The first of Foxtel’s new local brands kicks off next week, a “high-tech reality series” that seeks to stray into Amazing Race territory.
The basic premise: two mobile phones are ringing in two locations in one city, whoever answers them has the chance to win $25,000 through a series of challenges.
It’s a Dutch format made in Australia by Foxtel and one, we are told, is to be hosted in the US by Justin Timberlake for MTV. Actor Justin Melvey (maybe there was a contract clause stipulating it had to be hosted by a ‘Justin’) is our host, or “Clue Master,” a sort of Charlie’s Angel executive giving the two contestants shrift instructions to veer from one location to the next.
The show opens with 24-style credits, graphic overlays and aerial cityscapes. Oddly, it’s even accompanied by an American voice-over despite the fact it’s set in the city of Sydney. We zone in on a phone ringing near Circular Quay. A few passers-by seem distracted. Then a pretty young girl walks up and answers the call.
“Would you like the chance to win $25,000?” asks voice of Melvey.
“I certainly world!” answers 21yo Carmen.
“Good. Press 1 to continue.” (She presses #1)
“The game is simple. You have three hours to find a suitcase of cash…” (etc)
Without asking any questions (for instance ‘Who is this?’ ‘Is this a joke?’ or ‘Are they still filming Surprise Surprise Gotcha?’) the girl sets off on her adventure, including taking control of a van that’s been left nearby.
About now you’re wondering “hang on is this for real?” Why would a stranger seemingly go along with someone on the end of the phone, including changing the course of her day, for a stranger’s promise of cash? Not without checking their credentials, surely?
Cut to another phone ringing in a gymnasium. 25yo Stuart, doing a workout in his black tank top, is teased with the same offer. His reaction is a little more blunt. “F**k yeah!” He too drops everything and sets off on his course.
Yep, there now seems little doubt these two were pre-selected for the game. Both were too willing to jump in boots and all to the bizarre premise, added to the fact the producers neglected to include a few people who should have just hung up and laughed in Melvey’s ‘face.’ We’re Aussies after all….
By the end of the first destination, Carmen and Stuart are thrown together for the rest of the journey traversing Sydney suburbs. As the game proceeds we are privvy to interview reactions spliced into the action. Stuart reckons Carmen’s pretty hot, but she has a partner. Gee, what are the odds two strangers would have unresolved sexual tension too? Bonus. Oh wait, Carmen’s just taken off her top, now her matching black top practically matches Stuart’s. Yep, they’re really random strangers.
Various challenges take place at a hotel, a phone shop, a car yard (all three are named by brand), a golf course, cemetery and shipping yard.
Melvey awkwardly plays something of a young corporate shark with a loose backstory punctuated by some silent Japanese executives and a girlfriend. As a B plot it gets in the way here.
One challenge requires Stuart and Carmen to “break into” a house cat burglar-like and steal the keys and car of the Japanese executive who’s having a shower. The two keep telling us they ‘can’t believe’ what they are getting up to. Given they can seemingly believe all the cameramen that are shadowing them around corners, you’d think they’d have given up the pretense by now.
Failing to complete challenges in time costs them money, and that $25,000 kitty keeps coming down across the episode.
One of the key elements of The Amazing Race, apart from its diverse casting and exotic locales, is the viewer believes what’s going on. There’s nobody there to help them and nobody acting. Reality television is all about creating situations that invoke a reaction (be it positive or negative). Whilst it’s likely Carmen and Stuart had no idea what they were in for, I felt like they had separately agreed to their adventure in some casting room weeks before.
It’s taken a lot logistically to put this together. As light entertainment it’s cute enough. But at one hour it’s also too long with insufficient jeopardy for our players. While the first episode is in Sydney, different city backdrops in subsequent eps might boost its appeal. A final twist at the last destination was a good inclusion, and may provide novel endings to the show.
The Clue Master helps them so much you get the feeling everybody would be really put out if somebody just said “I’ve had enough of this rubbish I’m going home.”
I was a bit like Stuart. About halfway through the episode I wanted to “phone a friend.”
The Phone premieres 8:30pm Monday January 19 on FOX8.