Last week, ABC launched reality TV's newest attempt to worm its way into the hearts and pocketbooks of nerds and geeks everywhere with its new series The Quest. Created by some of the producers behind The Lord of the Rings and The Amazing Race (but none of the creative minds behind either of those), The Quest brings twelve "ordinary people" together to live out a fantasy-world dream, in the hopes of finding which of these people can become the True Hero.
If I sound cynical, it's only because I am. My wife loves Reality TV. Devours it by the truckload. And, being the supportive husband I am, I used to watch it with her. But my thing is - I watch TV and film to see how the world should be, not how it is. That's why I prefer Star Trek to Game of Thrones, and why Reality TV drives me nuts. From using editing tricks to make that one poor nerd on Top Chef into a villain so they could justify another contestant putting him in a choke hold, to the Rock's show "The Hero", which devolved into screaming matches before the end of episode one, reality TV has never managed to do anything but disappoint.
With that in mind, I kept my expectations managed for The Quest. Would it keep the promise of delivering on a fantasy world brought to life, or would it follow the same pitfalls that make Reality TV so unbearably unwatchable to me? The true answer is - a bit of both.The show begins with a brief introduction to each of the contestants, called Paladins on the show. (Anyone who's played D&D probably laughed at that a little.) They are each going about their daily lives, when they are delivered a wooden seal, containing a scroll declaring them to be worthy of journeying to Everealm to save that kingdom.
I've gotta admit, the wife and I were both openly weeping at this point. The show does not skimp on production value, and on trying to make this seem as "real" as possible. The idea that you could be plucked out of your life and given a quest in a far away place and it would be real (even though it wouldn't), was a big deal for me, and gave me a lot of hope for the show.
The Paladins are then led through an underground cavern, and taken into a forest in Everealm. They must journey through the night to the magical kingdom of Sanctum, the last bastion against...really, this all sounds pretty silly. The good news is, the show has eschewn any idea of a "host." The Paladins are guided by different characters, including a boy who dreamed of their arrival, the probably-evil Vizier, and the tough as nails sargeant, all of whom play their roles with conviction. It really adds to the world, and the Paladins often have scenes play around them with no context or hand holding, making the whole thing seem very real.
It's a strong premise, and one that could really be a breath of fresh air in the television world. But as soon as the contestants reach Sanctum, the show begins to show its true colors. The contestants all live in the same house - I'm sorry, castle. They have to room together. (Oh no, there may be drama!) There's going to be daily challenges around the house, and at the end of each night, one of them will be voted out. Joy.
As soon as the fact that it's a contest comes to life, you see the joy and discovery fade from the contestants' eyes, replaced immediately by that familiar Reality TV hunger. I can only assume they were told there was some kind of monetary prize - while the show only says the last one standing will be considered the "True Hero," the contestants immediately begin to rag on and turn on each other in the first episode as soon as the eliminations are announced.
While the actor playing the sergeant sets up the first challenge well, where the contestants have to fire ballistas at an approaching strawman army, it's still a cheesy Reality Show challenge. And in the end, a young girl (oh sorry, spoilers) goes home because she wasn't alpha-male enough for the world of Reality TV.
By the end of the show, villains will be forged through editing, friendships will be in tatters, tears will be shed, and no one will have learned anything except that Reality TV is terrible.
A show like this had potential. A show about a team of people learning to defend this kingdom while they came together, growing together and winning only when the dark lord was banished, now that would have been interesting. A show about backstabbing in a medieval setting? If I want to watch that, I'd rather George R. R. Martin wrote it.
Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief and Podcast Co-host for the Ace of Geeks. He loves fantasy worlds and hates Reality TV.