Com­pe­ti­tion shows of­fer an es­cape

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Bill Keveney

With so much sad­ness over mat­ters of ut­most se­ri­ous­ness these days, it doesn’t hurt to have the oc­ca­sional out­let for silli­ness. And re­al­ity TV con­tests have come to the res­cue this sum­mer.

If you’re look­ing for some mind­less en­ter­tain­ment – and we mean that as the high­est of com­pli­ments – we of­fer a sam­pler of six re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tions (both celebrity and civil­ian di­vi­sions) that de­serve your at­ten­tion, or at least as much as you can muster while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a rare mo­ment of men­tal re­pose. So put your brain in the fridge, sit back and en­joy a laugh watch­ing this sym­phony of slap­stick.

6. ‘Ul­ti­mate Tag’

(Fox, Wed­nes­days, 9 EDT/PDT) What it is: The sim­plest of kids’ games gets a deluxe makeover as six ath­letic con­tes­tants try to avoid be­ing tagged – hav­ing their flag-foot­ball-style rib­bon pulled – by a team of chasers with names like Ban­shee and Rocket and cre­den­tials in mar­tial arts, ac­ro­bat­ics and park­our. The com­pe­ti­tion fea­tures a se­ries of cre­ative games (Re­venge Tag, Dome Tag, etc.) on a bright, buzzy ob­sta­cle course.

Face-plant fac­tor: Not as high as you’d think. Host and NFL star J.J. Watt says the show turns “a child­hood game … into a hy­per­com­pet­i­tive blood­sport,” but that’s an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. While com­peti­tors fly face-first into a padded wall as they try to hit the scor­ing but­ton in Dodge Tag, they’re gen­er­ally able to avoid so­cial-me­dia-wor­thy prat­falls. Oh, well.

Es­capist value: OK. Af­ter an episode or two, you re­al­ize that tag isn’t all that com­pelling as a spectator sport, and that there are only so many ways to dress it up. The NFL isn’t sweat­ing.

5. ‘Taskmas­ter’

(CW, Aug. 2, Sun­days at 9 EDT/PDT; YouTube)

What it is: This English im­port brings a bit of re­fine­ment – at least by Amer­i­can stan­dards – to this half­baked re­al­ity half-dozen. Host Greg Davies, aka the Taskmas­ter, puts five co­me­di­ans through their paces with stunts that in­clude don­ning a haz­mat suit to scarf down wa­ter­melon and try­ing to put on an an­i­mal one­sie while in­side a tent. Davies, who sits on a redand-gold throne, ex­plains the sim­ple con­cept: “In this show, I make some ac­com­plished but needy co­me­di­ans do stupid things for me. Why? Be­cause I can.”

Face-plant fac­tor: A healthy dose of degra­da­tion, both sub­tle and el­e­gant. Who bet­ter to of­fer a con­test built on dom­i­na­tion and hu­mil­i­a­tion than our friends from across the pond. Phys­i­cally, the pain is mod­er­ate (one com­peti­tor vom­its wa­ter­melon, los­ing points along the way. It helps to know your met­ric sys­tem as the wa­ter­mel­ons are mea­sured in grams.) Psy­cho­log­i­cally, the dam­age might be more se­vere, but these are co­me­di­ans, so that may be a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion.

Es­capist value: Mid­dling. Spend­ing an hour watch­ing a bunch of co­me­di­ans most Amer­i­cans don’t know qual­i­fies as a kind of es­cape. And the draw­ing-room set and English ac­cents may stir mem­o­ries of “Down­ton Abbey,” pro­vided you’ve been drink­ing.

4. ‘Game On!’

(CBS, Wed­nes­days, 9 EDT/PDT; CBS All Ac­cess)

What it is: Ten­nis champ Venus Williams and NFL star Rob Gronkowski cap­tain teams in a va­ri­ety of kooky con­tests, in­clud­ing hu­man darts, hu­man foos­ball and hu­man bowl­ing. Sense a theme?

Face-plant fac­tor: Grade H, as in High Hu­mil­i­a­tion. Co­me­dian Bobby Lee gets thrown to the ground by a sumo wrestler and then gets sand­wich squished by two sumo champs. Each week, the los­ing team has to “Take the L” (for Loss), which re­sults in Williams let­ting a python crawl on her, co­me­dian Ian Karmel sub­mit­ting to a Ronda Rousey arm­bar Pin and Williams’ team climb­ing into frigid ice baths.

Es­capist value: Some, es­pe­cially if you like gen­tle celebrity em­bar­rass­ment. How­ever, one “Take the L,” recorded be­fore the pan­demic, un­com­fort­ably brings us back to the re­al­ity of COVID-19. The pun­ish­ment for one loss forces Gronkowski and his team­mates to shake hands with all 399 mem­bers of the stu­dio au­di­ence. Su­per-spreader pos­si­bil­i­ties, in­deed.

3. ‘Don’t’

(ABC, Thurs­days, 9 EDT/PDT) What it is: It’s ham on wry as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and nar­ra­tor Ryan Reynolds and host Adam Scott go heavy meta in this fun and witty com­pe­ti­tion. Teams of four fam­ily mem­bers can win $100,000 suc­ceed­ing at phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges usu­ally pred­i­cated on the sta­ples of parental warn­ing: Don’t Play Ball in the House, Don’t Beat Your­self Up, Don’t Play with Matches.

Face-plant fac­tor: Mod­er­ate. Con­tes­tants are run over by a gi­ant rub­ber balls and tires, punched by me­chan­i­cal box­ing gloves and zapped with an elec­tri­cal charge (Don’t Be Shocked), but it’s pretty mild com­pared to some of the other shows. On the other hand, there’s en­ter­tain­ing psy­chic pain, as Scott faces some hu­mil­i­at­ing taunts from Reynolds: “Top-notch host­ing,” he opines, af­ter Scott ut­ters a com­pletely ob­vi­ous line.

Es­capist value: Good. The fam­i­lies, from a va­ri­ety of back­grounds, are en­gag­ing. And the com­bi­na­tion of Scott’s vis­ual takes – from sur­prised to con­fused to abused – and Reynolds’ cut­ting nar­ra­tion, de­liv­ered in a placid, mat­terof-fact style that makes it seem more dis­mis­sive, of­fers plenty of tongue-incheek en­ter­tain­ment.

2. ‘Ho­ley Mo­ley II: The Se­quel’

(ABC, Thurs­days, 8 EDT/PDT) What it is: Imag­ine if a 10-year-old had a net­work-size bud­get to de­sign a dream minia­ture golf course, and you’ll get the idea be­hind this crazy lay­out, which fea­tures drag­ons breath­ing lit­eral fire (with golfers in flame-proof suits) and goes be­yond jump­ing the shark by let­ting con­tes­tants jump on a shark, or at least a prop ver­sion. Episode win­ners get an ugly plaid jacket and the chance to win $250,000 in the sea­son fi­nale.

Face-plant fac­tor: The high­est! Golf cour­ses have water haz­ards; this masochis­tic mini-golf lay­out is one gi­ant phys­i­cal haz­ard. Be­sides get­ting burned at the dragon hole, golfers get knocked into the water by un­for­giv­ing wind­mills and smash into a pole while on a zi­pline. It isn’t pretty – but it is funny.

Es­capist value: Great. It’s a trip back to simpler, by­gone days, whether they’re your own or those of some fam­ily you watched in a sit­com. Doc­tor’s warn­ing: Try watch­ing on mute if the play-by-play from Rob Rig­gle and Joe Tes­si­tore causes your ears to bleed.

1. ‘Floor Is Lava’

(Net­flix, now stream­ing) What it is: A turbo-charged, big­bud­get ver­sion of that game in which kids jump from couch to chair to table to avoid touch­ing the floor and fall­ing into an imag­i­nary sea of lava. But this show also fea­tures pyra­mids and Apollo cap­sules as land­ing spots for com­peti­tors try­ing to es­cape from a large room while sidestep­ping 80,000 gal­lons of roil­ing, red­dish-or­ange “lava.”

Face-plant fac­tor: High. Jumps and leaps leave plenty of op­por­tu­nity for ugly falls, as when one mom has an un­for­tu­nate “meet­ing of the minds” with an Easter Is­land statue head. Pro­duc­ers say no one’s been hurt – but they won’t say what hap­pens to those who dis­ap­pear into the se­cret-for­mula lava.

Es­capist value: Magma-nif­i­cent. Try­ing to fig­ure out your own es­cape route, root­ing for com­peti­tors and then laugh­ing at their fiery demise may be just the bub­bling tonic for these trou­bled times. Just don’t fall into it.


ABC’s wacky mini-golf com­pe­ti­tion “Ho­ley Mo­ley II: The Se­quel” in­tro­duces a fire haz­ard, with a con­tes­tant wear­ing a flame-re­tar­dant suit.


A triplet trio takes on Net­flix’s “Floor is Lava.”

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