Last week, when I was reviewing The Lottery, I told you that I’ve been trying to follow Hank Stuever’s rule (he’s the Washington Post’s television critic) of watching three episodes of a show before reviewing it. While this rule likely stems from the fact that critics typically get three episodes of a new show/season to watch ahead of time, Stuever noted that it also gives the actors, writers, and directors some time to settle into the story. Though I certainly think this is a good rule for scripted television, I’m not sure it holds true for reality shows; or for shows that you’re already excited to see!
Which brings me to The Quest, ABC’s new fantasy-based reality competition series (woo, that’s a mouthful!). Like many nerds out there, I had been eagerly awaiting The Quest’s arrival since I saw the first commercials for it earlier this summer. It reminded me of the first season of Survivor or Treasure Hunters, another family favorite – something totally new to watch during the summer when everything else was in reruns. It also just looked fantastic, with its authentic sets, an actual plotline, and, dare I say it, role-playing. I mean, who doesn’t want to run around shooting arrows for a day?!
If you aren’t familiar with the set-up, it is essentially this:
Twelve contestants – named Paladins – have traveled to Everealm, a mythical world under siege by evil forces, to protect Saenctum, the only kingdom still resisting the darkness. Every day they are tested with challenges related to their upcoming fight with Verlox, who is threatening the kingdom. Whoever wins the challenge receives the “mark” of a relevant virtue – so far, it’s been leadership and dexterity. The three people at the bottom of the list then face off in an elimination challenge. The Paladin who wins that is safe; the remaining contestants then determine the fates of the other two – keeping one, and banishing the other. At the end of The Quest, only one person, the “true hero,” will remain standing.
So far, this all sounds fairly familiar, yet unlike most reality shows that are out there – competition or not – The Quest has a ridiculously high production value, thanks to the fact that it is brought to us by the executive producer of The Lord of the Rings franchise and the creators and producers of The Amazing Race. And while the contestants are ordinary people, they are surrounded by actors working with a scripted storyline – which actually gives the show a plot beyond the typical cat-fighting and back-stabbing we’ve come to accept as part and parcel of reality television. Yet there is still improvisation, such as when a Paladin calls the Queen “my lady” and she highlights the insult to her courtiers.
There is also a level of openness with The Quest that I haven’t seen with other reality shows. True, there are some individual asides that provide a bit of background to whatever is going on on-screen, but the eliminations – at least for now – are discussed first as a group. People can certainly vote how they want, and the potentially banished do try to make their cases beforehand, but I don’t really remember any other show where people have tried to figure out who would be good to keep for the entire group, not just his/herself or a particular tribe.
Also, to vote, the Paladins have to stand behind the contestant they want to stay. Once the votes are cast, the two people being weighed and measured then turn around and get to see who voted for whom. There is no private voting booth like in Survivor or Big Brother. As the number of Paladins gets smaller, that might change, but I like that everyone knows where they stand.
I don’t know how people find out about casting calls for shows like The Quest, but if the show does well and gets a second season, I would totally sign up! Even just working on the show would be an incredible experience. If they do succeed however, and I really hope they do, the creators would be smart to avoid the Survivor trap of running multiple seasons in one year. Right now, The Quest is new and different, but that novelty could wear off if it’s overexposed.