It’s time someone said it, Nothing To Declare is the best daytime TV show there is
The mother of all airport shows
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done at an airport? Made a joke about having a bomb in your bag to a customs officer and quickly realised he didn’t find it funny? Absentmindedly walked through the metal detector with your watch still on and then having to explain, sweating profusely, that you’re not secretly covered in explosives? Had a Guinness at 7am? If so: bullshit. You’re a pussy. Until you’re sneaking $25million AUD of coke over the border in your stomach, you don’t belong here. But if you’re on the show Nothing To Declare, it’s because you fucking, always, definitely, have something to declare. No one has ever been on the show returning from their extremely pleasant holiday in Bali with a valid passport and nothing suspicious in their case. And that’s what makes it so addictive.
I first watched Nothing To Declare when I was bored one lunchtime, because on a surface level – it’s shit daytime TV. But Nothing To Declare is so much more than that. Nothing To Declare transcends the Jeremy Kyle masses. Nothing To Declare appeals to our most basis human instinct; to be nosey and see people fuck up. Nothing To Declare is a lifestyle.
We love seeing people get in trouble. We love seeing people do the things we’re all too pussy to do ourselves. This is what it’s all about. You don’t watch Nothing To Declare to see OAPs coming off their flights in Sydney to see their long lost relatives. You watch it for people like the Argentinian football coach with a suspiciously heavy bag or the innocent looking asian family with a bag of rotting snakes. The renegades, the ones who think they’re above the law.
Once you’ve seen an episode of Nothing To Declare, you can tell a criminal in seconds. ‘Oh, uh, yeah I think I packed my own bags…’ they always begin. Then it changes to ‘but my friend… might have given me some gifts’. Then suddenly they’re sweating, and the sweating turns to shouting, trying to accuse the customs officers of delaying their flight. When they’re asked to consent to a frisk form suddenly they can’t read, or it’s against their human rights. Then – dramatically – their stomach hurts and they feel sick. C’mon, hun. If that condom of ICE that we all know is inside of you suddenly bursts, you’re going to be having a bad time.
However, aside from the usual drug smuggling and money laundering, there are some amazing ‘crimes’. People having their visas cancelled is a common occurrence, usually because they enter the country on a tourist visa with no accommodation and no money (c’mon guys) and lie, saying they ‘usually live on ramen at home anyway’. But an episode I was watching the other night really took the cake here. A man from Prague had his visa rejected because he was ‘smelly’ and arrived with only the clothes on his back, telling custom officers ‘I usually change my clothes once a week and I don’t shower’. He had money and a hotel booked, Australia just wasn’t down to have a smelly man in their country. AUSTRALIA SENT A MAN BACK TO PRAGUE BECAUSE HE DOESN’T SHOWER. And they aired it.
Getting a fine over an apple, is by anyone’s standards, pretty fucking petty. The fine seems to go towards disposal of the prohibited goods. Essentially, you have to pay someone $220 to throw some fruit in a bin (it seems like a pretty lucrative business imo). But the Pettiness Pros don’t just come in the form of uniformed officers, the travellers give as good as they take.
In one amazing episode, a Chinese lady was fined for bringing banned, undeclared food into the country. She was given the standard $220 fine, or the option to take it to court (she would always lose, and fees can be over $50,000). Most people, at this point, just shut up and pay the fine. But not this lady. Although speaking perfect English at some points, when it came to her paying the fine she ‘didn’t understand the question’. Instead, she sat down and didn’t move for eight hours, forgetting that airports are 24/7, and assumed they would let her off. Instead, after eight hours, the customs officer looking after her reached tipping point and sent her home, giving her twenty one days to pay the fine before legal action would be taken. They then did a lil ‘what happened next’ section: on the twenty first day the woman paid the fine. NEW PETTINESS LEVEL UNLOCKED.
Speaking of fines, they’re fucking ridiculous. Fines are the most common option on Nothing To Declare, and are mainly given out to old people that just didn’t know they couldn’t bring a little packet of sunflower seeds from home to grow in their garden. But as much as I wouldn’t want to be in their position, it’s pretty funny to think of how pissed the people must be that have to pay, like, $800 because they bought a lip balm back as a souvenir and didn’t declare it.
When Customs get it wrong
We inherently don’t like authority, and this dislike only deepens when the authorities fuck up. My favourite part of Nothing To Declare is when Customs spend loads of time and energy building up a semi-racist profile on a nervous asian dude and send him away for an internal examination and then they have to announce ‘The man was found with no drugs and was free to go’. Like HA. THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR BEING FUCKING GRASSES.
The unnecessary drama
Last night I watched an episode where an old lady, on her first trip out of the country, bought her diabetic husband a bunch of bananas to eat on the plane. On re-entering the country with them, they became ‘undeclared food, ready to ruin the banana industry overnight’. The woman was threatened with a $220 fine or a trial in court, to which she broke down sobbing ‘I’m not going to jail am I?’. On the surface, this was a horrible moment; imagine being an old woman who has never travelled anywhere before, threatened with court and hefty legal bills because your husband needed a healthy snack for the flight to maintain his sugar levels. On the other hand, watching a woman sobbing over a banana, complete with dramatic black and white cuts to and from the aforementioned fruit, makes for amazing TV. I got so caught up in it. I felt like the old lady and I were one, and when the show cut to an ad break, I was desperate to know whether this little old lady was going to be sent to prison. (FYI: she was just given a written warning and her bananas were taken away, they’re not complete monsters).
When faced with possible jail time, even if you’re not guilty, the human brain goes into overwork mode. We sweat and panic and make excuses. Even when I walk through the body scanner at airports and they ask to check my shoes, I’m like fuck, what if I accidentally somehow put a kilo of coke in them? Like in my sleep or something? Anyway, in one legendary episode, a Wall Street banker on a totally not suspicious “business trip” with his model PA 20 years his junior, was caught with traces of cocaine, all over his AMEX and inside his wallet.
Customs officers reassured him that as long as he wasn’t carrying any drugs, his drug use didn’t concern them. However, the banker went into overdrive, in the end deciding that ‘a friend, who might have done drugs once when he was younger, might have accidentally put his credit card in his wallet by mistake and the cocaine traces rubbed off on his own AMEX’. Ok, hun. Sure.
Also, amazingly: read this article about the aforementioned banker. Although on Nothing To Declare he was free to go, he was then charged with cocaine possession, and crashed a £40k Audi whilst fleeing from a casino to avoid paying his dinner bill. And he’s Princess Beatrice’s ex. Turns out he killed someone too.
When watching Nothing To Declare, it’s difficult to forget that the episodes were filmed in the early noughties. The editing is sporadic, cutting to clips of irrelevant passengers, dancing between storylines, using high tech, advanced editing techniques such as using slo-mo when shit was about to go DOWN. The whole show consists of a woman with a perm and thick rimmed glasses saying ‘they’re probably not here for tourism purposes’ *a clip of talking in an interview room* and then the woman decides ‘no, they aren’t here for tourism purposes’. Why won’t you learn: THEY’RE NEVER HERE FOR TOURISM PURPOSES. The credits were also amazing. Imagine how you think people in the early 90’s would imagine a hacker to use computers. It’s fair to say that Nothing To Declare has not dated well.