What will they think of next?

TV competitions vie to attract audiences’ attention and allegiance

CELEBRITY CHEF Gordon Ramsay shows contestants who’s the boss on ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ (photo credit: COLLIDER)
CELEBRITY CHEF Gordon Ramsay shows contestants who’s the boss on ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’
(photo credit: COLLIDER)
The sporting spirit was alive and well in Jerusalem this month as the city hosted the second annual twoday Formula One race through the streets of the capital. Although this particular form of the race was not a competition, the skill and driving force exhibited by the participants were no less evident or impressive.
Audiences love to watch skillful people ply their talent, and they derive even more pleasure from watching them vie with each other for prominence. For that reason, sporting events have existed since the dawn of history. And since the earliest days of television, game shows have been among the most popular programs. Shows like The Price Is Right, Quiz Kids, Beat the Clock, Name That Tune, The $64,000 Question, Jeopardy and Star Search whetted our appetites for watching ordinary people, as well as celebrities, compete for fame and fortune.
As reality shows become more and more prevalent, the challenge for TV producers is to come up with new concepts that will keep TV audiences glued to their screens week after week. In so doing, the spectrum of subjects becomes wider and the premises of the shows more daunting.
While ardent hopefuls have been singing their hearts out and dancing their feet off on such popular shows as The Voice, American Idol, The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars, a wide range of other skill sets are being put to the test as well. Here are just some of the competitive programs that have been airing recently on such channels as Channel 1, Channel 2, HOT 3, Home+, the Good Life Channel, the Food Channel, BBC Entertainment and the History Channel.
Food is a big favorite among viewers, so the networks are stuffed to the gills with cooking shows. To my taste, watching someone cook something is, frankly, a big yawn.
I can read the recipe, thank you very much. I prefer to watch people – be they amateurs or celebrity chefs – duke it out with each other over a hot stove. The skills, the time pressure and the strategies they use to create the dishes, plus the well-plated finished product, are all the ingredients you need to cook up a scintillating challenge. So in that category, Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Master Chef, My Kitchen Rules and Cupcake Wars fill the bill.
Going from a large-scale display of 1,000 cupcakes on Cupcake Wars to colossal wedding cakes, the Canadian show Cake Walk features three pastry chefs who are given seven hours to bake and decorate a multifaceted wedding cake for an engaged couple. Three judges, as well as the couple, select the winning cake, based on taste and design. The winning chef wins a cash prize and the opportunity to create the couple’s dream wedding cake.
Going full throttle, on 24-Hour Restaurant Battle two pairs of contestants are each given a sum of money with which to take over half of a large space. Within one day, they must design a theme restaurant and prepare enough of their specialty food to serve 50 diners full-course meals, to be judged by four culinary professionals. The winning team receives a cash prize to help them launch their own restaurant.
Meanwhile, on Come Dine with Me the home fires are burning as four strangers compete with each to see who can host the best dinner party.
The diners rate each meal, and the winner is granted a cash prize.
Taking it to the street, The Great Food Truck Race pits the crew of some 10 food trucks against each other, with each truck specializing in a different type of cuisine.
They traverse the US in their food trucks, and at each predetermined city they set up and try to sell as much food as possible to the local population. With an imposed twist at every stop, the team that makes the least amount of money at the end of each episode is eliminated, until the last team standing wins the coveted cash prize.
When it comes to twists, they don’t get quite as nasty as those on Cutthroat Kitchen. In each episode, four cooks are each given a large sum of money and are assigned a dish to make. But first, they must use their money to bid on the opportunity to impose a certain obstacle on one of the other cooks, such as giving up all utensils and using only aluminum foil. Each dish is then tasted by a professional chef, and the cook whose dish is the least tasty is eliminated. This continues in the episode until the two remaining cooks fight it out.
The winner with the tastiest final dish gets to keep whatever money he/she has left after all the bidding.
And if you can’t take the heat, don’t enter Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. On this series, the caustic but consummately creative celebrity chef whips a group of aspiring chefs into shape, imposing grueling challenges and eliminating one after the other until the one who ultimately meets his standards is declared the winner. That cook wins a cash prize, as well as the opportunity to work as the executive chef at a restaurant of Ramsay’s choosing.
On a grander scale, the contestants on Supermarket Superstar vie for the opportunity to have a food product they have created be sold nationwide by the A&P supermarket chain.
THE PASSION for fashion is another big audience draw, evidenced by the spate of fashion-related shows.
Aspiring young clothing designers clamor for the spotlight on Project Runway. Jewelry, belt and handbag designers try to grab the brass ring on Project Accessory. And hair stylists go head to head on Great British Hairdresser.
And to gain prominence on the catwalk itself, potential models strike a pose on shows like America’s Next Top Model; She’s Got the Look; True Beauty; and Make Me a Supermodel. These shows reveal that it takes a lot more than a pretty face and a wraith-like body to earn the right to strut down the runway.
Interior design is equally appealing to TV audiences, hence the large number of shows that deal with everything from do-it-yourself projects to complete home renovations. But again, watching a professional do a home makeover is not as much fun as watching amateurs or aspiring interior designers battle it out on the home front on shows such as The Block, Trading Spaces, Design Wars and Design Star.
In another vein, on the British show May the Best House Win, four strangers visit each other’s homes for a few hours and rate each interior out of 10, based on décor and the home owner’s hospitality. The person who receives the highest score comes away with pride of place, as well as a cash prize.
When it comes to the challenge of finding or creating just the right design items, there is no lack of TV fare in that arena, either. On Britain’s Next Big Thing, for example, amateur designers present their original creations to a panel of experts, who determine whether they want to take it on, develop it and market it.
Meanwhile, on the British show House Gift, three celebrity interior designers visit a couple’s home, and then have a few hours in which to purchase what they believe is just the right design item to enhance their décor. The couple must select just one item to keep.
The prize for the winning designer is a shedload of bragging rights – until the next episode.
As for artisans themselves, on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist a group of young artists compete each week to demonstrate their talent to a panel of art experts. At the end of the series, the winning artist is awarded a large cash prize and a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
And on The Arrangement, budding floral designers try to come up smelling like a rose as each week another contestant is weeded out.
The victor earns the title of America’s Best Floral Designer and wins a car and a large cash prize.
Carpenters, too, have a show on which they try to make the cut.
On the Canadian program Handyman Superstar Challenge, carpenters and contractors – both male and female – strap on their tool belts and compete to carve out a name for themselves as Handyman Superstar.
The most enduring type of contest is the one that pits people against each other on the physical level, while also battling time and/or the elements. This category includes programs such as Survivor, The Amazing Race, Fear Factor and Last Man Standing, with weightloss competition The Biggest Loser thrown in for good measure.
Even war is not off limits when it comes to concepts for TV competitions.
An American show that just starting airing on the History Channel is called The Ultimate Soldier Challenge. In simulated battle and terrorist situations, US Special Op units are pitted against the most elite forces from around the world in fierce competitions of strength and strategy. Each week, three two-person teams fight fire with fire in an attempt to prove who’s the best and the toughest.
Another relatively new show in the physical prowess domain – and the one that gets my vote as the most outlandish and outrageous – is Naked and Afraid, which airs in the US on the Discovery Channel. I haven’t seen it, but what I do know is that each week, another pair of strangers is dropped into some exotic wilderness, and the man and woman must try to survive together for 21 days with no food, no water, no fire – and no clothes.
The two must figure out how to elicit all those things from their surroundings. Each is allowed to bring one helpful item with them, such as a knife or a fire igniter.
What’s more, there are no prizes awarded to the contestants – just the personal pride of knowing that they survived the ordeal.