Wanted: two people to endure months of poverty, hardship and discomfort

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The Independent Travel
WANTED: Two people below the age of 30. Enforced intimacy with someone you have never met and will probably grow to dislike. Poverty, hardship and discomfort. Bad food, little sleep, no privacy. Small fee, no pension, no holidays. The certainty of being made redundant after a few months with no hope of extension. Career prospects hardly advanced, except in a notoriously fickle industry.

Interested? Or would you prefer to work instead (for example) as a nurse, a civil servant or maths teacher, with a real salary, regular holidays and a degree of job security?

To judge by the evidence it appears that there are approximately 15,000 times as many people who would rather take the first type of job than the second. And the crucial little differences which I have not yet mentioned are that the first job involves travel and TV. The second job doesn't.

My statistics, by the way, are based on a combination of anecdotal evidence about maths teachers often being recruited from shortlists of one - along with the very hard piece of evidence that when the Travel Channel advertised for two young people to spend three months travelling together from the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of South America on a strict budget of pounds 15 a day (and star in a fly-on-the-wall documentary about backpacking while they were at it) they received 15,000 requests for application forms.

The screening process involved initial group interviews in which candidates were obliged to chat pleasantly with each other on film. A short-list of six was finally shortened to two by taking the surviving candidates on a four-hour trek up a mountain in Ireland then asking them to sleep rough in a grotty hostel. The two that bobbed up smiling were selected.

The fact that a dash of travel and TV can make one job 15,000 times sexier than another should be of concern to recruiters across the country. But which is the vital ingredient - the travel or the TV? I have just had the pleasure of talking to the two selected candidates in an attempt to find out more.

"Getting this job feels like winning the lottery," an ecstatic Lleucu Siencyn of west Wales told me. "I'm leaving my current job for it. I had resigned myself to settling down to something boring after leaving university - but now I won't have to, at least for a while. It won't do my career any harm. I don't really have a career plan anyway. I just want to travel."

So it was definitely the travel that grabbed her, rather than the fiendishly tempting trappings of being on TV?

"Oh yes, neither of us are proper, fast-track TV types. We wouldn't have been picked if we had wanted to be TV stars. They just wanted natural, relaxed types who enjoy travel." One-nil to travel then.

Lleucu's fellow-traveller Leona Daly from Waterford in Ireland has a slightly different background. She has hardly travelled at all in fact, except for a two-week holiday in Greece. More worrying still, she has worked for a TV company. The equaliser?

"Oh I don't know why they chose me," she told me with charming honesty. "It's not going to make me a TV star. I want to see the American west coast and have a laugh. The fact that I haven't travelled before is to my advantage. It means I'm wide-eyed and totally up for anything."

Which sounds like an unmitigated victory for the seductive powers of travel over TV, and a clear pointer to employers: this is the way to attract our best and brightest. The less popular professions like teaching could cheaply solve all their staffing problems by advertising the dullest posts with the attached proviso that new recruits would be compelled to spend a couple of months traipsing through the jungles of Central America on pounds 15 a day before starting work.

The only problem then would be dealing with the floods of applications.