With Survivor and The Amazing Race taking the summer off, a trio of cable shows are out to fill the endurance challenge-based reality series void. TNT offers up the one-two punch of the Dwayne Johnson-fronted The Hero and 72 Hours (which air back-to-back on Thursdays at 8 PM and 9 PM respectively), while the obscure Reelz network counters with Race to the Scene (Thursdays at 9 PM). Which of these shows walks away as the sole survivor? We pit them head-to-head in five key areas:
The Hero: Okay, deep breath because this takes a little while to explain. Nine contestants engage in two intensely physical challenges per week: a six-person challenge followed by a one-person "hero's challenge." In an interesting wrinkle, the nine have to decide amongst themselves which six will compete in the first challenge, with people angling to compete or opting to hang back. The whole group then gets to vote which of the finalists from the team challenge will compete in the solo challenge, a vote that goes down in the "War Room" where they trash-talk each other in The Rock's presence like one of Probst's tribal councils. There's also a bunch of overly complicated monetary factors involved. See, completing the hero's challenge nabs the solo contestant $50,000 that they can either choose to put in the grand prize pot or -- in a less than heroic move -- keep for themselves. (Completing the team challenge nabs the group an additional $10,000 that goes directly to the American Red Cross.) And while the six-person crew is off doing the team challenge, the stragglers are presented with financial temptations of their own that might affect the competitors as well as the public perception of their heroism (or lack thereof). In the end, America gets to vote on which contestant deserves the label Hero.
72 Hours: This set-up is thankfully far more compact. Every week, a trio of three-person teams of strangers are dropped into an exotic remote locale (Fiji's Yasawa Islands in the premiere) where they have 72 hours to find a hidden briefcase filled with $100,000. Armed only with the clothes on their backs, a GPS unit that leads them to various supply drops along the way, a two-way radio in case of emergencies (and also call in special "relief drops" that come with a one-hour time penalty) and a single water bottle per team, they have to navigate treacherous, obstacles-filled terrain (traveling only by day -- nighttime is for sleeping). It's basically a variation on Mark Burnett's late, great Eco-Challenge series with a few elements carried over from TNT's previous attempt at a summer competitive reality hit, last year's imperfect, but enjoyable The Great Escape.
Race to the Scene: This one is even simpler: Three teams of two non-strangers play out two challenges based on scenes from two famous movies, which in the pilot were Forest Gump and Independence Day. Upcoming episodes will incorporate such films as E.T., Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Pulp Fiction. The winner gets $10,000 and an RV with a map to famous movie locations.
Winner: 72 Hours
The Hero: In terms of star power, The Hero has the other two handily beat. From the moment he makes his entrance riding on a big-ass helicopter, Dwayne Johnson dominates the show bringing his Rock-sized charisma to the small screen. He gets to play both life coach and pot-stirrer, two roles he handles as easily as any of his big-screen parts. Honestly, we'd watch an entire show of just him hanging out in Panama City Anthony Bourdain-style.
72 Hours: He ain't The Rock, but Brandon Johnson has far more experience in the hosting realm, having emceed such reality shows as HGTV's My Yard Goes Disney and OLN's Rally America. He even plays a fictional TV host on the Disney Channel comedy Shake It Up. This background makes him a smooth, self-assured and entirely bland host.
Race to the Scene: Any show that taps B-movie action icon Dolph Lundgren as host is worthy of our attention. Any show that then allows Dolph to dress and talk like Forrest Gump is worthy of our undying gratitude. The Swedish giant is on fire throughout the premiere, dishing out Swedish-themed insults and just being awesome in general. His presence helps distract from the show's low-rent production values.
Winner: The Hero
The Hero: Based on the first episode anyway, none of these nine people meets the definition of a hero based on their high levels of obnoxiousness. The worst offenders so far are pro wrestler Shaun, who talks a better game than he plays, and self-described "crybaby" and all-around drama queen, Patty, who starts blubbering not twenty minutes in. The rest of the crew are more generically annoying, trying too hard to generate interpersonal drama when all we really want to see them do is get their asses kicked by the challenges The Rock is throwing at them.
72 Hours: Since the faces change every week, the real star of the show is the location... the flesh-and-blood "characters" are just tourists. And that's just as well, since the mix of personalities is entirely predictable: there's the requisite male and female jocks, the bubbly blonde, the rampant misogynist, the amateur motivational speakers and the ones who clearly have no business putting themselves through this experience. Don't feel bad if you can't remember any of their names -- just keep your eyes on the scenery.
Race to the Scene: Again, the cast will rotate on a weekly basis so don't get attached to any of these folks. (Special shout-out to the LARPer couple, though. They were awesome.) That said, the fact that they have pre-existing relationships is a nice change of pace as it means less of the infighting and squabbling that permeates its competitors. These teams are actually working together and that spirit of camaraderie is nice to see after the bunch of whiners on The Hero.
Winner: Race to the Scene
The Hero: The first six-person challenge tasks a pair of two-person teams with rappelling over the side of Panama City's Towerbank skyscraper, and swinging back and forth along the windows a crazy amount of double-digit stories up until they can grab hands and nab a code. After that, three of them have to scale a glass sculpture on the rooftop to enter that code into a tablet. Oh yeah, and they've got a 30-minute time limit for the entire two-stage challenge. The solo challenge takes the lone wanna-be hero to the bunker of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, where he has 20 minutes to navigate the darkened passageways (without a flashlight) in search of the $50,000 prize that's been locked onto a generator, all the while remembering the necessary nine-digit code to unlock the cash. For a show that promises action hero-sized challenges, both of these tasks are truthfully kinda weak. Even the lamest seasons of Survivor had more exciting challenges than this.
72 Hours: The challenges here aren't man-made obstacle courses or mental games; instead, it's purely a matter of the teams getting from Point A to Point B negotiating whatever obstacles the natural world throws at them, from steep rocky hills and dense jungles to large bodies of choppy water and inclement weather. Actually, the real challenge is mastering this terrain without wanting to kill your teammates, who don't have the same personality types or levels of strength.Race to the Scene: The Forest Gump scene is a football challenge (on the actual field where the football sequences for that 1994 Best Picture winner were shot) where contestants are strapped down with leg weights that cause them to imitate Forrest's famous gait and then have to catch a football fired at them by a machine and run it into the end zone five times, navigating such obstacles as tackling dummies, pylons and good old-fashioned tires. After that, they don Gump's hat and beard from his cross-country jog and run to find -- what else? -- a box of chocolates they have to consume until they find one with a white center. After that, they have to drive themselves to L.A.'s 2nd Street Tunnel where they play out a scene from Independence Day that requires them to run through a maze of cars searching for six puzzle pieces to assemble their escape door while avoiding "blast zones" -- bursts of flames randomly shooting out of the ground.
Winner: 72 Hours
The Entertainment Value
The Hero: This should have been an easy lay-up for TNT: an endurance-challenge show starring The Rock. But then the producers went ahead and muddied the waters with the monetary temptations and the inter-team bickering. Instead of being easy, breezy fun, the show itself is kind of an endurance test.
72 Hours is the best pure-endurance show of the bunch, but Race to the Scene is silly fun. Meanwhile, the only heroic thing about The Hero is The Rock's attempts to make the best out of a badly conceived show.
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