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    Episode 1, Kildare: The Introduction

    In Episode One we meet our would-be volunteers for the first time.

    After over a thousand applications fifty people are shortlisted for a weekend's stay in the world famous Barretstown Camp in County Kildare.

    For these fifty the weekend involves: camping on rudimentary cots in big open tents, showering in freezing water, preparing their own food and working long hours together on a number of backbreaking projects all designed to improve the environment of Barretstown Camp.

    As they shovel, paint, lift, sweat and strain all the volunteers are being monitored by representatives of Aid agencies tasked with deciding which of them has the right stuff to make it into the show.

    There is personality conflict as volunteers differ on how jobs might be 'effectively' completed, there are stressful moments as teams struggle to complete their tasks in time, but there is also plenty of good humour and laughter along the way (stand up Dove!). The atmosphere around the campfire is particularly special and is enhanced even more by Paddy Casey's surprise Saturday night performance.

    At the end of their weekend's exertions twelve volunteers are chosen by our experts and their names announced at the campsite on an evening of high emotion.

    The remaining four are chosen through a secret ballot of all the participants.

    (Unfortunately one of the super sixteen: Kay - is forced for medical reasons to withdraw, but her place is taken by Maree who just missed out in the participants' vote).

    By the end of the show we have our final sixteen, and in a dramatic scene in Volunteer HQ in Dublin these eight men and eight women are informed of their first task and destination...which turns out to be somewhere a good deal hotter and more unforgiving than a field in Kildare!

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    Episode 2, Zambia

    After their exertions in Barretstown our final sixteen might have been hoping for something a little more relaxing as their second challenge, but when Baz and Lucy announced that they would be flying to Zambia they knew it probably wouldn't be to lie in the sun.

    After a twenty-six hour flight our volunteers were given the task of building a home for a Zambian family who for the last six years had been living under canvas and - with the incredibly tight schedule and blistering heat - everyone knew they would have to be on top of their game.

    During the build Brendan and Noel emerged as leaders, Michael was moved to tears by the poverty, Fiona bonded with the local women, while Ignatius fell out with the building supervisors. A tearful Maree discovered that distributing sweets to local kids was a misplaced kindness, while Matt and Rebecca bonded as buddies and all the team gained a new appreciation of that most precious commodity: water.

    In the end all the hard work and stress paid off: as - amid great celebrations - Robert and his family were handed the keys to their new home.

    Tired but happy, our sixteen returned to Volunteer HQ for the first eliminations where - following long discussions - the Boys decided to eliminate Maree while the girls chose to axe Matt.

    In their goodbye speeches Maree and Matt warned the others about the dangers of cliques forming but wished them well in their continuing adventure.

    The remaining fourteen then discovered their next challenge: Hostile Environment Training with the Irish Army - before being bundled into the bus and leaving for the Curragh...

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    Episode 3, Hostile Environment Training

    Following the departure of Matt and Maree the remaining fourteen volunteers were sent on what was to prove an incredibly demanding challenge. Hostile Environment Training with the Irish Army is based on the course that NGOs complete before heading into areas of conflict and political instability & areas where there has been a natural disaster.

    The volunteers were subjected to psychological testing, sleep deprivation and "hostile attacks". They were forced to complete tasks under time pressure, negotiate with guerrilas and successfully navigate their way to safety. The tasks were designed to reveal to the fourteen which of their co-workers would have the metal for the job of an overseas volunteer.

    During the weekend all the volunteers coped pretty well with the various different tasks whether it was building makeshift shelter, navigating through hostile territory or standing up to intense interrogation, but by the end all were physically and emotionally shattered.

    Back at Volunteer HQ the emotional stress continued with the dreaded voting sequence. While some of the Volunteers sailed through the process - others caused more debate and finally it came down to Daniel and Noel from the boys' camp, and Rebecca and Paula from the girls. Daniel was criticised by some of the girls for his slightly high-handed, male orientated approach, but in the end Noel's 'Old School' attitude and his (perceived) bossiness cost him his place. Rebecca continued to be a slightly divisive figure among the boys, but the shock choice from the male camp turned out to be Paula whose rebelliousness in the face of her interrogators was deemed to be a serious and potentially life threatening slip up.

    After a gracious goodbye from Noel and highly emotional interview with Paula the remaining volunteers discovered the destination for their next challenge: Greece, and a weekend working with an endangered species of wildlife.

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    Episode 4, Greece: The Return Of The Turtle

    The twelve surviving volunteers travelled to Greece where their challenge was to save a 90 million year old species of turtle from extinction.

    Starting at dusk on the sandy beach of Kalo Nero, the volunteers had to work through the night monitoring turtle nests for hatchlings. These tiny creatures need help to make their way safely to the sea where they will be safe from birds of prey & the destructive habits of mankind (One of the Volunteers' tasks was to patrol the beach throughout the night in order to protect the turtle-nests from resort partygoers). By day however the volunteers were free to enjoy the sun & sea and really get to know each other's character away from the typical pressures of their weekly challenges. However, getting to know each other's character turned out to be something of a double-edged sword as rifts began to occur amid claims of duplicity and gameplaying.

    Daniel's claim that Ignatius tried to form a voting alliance to oust Bronagh caused incredible tension within the group and led to a highly charged vote-out with claim and counter claim flying back and forth between the main protagonists: Ignatius, Daniel, Rebecca and Bronagh. In the end the group sided with Ignatius and Bronagh which left Daniel and Rebecca heading for the exit.

    The remaining ten shell-shocked volunteers then re-grouped to find out the details of their next challenge, and if they were hoping for some respite from all the emotion, they quickly realised they were unlikely to experience it in their next destination.. an orphanage near Chernobyl in Belarus.

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    Episode 5, Journey To Belarus

    After the intrigue and drama of Greece the volunteers travel to Belarus for a weekend caring for orphaned children in the Vesnova Children's Institution.

    Under the watchful eye of Chernobyl Children International director Adi Roche the volunteers are thrown in the deep end: caring for kids with serious illnesses & severe physical disabilities. It's an incredibly emotional challenge and some volunteers prove better than others at dealing with it. In the midst of all this the slightly shell-shocked group must also come together to put on an Irish-themed 'theatrical event'. The show a big success with the volunteers' tomfoolery and slapstick delighting and entertaining the kids. They also organise a sports event for the more able-bodied children which prompts drama as Brendan and Aisling come to the rescue of a boy in severe difficulties.

    After a heart-rending visit to the unmarked graves of countless forgotten children the volunteers then head home having shared an experience which will undoubtedly have changed their lives forever. Back in Ireland the emotionally drained group then enter VHQ to take part in the week's vote-out (the part of the show which they now all now cite as the most difficult). After much impassioned debate Michael is the boy who narrowly misses out (with a deeply conflicted Fiona forced to deliver the telling vote) while Bronagh is the girl who is forced to leave.

    The eight survivors are then informed of their next challenge: A whistle-stop media blitz around the country to raise awareness for Trocaire.

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    Episode 6, The Volunteers Get Proned!

    For their challenge this week the remaining eight volunteers become Trocaire representatives and embark on a cross-country media blitz designed to raise awareness for the flooding in Pakistan.

    The task is designed to test: their communication skills, their stamina and their creativity. It's a big ask of people with little or no experience in this area - so before they embark on their journey all the volunteers are given a session with legendary media guru Terry Prone.

    For most of them the experience is a particularly chastening one but all emerge with valuable pointers to help them in their mission to inform.

    Over the course of the weekend all eight take part in numerous interviews, stage various stunts and do everything they can to raise awareness about the plight of the Pakistani people - with the girls rising to the challenge particularly well and Louise taking more control than usual.

    After all the interviews, sponsored leg-waxing, busking, sleeping rough and distributing leaflets the challenge culminates in a Liffey swim which the volunteers - against all odds - have managed to organize.

    Back in VHQ after a debriefing with Baz and Lucy the voting takes place, with the volunteers reluctantly saying goodbye to Fiona and Brendan.

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    Episode 7, Which Four Volunteers Are Most Worthy Of A Place In The Final

    In this challenge the six remaining volunteers (Ignatius, Mike, Johnny, Aisling, Carol and Louise) are asked to transport valuable medical supplies across Europe to a very needy hospital in Albania. They are under a very strict time restriction however, as the supplies have to be moved from Dublin to Triana over the course of a weekend.

    The challenge is a test of their logistical and organisational skills, and is designed to help highlight which four volunteers are most worthy of a place in the final.

    After a briefing from logistics expert Shane O'Doherty the team set to work. With two additional pickups en-route (Rome and Berlin) it is decided that the six will have to split if they are to complete the challenge successfully. Ignatius, Aisling and Carol prepare to man the office in Dublin, while Mike heads off to Rome and Johnny and Louise journey to Berlin. For various reasons Mike, Johnny and Louise fail to complete their pick-ups, but all three congregate in Albania to await the shipment of supplies which was shipped by air. However, with van at the ready they discover that there is no way for them to clear the goods through customs before Monday morning, and have to go and deliver the bad news to the waiting doctors at the hospital. It is a frustrating end to a very frustrating challenge, both for them and the three volunteers back in Dublin.

    The six then congregate in VHQ in Dublin for the penultimate voting session. Before they can vote however they are subjected to a no- holds-barred analysis of their individual performances from logistics mentor Shane O'Doherty. No-one emerges from this with much kudos, and it prompts a rare outburst from a clearly irate Johnny who feels Shane was unnecessarily negative.

    Soon however Johnny is all smiles as he is voted through to the final along with Mike, Aisling and Carol. This of course means that Ignatius and - perhaps most surprisingly - Louise, are voted out.

    Next week the final - and the unveiling of our two 'Ultimate Volunteers'!

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    Episode 8, The Final

    The last show features our finalists taking on the challenge of living on the streets of Dublin for twenty-four hours in a bid to raise awareness of the plight of the capital's homeless. Having split into two groups: Johnny & Aisling, and Mike & Carol film their respective experiences for a viewing by the Simon Community who promise to put the best of the two short films on their website. However, having viewed the material Simon are so impressed they put both films up on their site: dubsimon.ie

    Since there are only two boys and two girls in the final there was the possibility of deadlock in the voting - so a back-up plan was devised which saw the thirteen volunteers who had already left the show having a ballot on which boy and girl should win. (This proved to be very important later!)

    In the event Aisling and Carol both voted Johnny through as their Ultimate Volunteer but the lads couldn't agree on a girl and so the decision was left to the other volunteers - who chose Carol.

    So Johnny Finegan Jr. and Carol Leonard were crowned as the two 'Ultimate Volunteers' and will be spending a year together travelling the world and helping to improve lives.

    Firstly, they will travel to Ghana where they'll be working on vital construction and sanitation projects, before travelling to Jaipur in India where they'll join in the battle against child labour. Finally, their year will end with two months in Thailand working on an important animal conservation project.

    Johnny and Carol were always among the favourites to win the competition. Their likeability, physical and emotional strength, supportive natures and 'unphaseability' were constantly praised by their fellow volunteers throughout the various challenges. Whether they were: helping to build a house for a Zambian family, surviving intense interrogation with the Irish Army, caring for orphans in Belarus, crisscrossing Europe with vital medical supplies, or raising awareness nationally for the Pakistan funds, Johnny and Carol impressed their co-volunteers with their good humoured, can-do attitude and willingness to support their team.

    They are our 'Ultimate Volunteers'. Congratulations to them and all the remarkable people who took part in the series.

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