Our ten year anniversary was approaching fast! We had been dreaming up plans for 10/10/20 since we were teenagers, but none of us could have foreseen the bizarre situation the world would be in when that date was almost upon us.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant options for going abroad were severely limited, with rules and regulations about international travel corridors changing weekly. Within the UK, although we had enjoyed a form of semi-normality over the summer months, cases of coronavirus started to rise again when autumn arrived. Big meet-ups and parties were clearly out of the question, and new regional restrictions were being introduced almost daily, with different levels of semi-lockdown applying to various cities and areas around the country.
So we found ourselves with a tricky problem, having to ditch our original ideas and come up with a way to mark ten years of STORROR that would work around the constantly changing variety of coronavirus restrictions.
At the core of the idea was a disappearance. We knew we wanted to switch things up, and thought the best way to do that was to disappear for some time as a team. Since the summer we had settled on that as a loose concept, but it wasn’t until we were in Naples in early October that the project fully evolved.
We had been talking about camping in the woods during our disappearance, imagining it as some sort of nature retreat. We started drawing parallels between that and the Channel-4 TV show Hunted in which contestants have to evade capture for 28-days to win a cash prize. We wanted our ten year celebration to involve the STORROR Army somehow, and we also wanted it to reflect our early years as a team. Being hunted was the missing ingredient!
What if we could encourage our audience to come find us by putting a bounty on our own heads? Yes, a trip that focused on spontaneous adventure and simple living, a perfect way to go back to our roots! As soon as the final piece of the puzzle clicked, the whole team sprang into action to figure out the moving parts necessary to make this idea a reality.
And we didn’t have long to make it happen – we returned from Naples on 4th October. Eight days later we were in a hired van and on the road, having edited and released our Deccenary and Odyssey videos, and done an interview with the BBC.
The trip came around so fast that we hadn’t time to consider exactly where we would be going, other than realising we needed to stay down south, avoiding the confusing range of local restrictions that were spreading around areas in the midlands and north as fast as the virus itself. And we hadn’t even thought about how or when we would plant clues. It was classic old school STORROR, with the team figuring things out on the fly, and enjoying the journey as it unfolded in front of us.
We had no idea how difficult it would be, no idea what would be difficult and what would be easy, no idea what the dangers might be, or where we were at highest risk of being caught. The bounty of £10,000 made it feel very real. It was our own money and that made all the difference – we really didn’t want to lose it, and especially not in the first few days!
Within half an hour of us posting the announcement on YouTube, we had our first near miss. We had stopped off at a Sainsbury’s store to buy supplies on the way out of Brighton. After getting back in the van, we saw a comment on Instagram from a young fan who had just seen us in that supermarket, but he hadn’t watched the announcement video until after he’d left the store!
That really set the tone. Reading that comment unleashed paranoia in all of us that we didn’t know we had! From that point on, we were constantly aware of being looked at by passers-by. A load of guys in a van, wearing face masks and hoods up, looks suspicious at the best of times, but it was made worse by our strange behaviour. The paranoia came in waves; it would gradually start to ease up, until we had another close call, and then we’d freak out again!
Living as wanted people on the run comes with numerous unexpected problems. Buying food was the first we encountered. We had to limit the occasions we went into supermarkets, and, after that early near miss, decided to dispatch only one member of the team at a time to do the shopping – wearing a disguise!
Mostly we bought barbecue stuff that we could cook over a fire in the evenings, plus ingredients for sandwiches in the mornings. After a few nights of barbecuing, we figured we could sometimes order food online and go pick it up from the restaurants. That was a nice mix up from the routine but something that would come back to bite us later on.
The sleeping arrangements were fairly easily sorted with tents and camping equipment. Each afternoon, our task would be to find a covert spot where we could spend that night undisturbed. We would identify potential locations by scouring Google maps, and then drive around endless back roads to find somewhere the van could be parked without being stumbled upon by eager bounty hunters. Then we would set up our tents, cook up some food, and discuss plans for the following day over the campfire before going to sleep.
To minimize our digital footprint, we took only one smart phone with us. This enabled us to access maps, post clues and upload videos, but we stayed off-grid most of the time to avoid our movements being tracked. After years of intense social media use, it was a refreshing break to have ten days off from it and spend time surrounded by nature. Instead of scrolling through Instagram in the evenings, we would turn our attention to developing the strategy and conjuring up clues.
The clues were mostly decided upon as we went along, hence the slight lack of coherence. Next time, I think we would plan the route and clues from the start so there could be more depth to them.
We wanted to leave a physical clue everywhere we visited, and do a cryptic Instagram post, to maintain the hype and keep people on track. The clues gave hints towards our next destination, and if you could work out what they meant, it would put you one step ahead. Tobias Snow, one of the hunters, was proof of that. He worked out that we were heading back to our hometowns, and was very close to catching us early on in Horsham, as you can see in this video.
The closest call throughout the whole adventure was on day-8 in Dorking, Surrey. Our paranoia was at a low point, we were over the hump and almost at the end of the chase without being caught. We ordered food from Pizza Express and I went in to collect it. Working in that restaurant was Chris from Fifth Unit. He recognised me, and started a casual conversation about the bounty hunt.
I had to act completely calm, answering all his questions as if it was nothing, but inside I was panicking. Was he planning on running after me? Was he going to call his mates and tell them we were here? I grabbed the pizza boxes and walked out as calmly as I could, then sprinted back to the van, jumped in and yelled GO, GO, GO!
Speaking to Chris after the hunt was over, he regretted not chasing me, but at the time he didn’t even think of it because it had seemed such a normal conversation. It was only a few days later that he realised he’d missed out. If he had tailed me out of the restaurant, I would have led him back to the van with the whole team waiting in it, and he could have won £10k.
Many people have rightly questioned the hygiene of the team throughout this trip. To be frank, it wasn’t great – during the entire ten days, we only managed to wash twice! The first time was in a lake on Dartmoor, which you can watch here; it was freezing cold but a great boost in the early days of the trip. The second occasion was in Guildford at the lido. The place was shut, so we climbed over the fence and jumped in the pool one sunny, but still very cold, day. That was probably the team’s highlight of the trip, as we were really well hidden so took the afternoon to refresh and chill by the water.
The whole point of the Blackout Bounty was to take willing participants on an authentic STORROR style adventure. We hope we delivered that to all the bounty hunters who turned out, and that even people who could only follow the chase from afar enjoyed it too. Massive thanks to everyone who took part on the ground, as well as those who helped them behind the scenes by decoding clues, particularly those special members of STORROR Army who possess a vast knowledge of our YouTube catalogue!
So who was the winner? Congratulations go to Samuel Bassett, a freelance photographer based in London – check him out on Instagram. Sam had been on the trail since the beginning so it was a very well deserved prize!
We had so much fun and learned a lot from this crazy project, and we’ve got loads of ideas to run an improved version in the future. We would love to know what you thought about it – please leave your comments on the fifth and final episode of our series here.