101 Ways To Leave A Game Show debuts tonight on ABC at 9 p.m. Eastern.
There’s a good chance that, when you read this review, you will not have yet seen 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show. And yet, every single one of you already HAS watched this show. Or, at least, its antecedents, which feature prominently and shamelessly in this latest iteration of the ABC summer game show line-up. But honestly? Being derivative in this genre of television isn’t a particularly bad thing. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel in order to provide mindless entertainment for the sweaty, distracted masses during the post-Memorial Day, pre-Labor Day daze.
101 Ways plays like a combination of Fear Factor, Ninja Warrior, Downfall, Wipeout, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, and any version of bar trivia you have purposefully or accidentally played in the recent past. The format is simple: eight barely characterized contestants wander onto a field, get separated into teams of four, and whittle themselves down to a final group of four through a series of trivia questions and psychologically-damaging methods of dismissal.
The first half of the game breaks down into a series of two parts. In the first, all team members concurrently answer a numerically-based trivia question (such as the amount William Shatner once sold a kidney stone for charity). The player then gets to then select answers to a follow-up question based on their proximity to the original question. One answer is always wrong, which means that the person who “wins” the original question gets the best chance to choose one of the correct answers, leaving the last person with the choice no one else selected.
This is all obtuse bullshit that delays the real hook of the show: the way in which contestants are booted off the program. No Press Your Luck Whammys here to send you off into C-level game show infamy here, y’all. Instead, you exit by being strapped to the top of a biplane, or hurtled into a fireball inside a remote-controlled stunt car. 101 Ways builds a sufficient amount of tension for the viewing audience, yet all but makes the dull-witted contestants relieve themselves in anxious anticipation. If you’ve ever wanted to see Wilmer Valderrama's out-of-shape, Lady Gaga-loving cousin soil himself on national television, then this is the show for you!
Now, Wilmer Valderrama’s cousin doesn’t actually appear on this show. But that’s far more interesting than he, or any other contestant, truly is. They are ciphers through and through, which isn’t exactly a crime considering we only get to watch these contestants for an hour. None of them particularly stand out in this initial hour, save for one who apparently got hit in the head and thinks she’s Brittany S. Pierce from Glee. (She wants to use the show’s $50,000 prize money to buy backstage passes to Justin Bieber. Needless to say I rooted for her to get sucked into a jet engine as part of her dismissal from the show.) By the time the final four contestants make it to “The Tower” (this show’s version of the final obstacle course in Wipeout), I didn’t know anything about these people other than I wanted to see them fall ten stories upon answering the final question incorrectly.
In some ways, reviewing this show is a semi-silly exercise. It's fairly critic-proof, one of those hours you either ignore or watch and don't admit it to anyone. But the show’s silliness isn’t entirely un-fun, either. My wife and I ended up competing in the trivia questions despite ourselves, and several of the exits (especially “You Fuse, You Lose,” which plants three people upon three boxes, only one of which has explosives that will send them skyward) are decently amusing. There’s really nothing to keep you glued to your seat, but you might find yourself mocking the show only to find you’ve sat through the entire hour. If you enjoy feeling superior to the contestants on this type of show, it’s for you. If you enjoy seeing these types of people worried that they might actually die in a show that takes so many safety precautions that not even a blister is possible, this show is for you. If you’ve made it this far into the review…well, the show is for you.
- The host of this show, Jeff Sutphen, is a weird mix between Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood and Mike "The Miz" Mizanin from the WWE. It’s an odd mix to say the least, but he’s freaking tickled to be there all the same.
- Do not look for any strategy, alliances, or anything resembling skill in any of these contests. There’s no chance for anyone to bond or build bad blood. Or, you know, pass a GED. Which could have helped a few of these people out.
- The second game, “Road Rage,” feels less like a variation on pre-existing thrill-seeking activities and more like two interns that strapped a few yoga pads to a semi-truck and hoped for the best. That’s probably the only time where I actually felt the contestants’ fear was justified.
- The final set is a massive waste of time, effort, and money. You look at The Tower and wonder what type of use the show will have for it. But it’s essentially an overwrought procenium theatre for four diving boards.
- "I'm not the one almost crying because I'm on top of a truck!"
- "Black folks don't stand on wings. We eat them."
- "I heard about what he was doing. He's NASTY."
- "Damn you, Mel Gibson!"
- "We need to blow her up."