'Kid Nation' controversy overblown, says Massachusetts participant

Paul Crocetti

You might have heard about "Kid Nation."

The CBS reality show, with 40 kids who form a new society without parents or modern technology, debuts Wednesday amid a swirl of controversy about possible child labor violations and children hurt during taping.

But one of the kids from "Kid Nation," 11-year-old Guylan Qudsieh, of Upton, said that while the show was a lot of hard work, he enjoyed the experience.

"I think all the kids were pretty happy," Qudsieh said. "The way I remember those days, they were pretty fun.

"I didn't think I was being abused."

During the 40 days at Bonanza City, N.M., the children had to perform such tasks as cooking their own meals, getting their own water from the wells, and cleaning their own outhouses, according to CBS.

Everyone received a stipend of $5,000, but at the end of each episode the group awards a "Gold Star" to one child, worth $20,000, according to the network.

There is a showdown each episode, which determines the class structure of the town.

Cooking was "interesting," Qudsieh said.

"We learned to make a game of it," such as seeing who could chop potatoes the finest, he said.

The work could appear "unending," he said, but he realized later that it helped him fall asleep easier at night.

"We kind of had to adjust to getting a little less sleep than we were used to," Qudsieh said.

He also had to adjust to life without his family for more than a month.

"For some kids it was more difficult than others," he said. "I think I took it pretty well. Most of us didn't have time to think about our families."

Sam Qudsieh, Guylan's father, said he was confident his son could handle the experience.

Guylan's parents are both exotic animal trainers and traveled around the country quite a bit before settling in Upton about five years ago, Sam Qudsieh said.

"We're really nomadic as a family," he said. "Guylan is used to making different friends."

At home, Guylan is also involved in theater: he has co-written and co-directed a play and acted in others.

A self-described "environmentalist," Guylan said he likes to give people advice.

"I think we should give fossil fuels a rest," said Guylan, who is home-schooled. "I don't want my kids to have to deal with our problems, and global warming would definitely be our problem."

While Guylan was in New Mexico, his parents communicated with him through a CBS liaison.

"We could always choose to bring him home," Sam Qudsieh said.

The children could also leave at any point.

While CBS has said some children did leave before the end of taping, Guylan could not say if he was one of those kids.

One of the major aspects of the early press about the show involves multiple children who swallowed bleach.

But medical staff was right on it, as they were throughout the taping, Guylan said.

"No one got seriously hurt," he said. "Everyone was treated right away. It really wasn't bad."

Guylan said he knew the kids who needed medical attention, and found out about it quickly.

"Everyone kind of knew everyone," he said. "There were no secrets. Things don't stay quiet for very long. No event goes unnoticed."

Early reports have seemed to focus on the negatives, Sam Qudsieh added.

"My feeling is people tend to jump the gun," he said. "There was no story to talk about yet."

But a positive could come out of the negativity.

"I hope it brings in more people," Sam Qudsieh said.

Added Guylan: "I think people who do say bad things, I'm pretty sure they'll come around when they see the first episode."

For the premiere, Guylan said he is going to have friends over to watch it with him.

After that, he said he wants to watch the show with different relatives, potentially as far away as California.

That trip could be arranged, says Sam.

"I'm excited to see how he did, to see how he handled the social experiment," he said.

Guylan said he is touch with a few kids from the show, including Eric of New Jersey and Mike of Washington.

The group of children, aged 8 to 15 years old, were generally "nice and respectful," Guylan said.

But he wouldn't say if he had any specific trouble with anyone.

"I'm not going to spoil anything for you," he said with a laugh.

So now after all the talk, the country will be watching.

With rumors starting up about a second season, Guylan said he would jump at the chance to do it all again.

"I was a little bit apprehensive, but it was definitely exciting," he said. "It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"I hope this works out and all the controversy washes away."

Paul Crocetti of The Milford (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at 508-634-7583 or pcrocett@cnc.com.