Social scientists at Aberdeen University have accused the company behind the BBC's social experiment Castaway 2000 of creating heroes and villains to conceal their own manipulative, behind-the-scenes role.
Cultural geographers Hayden Lorimer and Fraser MacDonald have been researching the experiment, in which volunteers lived for a year on the Hebridean island of Taransay.
In an interim report, they say the idea of exploring the concept of "community" was worthwhile. But Mr MacDonald said: "The programme's implication that community is most easily constructed in isolation from everyday life, or that rural areas afford more intimate social contact, must be challenged."
The research team says Lion TV tried to reduce the concept of community to "a series of interpersonal crises" that were then blamed on particular castaways, ignoring the "manipulative role" of the company itself.
A book, published by the BBC and Lion TV, revealed that many of the arguments were about the role of the production company.
"They used their editorial power to create heroes and villains. And villains were necessary to disguise their own part in the community dynamic."
Dr Lorimer said later programmes played the sex card to increase interest. "Having found itself in competition with even more sensational programmes such as Big Brother , Castaway 2000 inevitably departed from its original aim so that it could feed the celebrity instincts of the popular press."