Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Think We're Turning Japanese (2008 ed.)

This is the conclusion I came to today after watching ABC's two new summer reality shows. I had such high hopes for Wipeout and I Survived a Japanese Game Show after seeing the previews for both shows a few weeks ago. But those hopes came crashing down faster than one of the contestants on either show.

Wipeout looks like an American version of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, more commonly known as MXC, and being a fan of that show, where Japanese contestants compete in wild obstacles with two voiced-over announcers commentating the whole time, I was excited. I don't know if it was the whole lost-in-translation feel of MXC, or the zany obstacles that I'd never seen before, but for some reason this new American version didn't cut it for me. I guess I don't know what I expected specifically, but when I learned freqent SportsCenter analyst John Anderson was one of the hosts, I should have known that one-liners and hard falls would be the highlight of the show.

The biggest problem with Wipeout was that it is EXACTLY LIKE MXC. There's a saying that goes "If it's not broke, don't fix it." And unfortunately, that is the leading line of thinking in Hollywood. It is the reason we have been in a reality TV black hole for the last 15 years. It's the reason that every fall there are at least 3 new shows with precisely the same premise. And it's just as Barack Obama has been saying for the last 8 months: America needs CHANGE! (and not the kind that bums live off of).

The most interesting thing about MXC was that it was so abstract. The two hosts would make up random team names, and in no particular order assign a contestant to a one of the two teams. As far as American viewers knew, there was no prize money; it was pure entertainment. Wipeout starts the show by telling us there is a $50,000 prize, and that there are 3 elimination rounds and one final obstacle course. If I know there is a purpose, I know to only tune in during the last 5 minutes. That takes all of the mystique and allure out of the entire show.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show was the more entertaining of the two shows. I can honestly say that this show had everything I have missed from my time in Japan: crazy gameshows, Japanese people, and a Tokyo skyline. My original hope for this show was that Americans would compete on a Japanese gameshow, with Japanese contestants as well. What it actually is, is a reality show about 10 Americans who flew to Japan, live there for a few weeks, and compete on a Japanese gameshow. Sounds pretty similar, huh? My idea would have been an imported Japanese gameshow, that featured both Japanese and American contestants competing for a common goal as obscure as the bottom of a koi pond.

But since I Survived a Japanese Game Show focuses solely on American contestants, we have to witness our fellow citizens make a mockery of a foreign country's customs, food, and even its people. Don't get me wrong; there were plenty of times when I was laughing hysterically at the television, but I also found it upsetting that these contestants lived up to the poor stereotype of Americans traveling/living/working abroad. There was the tendency to be rude, loud, and xenophobic (despite the fact that they are the foreigners).

In spite of these transgressions, the show had a few bright spots. After the first competition, the winning team got a helicopter tour of Tokyo, and the losing team had to work as rickshaw drivers for 2 hours. This was mildly entertaining, but again it pointed out that these Americans had little respect for the Japanese culture. In the elimination event, the two contestants had to play human fly on a windshield, with the ultimate loser making the walk of shame (seemingly all the way back to America) in the fly suit.

I will probably continue to watch I Survived a Japanese Game Show, mostly due to my interest in Japanese gameshows. Wipeout, as I said, was a sorry attempt to recreate something that was already amazing. But since Americans are motivated only by money, we have to sit through rehashed crap like the 12th season of Big Brother or steal more original ideas from other countries. I miss the good ol' days when people competed on gameshows for short-lived notoriety, and not for a huge payout.

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