Cambridge graduate Alex Franklin is not your typical reality TV show contestant. But then, he didn’t participate in a typical reality TV show.
While other 20-somethings jetted off to couple up in the Love Island villa, Alex went to an uninhabited island in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, to build a bridge over 1,000 feet of water with his bare hands.
Channel 4’s, The Bridge: Race to a Fortune pits two teams against each other as they scramble to build their bridge in just 12 days. Hidden on the island they eventually reach is a box filled with cash, representing the £175,000 just one teammate will receive after a vote from their peers.
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Alex, 24, was drawn to the challenge because he’s “very good at strategy and game theory” and will also lie, cheat and betray his teammates to win. In fact, he regrets that there weren’t more opportunities to stab his teammates – who worked together harmoniously for the most part – in the back on the show.
He said: “I don’t want to be the person to break the harmony, but once it’s broken I’m in there, let’s go. I’m very good at deceit: to be honest, it’s my favourite thing in the world. But I also don’t want to hurt people.
“If we’re having a communal experience where we’re connecting and bonding, I don’t want to be the one to break that, but when someone else does that’s my playground. I can rise from the ashes of destruction.”
Alex fostered his competitiveness at Cambridge University, where he studied Natural Sciences at Corpus Christi college, living directly above the gold clock on King’s Parade during his studies. He applied, he said, after someone told him he couldn’t get in because he doesn’t like “someone dictating what I can and can’t do”.
Another way he put his competitive streak to use was by playing university-level e-sports behind his professors’ backs.
He said: “I played on a League of Legends team. There was a whole debate about whether it could be made a Half Blue or not because the Varsity match had been running for enough years. It took a lot of training, so I had to hide it from my Director of Studies because he once found out that I was involved in a play and told me to be careful. I was actually doing about seven.”
Alex’s involvement in Cambridge’s theatre and comedy scene has translated into professional success: he was shortlisted for the BBC New Comedy Award in 2019 and has toured with the Footlights. He’s currently preparing to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his sketch group Chuck Salmon: their show Pool Noodles is about a world in which lifeguards are celebrities.
But while he feels his critical thinking skills and competitiveness helped him out on The Bridge, as far as manual labour goes he didn’t feel he was well-equipped to help.
“I put a lot of effort in and ran around a lot,” he said. “But in the grand scheme of actually building the bridge I was near useless a lot of the time. I think I was there for morale, maybe.”
But despite his lack of physical prowess in building the bridge, he thinks his family would be proud of him anyway. If he won the money, he said, he would have sent it to his Grandmother in Hong Kong who helped to pay for his education.
His Mum would also have been proud of him and all his achievements in the last few years. He said: “My Mum passed a few years back so she didn’t get to see a lot my achievements like getting into Cambridge.
“I think as an immigrant from China who had only heard about the concept of it she would have been really proud. I want to provide support to the generations before me who had to struggle so that I have the opportunities that I have.”
Although – spoiler alert – he didn’t win the money this time, Alex is keen to give reality TV another go. He said: “I want to go on a real hardcore strategy show. I didn’t get to demonstrate loads of it so I’ve got a point to prove.
“Everyone things I’m all talk when it comes to sabotaging people. But no, no, no – I’ll go in.”
All episodes of The Bridge: Race to a Fortune are available on All 4.