Five minutes into ABC's new reality saga The Quest, the realization hits that we live in an incredible, surreal time; a time where it seems like literally anything is possible if TV cameras are involved.
Quick premise: the geniuses behind the art department and special effects in the Lord of The Rings series decided to put their Middle-Earth artisanal skills back to work by creating an immersive fantasy world for 12 extremely lucky, extremely nerdy contestants, and they've filled this exquisitely, painstakingly detailed physical world with the most scenery-chewing seasoned Renaissance Faire MVPs yours and mine eyes have ever seen.
The snap of a velvet cloak is music to my motherfucking ears.
PS, that castle up top? The players live in it.
I have not felt this kind of childlike wonder about a reality series since the series premiere of Survivor, when CBS took the old watercooler premise "what if you washed up on a deserted tropical island..." and made it legit happen. But while The Quest closely follows the format of Survivor (two challenges, one member voted out) its mission statement is the exact opposite. The Quest is the reality Yin to Survivor's reality Yang, and it's betting on the kindness of the average viewer in the way no reality show ever has. Ahem:
1. Survivor counts on us wanting to see people ruthlessly betray each other and lose radical amounts of weight as they physically suffer. But The Quest is vicarious wish fulfillment, and one of its greatest joys is witnessing the sheer unadulterated happiness on the contestant's faces. I have never seen people enjoy their time on reality TV so much, ever, and I love it.
2. Unlike Survivor's famous 1 million dollars motivating the social intrigue, there's no money prize for contestants of The Quest. Production has instead poured that money into making this insanely gorgeous world, and the prize is getting to spend as long as possible in it.
3. Because The Quest made an effort to cast genuine, self-proclaimed nerds, the social dynamics are a lot kinder than Survivor. Granted, we're still in the premiere, but these are people who were most likely forced into some level of empathy at an early age and they do not wield the weapon of rejection lightly. The moment of highest anxiety in the premiere happens after they get to the castle and have to choose roommates.
AND FINALLY, and this is the most devastating difference, is that when someone is voted off Survivor, there's the comfort of knowing they may be stung but at least they'll be restored to a better world: they'll get a hot shower, a sleeve of Oreos, a toilet, etc. With The Quest, when one of the "Paladins" (I KNOW!) is banished, you see a nerd banished from nerd heaven, and you're left with the feeling they've been ejected from a far more engaging reality than what's waiting at home.
Did you watch The Quest? What do you think they eat since we haven't seen meals yet? Turkey legs? Can a reality show that tries to stimulate our purer impulses (kindness, empathy, wonder) be successful, or is reality TV ruled by schadenfreude? Think production's serving them up Pepsi and mojo potatoes like at Medieval Times? Can't wait to find out.
[ Videos via ABC]
Morning After is a new home for television discussion online, brought to you by Gawker. Read more here.