Stay Tuned: I’m not joining ‘The Quest’
By Melissa Crawley
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The idea of putting 12 people into a fantasy world that also happens to be a reality show is really interesting because the lines between what’s real and what’s scripted become pretty blurry. Too bad “The Quest” wastes the opportunity. Not that it doesn’t try hard to immerse both the cast and the viewers in the fantasy kingdom of Everealm, a place created by the people behind “Lord of the Rings.” In Everealm, the 12 Paladins compete to be the One True Hero who will use the Sunspear to drive evil from the land. There’s a castle, creatures, three Fates who preside over the saga and a high-born master of ceremonies who in less fantasy based reality TV would be called the host.
The Paladins compete in a weekly challenge while interacting with characters in the story. Every week those who come last in the challenge stand before the Fates (a diverse group of ladies) and one person is then voted off or “banished” by their fellow Paladins. There are plenty of swords, arrows and leather outfits. What there’s not is plenty of excitement. The challenges are boring, and so is watching people who lack the big personalities needed in reality contest shows. If only they’d spend less screen time talking about how their dream of living in a fantasy world has finally come true and more time embracing the fantasy, I could too. If you’re going to go on national TV, call yourself a Paladin and run through medieval sets in a quest to find the Sunspear, you might as well really commit.
The challenges need work which is surprising considering the show also comes from the people behind “The Amazing Race.” Where that show tests people’s mental and physical endurance with unique experiences, this one has contestants shooting arrows over a wall of branches into straw soldiers. The man leading this snooze of a challenge is an actor, dressed in leather with an English accent who yells instructions at them and drops a few sarcastic one-liners. Where’s “Survivor’s” Jeff Probst when you need him? Only his skillful play-by-play could make this target practice interesting.
Maybe reality TV isn’t ready for such a literal blurring of the lines. Most reality “stars” perform a role but their roles are easy: the mean girl, the bad boy etc. Roles on “The Quest” are harder because the fantasy is only interesting if the contestants actually go for it and make it come alive. At the same time, they must strategize to keep themselves on the show which means revealing who they are in real life or who they want the other contestants to think they are in real life. It’s a lot to ask and a task these contestants don’t seem ready to complete. I want to like “The Quest” for its ambitious idea but right now it just feels like a reality show with costumes.
“The Quest” is on Thursdays at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.