Fletcher Haywood, middle-aged IT officer, is unsatisfied with his lot, even though he’s not sure precisely what his lot is or what’s wrong with it. One night, unable to sleep, he leaves home for the office in the early hours of the morning. In the surreal streets of the deserted city his eye is caught by something gold lying in the gutter; it turns out to be nothing but an abandoned newspaper and a trick of the light. He tucks the newspaper in his bag and thinks nothing more of it. Later that week he looks through the paper and finds the thing that (perhaps) he has been looking for without knowing it: an invitation to audition for a reality television show.On a drunken whim, Fletcher makes a video of himself, submits it to the reality television company, and is surprised to be contacted for an interview. A beautiful, enigmatic man meets with him and offers him a spot on the show, which, in a sort of a trance, he accepts without even attempting to examine the fine print. He finds himself packing a few belongings and boarding a plane for an unknown destination. On board, Fletcher accepts a curiously delicious drink from an ingratiating hostess, which is the last thing he remembers before he wakes up to find himself in the jungle with a canteen, a compass, and a note that says “North.”Fletcher manages to stumble through the jungle and finds the crew and cast of the television show on the beach. He and his compatriots are divided into teams and forced to undergo a series of increasingly bizarre and sometimes dangerous trials involving swamps, animatronic skeletons, cannons, one-on-one battles, and underground caves. Fletcher falls hopelessly in love with one of his fellow contestants and is ultimately rejected by her. He forms a friendship with another one of them who provokes Fletcher to question what is happening to him: specifically, is he going to be ritually murdered by the faceless technicians who are producing the show?One by one the contestants are eliminated – perhaps very permanently. The rains come. Fletcher’s sanity begins to decay. What is he doing in this horrible place? Was his former, dull life really so bad? Is he going to die? What the hell is it, exactly, that he wants? Finally the game comes down to Fletcher and a few of the others. They are left to drift overnight on individual rafts on the ocean, subsequently deprived of drinking water, and finally forced to participate in a fashion show. It is too much. Chaos erupts as they rebel and escape into the jungle, having kidnapped one of the judges from the fashion show.