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Reality Check: No "Treasure" at the End of This Race

Those of you looking for a summer replacement for The Amazing Race would do better than turn to Treasure Hunters, NBC's ambitious yet deeply flawed reality series which premiered last night. I had high expectations for the show as previews made the series seem like a global scavenger hunt tinged with cast-off motifs from production company Imagine's The Da Vinci Code. While the actual treasure at the end of the race isn't clearly defined, fortunately, it won't be Tom Hanks' hairstyle.

My concern was immediately triggered right at the start of the show. My first clue? Treasure Hunters' product placement elements are so overt and obvious that there's no point in even referring to them in ad-speak as "integration." The three items that each team are given at the start of the race are a Motorola RAZR phone (more on that in a sec), a laptop computer that seems to link directly to web search portal, and a Visa card. So, no maps, compasses, or astrolabes for these treasure hunters then? No, apparently, a Visa card will come in much more handily; after all it's everywhere they want to be.

It's the cell phone that drove me crazy last night. Besides for the ability to use the phone to call the other teams (why would you want your teams to be able to talk when they're not even bunched together?), all of the clues are transmitted to the teams via this method. Each time they find a clue or an "artifact"(read: prop), their Motorola cells ring and they receive video instructions from host Laird Macintosh. While that would be bad enough, any drama or tension the show might have inadvertently stumbled upon is dissipated every time that phone rings. And it just keeps ringing... for every team, on every task, repeatedly.

Plus, Laird Macintosh is no Phil Keoghan. (Not even close.) Instead, he seems to have gone to the William Shatner School of Performance, where every... line is a... staccato... burst of... melodramatic beats. Either that or he's a robot constructed in the same factory where they built Top Chef's host Katie Lee Joel.

The three-member team structure is awkward and I'm not entirely sure why they had ten teams begin on two opposite sides of the world, only to have them meet up at the end of the first episode. Why withhold from the players the rather large secret that there's a whole other batch of teams if you're going to blow the surprise an hour in? Additionally, I can't say that I am particularly impressed with any of the teams and so far I couldn't care whether any of them stay in the game or are eliminated, rather a large flaw when these shows live or die by the strength and sympathy of their competitors. I was especially hoping that the Geniuses would have been the team to get the boot as they've proven themselves unworthy of their moniker, leading themselves and the Young Professionals to the wrong location (Mt. Roosevelt instead of Mt. Rushmore), walking right past one task (the plane wreckage on Maui), and then helping one team (that would be the Wild Scanlons) solve the artifact "puzzle" and check in before them.

It's those puzzles and tasks that are especially worrisome. Amazing Race has always had a well-balanced mix of physical challenges, puzzle-solving, searching, and building tasks. So far, Treasure Hunters' tasks have been, well, cheesy. Like deciphering Morse Code (hardly a challenge when there's a print out and Morse Code manuals)... or exploring the (fake) wreckage of a presidential plane on Maui--a scenario set up by the show's producers--and then unlocking a box with a key hidden inside a Jeffersonian cane. Do we really need these "story" elements in what basically amounts to a scavenger hunt that's a pale imitation of another Race? Are these Da Vinci Code-style "clues" and "secret societies" necessary to show a tense race around the world? Please tell me that there isn't an albino monk with a taste for self-flagellation lurking around the corner... please.

I can't say that the first two-hour episode of Treasure Hunters made me particularly keen to keep watching the series, especially as it's on opposite FOX's Hell's Kitchen. While the antics in that show might be equally staged by producers, at least host Gordon Ramsay has the sense to emote. Ultimately, trying to look for excitement in this treasure hunt is little more than a wild goose chase.


Brock said…
What a disappointing pile of garbage. From all the accolades I was hearing about the show - from friends who were producers, pit stop captains, ADs - I surely thought this would be a monster hit in the vein of Amazing Race and Survivor. Instead, its a cheap DaVinco Code/Race knockoff with little redeeming quality.

From the terrible teams of three (what a twist!) to the choppy editing and shoddy camera work (sorry camera ops - I won't be nominating you guys next year for the Emmys, even if I do know you!), this show needs help but I highly doubt it will last beyond its virginal season.

The product placement was shameful - the amount of time the insipid robotic host cited the use of the Motorzola Razr was vomit-inducing ("remember you have a motorola razr phone to communicate with me," "you have a razr phone," "dont forget to use the razr phone."). And couldn't the producers find a better search engine partner than Does anyone actually use No wonder - the show is produced by bargain basement product placement firm Madison Road, an outfit that has been involved with many shows - Apprentice, America's Next Top Model, etc - until they bilked millions from Mark Burnett by overcharging for placement - but not sharing in the revenues (and providing loser products for its other shows). In these ways, the fact that Madison Road is a producing partner just reveals how shameless NBC has come in creating infomercials.

More on the show - the historical "mystery" that is at the center of the show is just lame. And the clues are exact replicas of Da Vinci Code novelties. Come on producers - with a helicopter budget larger than the entire budget of ANTM, couldn't you afford better writers?
Brock said…
With 6.91 million viewers last night, this ain't no summer Survivor. Even though it built on the Dateline audience, its a far cry from even last week's promising "Hells Kitchen" debut. The true test will come tonight, the second episode, against round two from Gordon Ramsay.
Anonymous said…
I had no intention of watching this, and then I discoverd that the Wild Hanlons are from Copperas Cove. Yes, the one mullet on the race is from my home town. Awesome.
Anonymous said…
I have seen about 45 minutes so far. Not impressed, that's for sure...
Johann said…
You guys make me happy I'm not a Hollywood insider. I can actually enjoy my t.v. programs without feeling the need to shred them.

I don't care about how smooth the product placements are. I don't think most people do. We're used to be marketed to. so what?

The host is a little like William Shatner. Again, who cares? The show structure could use a little tweeking, but for me it's all about the teams, and I did find some teams that were worth watching.

The preacher's family is worth hating. The Brown family is endearing. The Air Force team is heroic. The mulet guys are funny to watch. That's good enough for me.

In the end, it's t.v. not real life, and the Emmy is a paperweight not a sign from God.
Anonymous said…
Blog Dog,

Just because we're used to being marketed to doesn't mean that we should just roll over and accept blatant shilling in our television programs (or in any form of entertainment).

Just like we shouldn't accept a William Shatner-style robotic host when the host is the heart and soul of a show like this. Part of the success of "Survivor" and "Amazing Race" is due to their outstanding hosts.

And, yes, some of the teams may have been interesting but after two hours I didn't feel like I knew them at all as more time was spent on the DaVinci gimmicks and ringing Motorola phones.

You are correct that not every show need be a masterpiece. But when a show like "Treasure Hunters" spends millions and creates a ridiculous amount of hype for has to live up to standards. Besides, why should we as an audience accept mediocrity?
Johann said…
I had to come back here and offer an appology. After watching week 2 of the show, I must agree it's a stinker.

My tail's between my legs and I'm backing slowly out of the room. Evidently you Hollywood insiders know more than I give you credit for. Sorry for dissing your trophie.

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