Yes, I realize how ridiculous that headline sounds. Yes, I am too old to be watching Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Yes, I stopped watching The Real World years ago and only have the vaguest idea who half of the contestants are. Yes, the Challenge has its flaws -- way too many off-challenge physical altercations, too many drunken hook-ups and a really boring host. But still, I think other (aging) reality shows could actually learn a lot from this series.
The actual challenges
Look, Survivor is what it is. It's been on forever and is pretty damned predictable, but if they did just one of the awesome challenges that have been on RW/RR this season, I'd be excited. Not that watching people shoot at things, or hit off a tee, or stand on things for a long time isn't interesting (well, it was five years ago), but the challenge producers over at RW/RR have really upped the ante. Earlier this year, the two teams took turns on a giant rope that hung like four stories in the air. The contestants stacked up on the rope and the person at the bottom had to climb over the others to get to the platform at the top. It really made for a massive group effort. And this week, it looks like the contestants have to stand on opposite sides of a net and shake it until someone falls off... oh, and it looks like they're hanging off the side of a reasonably tall building. Awesome. This isn't taking a ride on a water slide, Mika. These are very intense, very physical challenges that look hard and not at all like something I could do, and they are usually very high up in the air. Sure, the contestants are plied with food and booze, unlike the Survivor casts, but when was the last time you saw someone (other than the ailing Russell or the insanely weak Poker Girls) actually struggle with a physical challenge for more than a minute on Survivor or The Amazing Race?
The cash reward
While RW/RR does often have ridiculous rules that take three weeks to figure out and change each season (no one should copy that), one thing they've been doing well is basing each player's potential money earned on their actual effort. If a given player's team wins, that player gets some cash. If the team loses, the player gets nothing. And then, players have to defend their cash in a one-on-one battle. Winner takes all; loser goes home empty-handed. To me, that's incentive for those who tend to slack off on reality shows and just coast (like all those random unknown girls on Survivor). Just think if Big Brother contestants who were nominated for eviction had to fight to keep the loser's money. That'd jazz things up.
Call it a duel or an inferno or ruins or whatever you want (it changes all the time), but those one-on-one battles are awesome. Last week, the contestants selected by their teams to compete had to put their feet between two pieces of wood and then were left dangling over a large glass container of water. If their abs gave out and they couldn't hold their breathe any longer, they pulled an emergency cord and were deemed a loser and kicked out of the game. Wouldn't that be fun on Survivor? Let's have the final two actually compete for the title and the cash. Enough with the juries -- endurance testing is the way to go.
I haven't actually kept count, but I'm pretty sure that as many somewhat successful relationships have blossomed out of this show as have come out of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette combined. While there's a lot of bed0hopping going on and more than a few exes in the mix, there are many actual couples who met on one of these MTV shows. Maybe The Bachelor needs to cut back on the dating conventions and whatnot and just let the guy or girl live with their potential mates for a while to see what they are actually like. It might boost the post-show success rate, and maybe even the ratings.
New vs. Old
Survivor tried it once with the fans vs. favorites and it was a decent season, but RW/RR relishes in forcing newcomers to go head-to-head against seasoned vets. It's interesting and fun and I'd love to see an Amazing Race season that tries this. Finally, we'd find out how much the game is about luck and getting a good cab driver and how much it's about real skills.
While I'm iffy about another Amazing Race or Survivor all-star series (though there are rumors that one may be imminent), there is definitely something interesting about putting people who know each other from other contexts together to see who backstabs who. People on opposing teams might be hooking up in the shared house, but they are incredibly vicious when it comes to game day. RW/RR Challenge: bringing people together and tearing friendships apart. More shows should do that.
I think the reason that Li'l Russell is getting so much attention on this season of Survivor isn't just because he's a manipulative player, but because he's really got that competitive spirit that's exciting to watch. He wants to win -- at all costs -- while everyone else just seems content to figure out what they're doing right before they go to tribal council, and just coast along the rest of the time. It might be a nice switch to find people who really want to play the game for the cold-hard cash, as opposed to casting model/actor types. CT from RW/RR is already out there busting his butt (and punching cactuses) for a mere 20 grand or so. He might actually kill a man if a million dollars was at stake. Deal with that, Probst.
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