If you are looking for something new and different to listen to over the holidays, or during your morning commute, these non fiction podcasts might be just the thing. Each of them covers a quirky or unusual topic which has more to it than you might expect.
1. It Burns
Film critic and journalist and presenter of SBS Viceland's The Feed, Marc Fennell hosts this show about the international competition to grow the world's hottest chilli.
I always enjoyed Marc Fennell's movie reviews on Triple J so it was nice to have him coming through my headphones again, cheerfully covering this bizarre story. I had no idea how much scandal and intrigue was involved in the world of chilli eating contests and that there was such fierce competition to grow the hottest chilli according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
It Burns is available for free exclusively to Audible subscribers.
2. The Dream
The Dream, produced by Little Everywhere on Stitcher explores Multi-Level Marketing schemes (or MLMs), such as Avon, It Works!, Tupperware and Lularoe. She examines the way these companies target women to become their sales force and attempt to sell products to and recruit, friends and family. Marie stops short of calling these business models of these companies pyramid schemes, since pyramid schemes are illegal, but points out the many similarities between the two phenomena.
In episode 3, reporter and former PR representative for several major beauty brands, MacKenzie Kassab, goes undercover as a salesperson for Limelife cosmetics to see whether it's as easy to make money as the company claims.
A Tupperware party in the 1950s.
The Dream goes into a lot of depth about the history of this fascinating subject, and makes it accessible and relateable by including interviews with current and former direct sales people discussing why they got into the business and how it's worked out for them (spoiler- not very well).
Season 2, which began in December 2019, focuses on the wellness industry, and the pseudoscience to be found within it. I found it ironic that the hosts interrupt the first episode for an advertisement for a natural deodorant that sounds like an example of the kind of thing they are criticising in the episode, but the second season is only just getting started, so perhaps it will improve as it goes on.
3. John Safran vs the Occult
Australian writer and journalist John Safran, author of Depends What You Mean by Extremist and Murder in Mississippi, and presenter of the TV series John Safran vs God is back on the airwaves.
John Safran vs the Occult brings what fans of his earlier work will expect- Safran's nasal voice talking about bizarre and fascinating stories to do with the occult. The stories themselves, however, are strange and surprising. He investigates the MS-13 gang in Los Angeles who allegedly murdered a teenage girl for Satanic purposes, and the aftermath of two men in Vanuatu who were murdered after being accused of witchcraft. Back in Australia he also looks into Moslem exorcisms where women believed themselves to be possessed by Djinn.
John Safran vs the Occult makes for compulsive listening and is available exclusively to Audible subscribers.