Tag Archives: Sharks

Back to the (Reality) Future: “Unfinished Business” and “Redemption Island”

Back to the (Reality) Future: The Amazing Race and Survivor

February 20th, 2011

Watching the Survivor: Redemption Island premiere, I listened to Jeff Probst with a certain degree of skepticism. His argument was that Rob and Russell both had their own form of unfinished business, having played the game multiple times without ever having won. However, really, their presence is not about their story – they are there because Survivor needed a hook, and pitting two of its most infamous players against one another. While I think Russell probably believes that he is there to prove something, I think that Rob is just there to have fun, which for me makes him much more enjoyable to watch.

The fact is that seeing reality contestants try to “prove” something holds very little value for me. I appreciate a good reality storyline, and I think that every great reality show needs a great narrative or three in order to sustain itself. What is always difficult about all-star driven seasons, like both Redemption Island and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, is the way in which the narrative is defined for us: in the latter case, the teams are all introduced based on the reason they lost, and the season becomes more about them moving past that initial defeat than anything else.

I know my Amazing Race history, and so I remember almost all of these teams (like many others, Amanda and Kris were too short-lived and too generic to make an impression, but I did remember them eventually). There are also many stories here that I am inherently attached to: Zev and Justin’s early exit thanks to a lost passport and Mel and Mike’s charming father/son dynamic were two narratives that ended too early, and that I was excited to see more of. On the other hand, the idea of seeing more of Margie and Luke is somewhat terrifying, given the fairly odious behavior which characterized their more tense moments back in Season 14.

The difference between Redemption Island and Unfinished Business is simple: while the former has the ability to create new narratives early on, both based on the minimal all-star presence and the structure of the game, the latter is not built for the same type of instant narrative. This does not make it a failure, as the opening episode is filled with spectacle designed to highlight the switch to filming in HD, but it does mean that the season’s real value won’t be certain until we get a bit deeper into the race and see if any new narratives might be able to emerge.

Although there is evidence to suggest that the show is well aware that you can’t coast your way to the finals with just Unfinished Business.

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Blood in the Water: “Dragon’s Den” becomes ABC’s “Shark Tank”

ABC’s Shark Tank

August 9th, 2009

I wasn’t going to bother saying anything about ABC’s Shark Tank, which debuted tonight following Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but then my brother made a pretty reasonable point: as a Canadian critic, I have more experience with CBC’s Dragon’s Den, the Canadian series based on the Japanese series that inspired this ABC series, than most. And since I’m in the process of analyzing Canadian television in my thesis, I figure it makes sense to take some time to consider just how the different sensibilities of these two countries have inspired the way these two series differ.

However, I came across two problems when I tried to do this watching tonight’s premiere. The first is that I don’t particularly like Dragon’s Den – no, it’s not a bad series, but I find that its back and forth between “look, embarrassing entrepreneurs!” and “legitimate success” to be like American Idol but without either the humour or the enjoyment. Because they’re real people, you feel bad when they’re clearly so far off the mark, and when they are successful I don’t really know them well enough to know just how much of a success it’s been. It just does nothing to appeal to me (I don’t particularly like Idol auditions to begin with), and the “cruelty” of the dangerous Dragons (cutthroat business people) isn’t really all that interesting.

The second problem, however, is that the differences between these two programs are driven less by national differences and more by economic ones – while Dragon’s Den was brought to Canada during a relatively successful period, Shark Tank was developed in the midst of an economic recession and emerges at a time when this kind of success seems legitimately rare, and where dreaming big and failing big are both staples of the American (and for that matter, North American) experience. It makes my own opinion of these entrepreneurs kind of moot, and shifts the show’s responsibility from entertainment to topical connectivity, a burden that has little to do with nationalist discourses.

And a burden the show deals with as best it can, really.

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