Jun 6, 2013

The Hero: “Courage”/72 Hours: “Yasawa Islands, Fiji”

By Josh Oakley

The Rock is a fucking charmer.

That may seem overly succinct for an entire hour of television, but if we’re digging into the new TNT reality show The Hero’s pro column, it’s a good place to start. Unfortunately, for the most part that’s the first and last bullet point under the header “What Works”. But The Rock is so damn enjoyable to watch. His charisma shines even brighter when compared to the cast of contestants that The Hero has assembled, whose personalities can be slightly obnoxious but are mostly bland. The thought of spending the next few months with this tepid crew seems less enjoyable than repelling down a skyscraper. And I, like the crier Patty, have no affinity for heights.

The Hero follows these nine contestants through two challenges every week. The first features six of the crew, with the following mission taking one of those six and having them compete for $50,000. That money can either be taken by the competitor, or put in a pot that the eventual winner of the show will receive in the season finale. This sounds like a no-brainer: take the money now instead of maybe getting it later. This is where the show introduces its main complications: the contestants must, to some extent, remain popular in the eyes of their foes. This is intensified by the fact that the winner of the show will be chosen by the audience, meaning nobody wants to come across as an asshole.

It seems like an intriguing basis for a competition, and would be in a show that was more interested in human psychology and less curious about what makes a “hero”. Apparently a hero is comprised of not wanting money for their family (in favor of strangers that, to wager a guess, they’re not here to make friends with), not being claustrophobic and being able to memorize a series of numbers. It’s never clear what kind of hero the show is attempting to promote. At one point The Rock calls Patty a hero for walking up a flight of stairs, so is it facing one’s own fears? That theory is contradicted by the generic challenges, which define a hero as someone who can accomplish somewhat scary tasks that pale in comparison to the extreme feats we’ve seen elsewhere on reality TV over the past decade.

What we have seen since the very first season of The Real World are the tragically uninteresting group dynamics brought to the forefront in The Hero’s War Room. Certain competitors, specifically the surf-bro Marty and wrestler Shaun, seem to forget that “America’s watching”, even though The Rock keeps letting them know. They belittle each other and fight needlessly, apparently unaware that no one defines a hero as whiny or untrusting. It’s never clear if The Hero wants to be a generic reality competition or a PSA for heroism. Not even The Rock can save the show from the flaccid middle ground where it lands.

72 Hours, the other new reality show on TNT this summer, begins with a shot of its host, some nebbish white guy, to make sure you know you’re not still watching The Hero. It would be difficult to confuse the two, though. Where The Hero’s stakes are blurry and boring, 72 Hours strips shows in the Amazing Race/Survivor vein for their parts. Three teams of three strangers each traverse an island looking for Supply Drops, eventually hoping to receive a suitcase containing $100,000. The fast-paced editing pulls focus to the basics of survival: food, teamwork, shelter, etc.

Here, the competitors aren’t given enough room to develop beyond basic reality show one-dimensional stereotypes, and I don’t mean this as a detriment. Giving us shadings of conflict works for a show where the contestants change every episode: there’s no point in getting to know them when they’ll be gone next week. Instead, the fun stems from one team member bitching about another one. Unlike The Hero it works here, because the situation is fairly strenuous, whereas in The Hero they stay in a gorgeous hotel suite and should all shut up. 72 Hours is a well-made distillation of the “survival/nature competition” sub-genre of reality television. It may not change the game, but unlike The Hero it at least it knows the game’s basic structure and elements. And hey, it’s the summer, and there are worse ways to spend an hour than watching attractive swimsuit-clad strangers race each other in a beautiful locale. Like, for example, watching The Hero.


The Hero: C

72 Hours: B-

  • When did violent close-ups of people vomiting become a thing? Do TV executives think that’s what we mean by edgier content? I can promise you, it’s not.
  • "If we can’t find coconuts, it may be a problem" – This is from 72 Hours, but really it’s just good practical advice

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