, and his sister. The mood is quiet and somber. I start, "The purpose of this meeting is to clear the air and let everyone know we are fully committed to this show, creating a beautiful reality show that shows the true heart of an artist, focusing on the creative process, the beauty of Greece, the story of a hero's journey, and resisting the typical drama of most reality shows."
Upholding the Show's Vision and Integrity
I continue, "As for the rumors and accusations you may have heard - am I controlling everything? If standing my ground with the vision of this show as a producer and the one who is mostly financing it, is controlling, then yes, I am. Nothing is rigged, and there is no favoritism from the judges. We judge the art based on the elements of art and how well each piece is executed.
Eva cheated, and if she hadn't eliminated herself, she would have been eliminated anyway. We were not eliminating Tarana; she left on her own free will. We did pay for the director and his sister to leave early and had to basically repay for their tickets on short notice. Some of you heard that we refused to pay for their return tickets. We scheduled a meeting with Tarana to work it out, but she left and didn't show up for it. We are sad about what is happening but know that if we persevere, this will be an incredible show. We hope all of you will stay to see this through."
It was quiet, and no one spoke. Jake broke the silence, saying, "I think we should all pray together. Even if we don't all believe the exact same thing, let's just pray and see what God does."
Crossing the Threshold
Over the next 20 minutes, everyone offered beautiful prayers that came straight from their hearts. We all yearned for love, unity, community, goodness, and truth to prevail. We wanted to live in forgiveness and see the best in each other. As we prayed, we could feel the presence of love filling our circle. When we opened our eyes, something miraculous had happened. We knew we had crossed over the threshold. Every single person present had crossed over. We left our baggage behind – the darkness, mistrust, and lies stayed back. We could all feel the peace and lightness after passing through. We had reached the point of no return. Now, we have entered an extraordinary world.
We knew that ahead of us was a newfound freedom where we could be our true selves. We had overcome the dragon at the gate and were stronger from the battle. Most of all, we had a deep knowing that there was a powerful purpose behind 'The Outstanding Artist' show. A Divine hand was guiding us and protecting us. We knew there was a mission behind this show, and it would live to fulfill its destiny.