Saturday, March 15, 2008

Building a Better Gauntlet

I have come to accept that Bunim-Murray Productions doesn’t care about Real World/Road Rules Challenge in the sense that fair gameplay doesn’t facilitate drama, so it takes a back seat. I know that the players will be cast for maximum entertainment; any chances of halfway normal people – Roni, Steve, Dave, Jacquese, Lori, etc. – coming back are practically nil. I’m resigned to the realization that a story as involving as Sarah winning five Gauntlets will never be told again because the engine that drives the show needs very little sympathy to run. Even worse, not only do I hear that Beth – pushing 40, by the way – is open to doing more Challenges, but Mark Long might be coming back as well. This former good guy turned cradle-robber, fit-thrower, and giver of $60,000 to an undeserving prick like Eric Nies, actually swore he was done with Challenges at the reunion special for Gauntlet 2. What, Reality Remix isn’t good enough for you, Marky Mark?

Yes, I do wonder why the hell I should care about this show, especially since it brings out the vilest emotions from my soul. The road to each season’s “handsome reward” has been riddled with potholes, and BMP does little to fill them. This season on Gauntlet 3, we have the team losing a mission forced to watch as the victors pick one of their own to go into the Gauntlet, as well as protect a prospective “easy pick” from going in. Then the losers would deliberate as to who else would have to fight in the Gauntlet to stay in the game. Great ides, especially the part when the captain system from Gauntlet 2 gets dumped. So what went wrong to make Gauntlet 3 the absolute worst season in Challenge history?

First, the Gauntlet still alternated between men and women, which means at any given time, that one gender isn’t at risk, and they can throw a mission to send somebody into the Gauntlet that they don’t like. This has led to countless interviews with Evan, Kenny, CT and Danny bitching about how the women on their team don’t pull their own weight, even though their side hasn’t lost that many missions outright. The unspoken second problem is that there are no bank accounts in play this time; instead, we have an all-or-nothing system where only the winning team gets paid, and the losers walk away with little more than sponsor prizes. Also, most seasons end on a long distance mission, where more people could be a problem. This is probably one of the bigger bugs up CT’s ass, since he was a part of the Bad Ass team in Inferno II that only lost one player (Dan) to the Inferno (Beth took a powder, Karamo had a prior obligation and threw his Inferno against Landon), only to helplessly watch as Tonya (fatigued from a night out) and Tina (more mouth than leg muscles) dragged them down for a loss. Being a better team in missions or in endgames doesn’t seem to benefit winning teams directly, leading to the ugliness of Gauntlet 3 and Coral’s departure.

Well, I’m here to help. I’ve recapped six seasons of the show, and I’ve devoted too much time and too many brain cells to it. I’ve figured out how to organize teams, how success in missions and Gauntlets would pay off (I prefer Gauntlets to Duels, Infernos and Pits, so that’s the format I’ll be using), how one person can stand head and shoulders above a team and win the most money in Challenge history . . . and how anybody can be motivated by the ultimate threat.

The Teams

In the beginning, there was Real World and Road Rules. Then it was men against women, but that was brutal to watch at times. With the death of the Road Rules franchise, BMP found new ways to divide the players, first with “Good Guys” and “Bad Asses" starting in Inferno II, followed by “Veterans” (those who had done two or more Challenges) and “Rookies” (comprised of newbies, second-timers, and Jamie, who had won two prior Challenges. Don’t ask) in Gauntlet 2. There were teams of two on two separate occasions (Battle of the Seasons, Fresh Meat), and players going solo with The Duel . . . but since freakin' Wes won $150,000, we’ll pretend that never happened. I’m ignoring all that for a new notion: Red vs. Blue.

Here’s how it starts: the 24 or 28 contestants are hustled to either a clearing with woods surrounding it or the 50-yard-line on a football field. The host does the welcome speech, when goes on about how things are different this time. Cue the helicopter hovering about a half-mile away. From there, $5,000 of fake money in single bill form is dropped, a nod to how All-Star Challenge kicked off. The twelve or fourteen guys are told that 4,998 bills are green, but they have to look for a red and a blue bill, then bring it back. Oh, and tackling others to get those bills would be permitted. A few minutes later, while the guys are scrambling, another 5,000 bills are dropped, and the girls get to make their run.

At the end of this mission, one guy and one girl will have blue bills, and another pair will be holding red bills. They will helping to form the teams. As a reward, these four get to split the traditional $10,000 prize money for a mission win, and immunity from the first Gauntlet. After a quick session of rock-paper-scissors, one team picks one of the 20 or 24 remaining players. The other team follows with a pick from a different gender. The teams rotate, either male-female-female-male-male, etc., or female-male-male-female-female, etc. To make things interesting, a “scapegoat prevention clause” would give immunity to the last guy and girl picked for each team, so they can “step up,” “redeem themselves,” and whatever other cliche phrases you can think up. Oh, and there are no twists in terms of belonging on a team. Once the teams are formed, they will be no trades or defections.

The House

In my head, there would be three main areas: the center would be a “free” area for both sides to mingle, ans two “wings” would be attached to either side. Before Gauntlet deliberations, both sides would be sequestered away from each other in their respective wings. After making their decisions, the teams would call the house on a private hotline before proceeding to the Gauntlet. Speaking of which, the Gauntlet will be right outside the house, just like back in Telluride, Col., in the original Gauntlet.

The Missions

I wouldn’t change much by way of actual missions, as long as not an emphasis on the icky and the excruciating (like forcing players into freezers and submerge themselves in ice water). Any timed missions would be averaged out per person as opposed to cumulative, especially in the case of a numbers advantage. The team that wins a mission gets $10,000 for their bank account, the final one pays out at least $150,000, and only those that make it to the finale get to share in the riches. Also, I’d put in time limit missions; if both teams don’t succeed in the allotted period, neither side gets money, and that amount gets added to the final mission jackpot.

The Gauntlet: Spiel

“Take a look around, people. Anybody here could face anybody else. Your best friend may have to take you out in order to stay in the game. You might have to battle your worst enemy, somebody you’ve barely met, maybe even the one you’re hooking up with. Just remember . . . all roads lead to the Gauntlet.”

The Gauntlet: Deliberation

As stated earlier, both teams would be sequestered in their respective wings, with no interteam conversation before the Gauntlet. Regardless of winning or losing, both teams would nomination one of their number to go to the Gauntlet, then call the host on the hotline with the decision. They can vote any way they'd like . . . privately, publicly, the 3-2-1 system Steve came up with that his own team used to send him to his doom by Trishelle's hands, etc.

The Gauntlet: Restrictions

For the first time since The Gauntlet, there would be no same-sex endgames. However, the same gender cannot be sent into the Gauntlet more than twice in a row. For instance, a side that has sent two females must pick a male afterwards. In addition, any player that wins a Gauntlet is immune from the next vote. This shall be known as the “Grayson Rule,” at least for myself and any other hardcore fan of Sarah. Also, Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards would be given to the top players in every other mission in the first half of the season and every mission in the second half. Instead of rewarding the best player from each team, the MVP honors would be given to the top male and female competitors, who would be immune from the Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet: Game Selection

In the beginning, there was the oversized single die rolled by the player from that week’s winning team. Now we have a spinning wheel, which doesn’t work as well, and there’s the potential for rigging by production. I mean, Beth got to choose Reverse Tug-Of-War twice. That’s the definition of “shenanigans,” right? For this edition, I’m going old-school: lottery machine.

Here’s how it would work: three balls would represent each game. Just press a button, watch the ball pop up . . . boom, there’s your game. After the draw, that ball would be taken out for good, in order to minimize games coming up again and again. In addition, there would be three “winner’s choice” balls, where the competitor from that episode’s winning team would choose the game, and a single “loser’s choice" ball would be mixed in to make things interesting.

The Gauntlet: The Twist

I came up with what I thought was a great idea. It’s hard to explain, so I’ll have to go with an example.

In this simulation, the Red team has won the mission and $10,000. After both sides call in their Gauntlet choices, Red gets ten red balls put into the machine. They can replace one red ball for a blue one for $1,000 per ball, which comes from that episode’s winnings. That money would be added to the $150,000 awarded in the final mission.

The Red side decides to spend $7,000 to replace seven red balls. One ball pops out. If a red ball comes out, nothing changes. If a blue ball comes out, Red can pick anybody from Blue that is not immune from the vote. However, if they pick Blue’s Gauntlet representative, Blue can turn around and pick somebody from Red to replace their doomed player. If they choose the player picked by Red, then nothing changes, and the Gauntlet goes on as originally scheduled.

I know . . . it’s a bit complicated, and I can’t imagine some veterans wrapping their minds around it. The main goal is to set up a stage where anybody could face anybody else in the Gauntlet, regardless of team affiliations. Imagine this playing out in the original Gauntlet. We could’ve had a battle between polar opposites from RR: The Quest: alpha douche and poster boy for ADD-riddled assholes Adam versus underexposed smart guy Steve. Coral might have been forced to fight her best girl friend on her team (Elka) or her worst enemies (Trishelle and Matt). Even scarier: a one-on-one rumble between Coral and Mike. Or how about lovebirds Mike and Trishelle? Here’s one that would have been fun: the allegedly weak Sarah taking on Rachel, who’s been all muscle and little hustle in her entire Challenge career. Rachel vs. Veronica, Matt vs. David, Theo vs. Adam, Abram vs. Tina . . . the possibilities wouldn’t have been endless, but the fun could have been.

Gauntlet: The Games

One major caveat is that endurance contests would be scaled back, if not eliminated altogether. I’d like to see some more action, not two people hanging upside down from trapeze bars. Also, I’d bring back the different-gender policy from Gauntlet – where only half the games were used – but I’d make things a little more fair. In other words, there wouldn’t be a repeat of the final Gauntlet, where Theo struggled on a mechanical bull, while Cara got a simulated ride on a sedated cow, as then-boyfriend Dave smirked about how she’s so used to it.

As for actual games, I’d import Balls In from Inferno II, with players alternating turns. I’d also bring back Perfect Fit (players dive into pool, fish out puzzle pieces, then assemble puzzle in a tray) and Knock Your Block Off (the jousting game), and I’d alter previous games from the past.

Trivial Brawl: Both players start at opposite ends of a field. The host asks a trivia question relating to any of the other Challengers. The players rush past each other to separate pits, each filled with balls with players’ names on them. For fun, throw in black balls (a layer covering the top of the pit), balls with names of non-Challengers, and balls with misspelled names. Once the players get balls with what they feel is the correct answer, they have to rush back to where they started . . . and contact is highly encouraged. First player back to his/her starting point wins a point. To make things more interesting, the players have to get ten points to win, with questions ranging from one to five points – the more points, the tougher and more obscure the question – chosen by the player winning the prior point. Also, some questions would require multiple answers, and contact would be allowed only when players get all the balls they need. (Same Gender Only)

Trivial Chase: It’s the same setup as Trivial Brawl, only no contact can be made between players. Instead, they are given seven trivia questions that have to be answered in order. Both players go back and forth, collecting the corresponding balls for each question and putting them on a stand. Once all the balls are retrieved, a judge checks to make sure they’re correct. If not, the player is given the number of correct answers, and the player has to figure out what questions were answered wrong. Repeat as necessary until somebody wins. (Both Genders)

Turntable: This is adapted from a Gauntlet mission. Instead of putting the opponents on the same turntable and eliminating whoever flies off first, each player gets their own turntable. The mission: stay on for a designated number of revolutions. The twist: each player has the ability to control how fast the turntable moves. Have it turn too slow, you risk getting burned by your opponent. If it turns too fast, you fly off, whatever revolutions you’ve already made are wiped away, and you have to wait until the turntable stops before getting back on and starting over. Puking is not grounds for disqualification, even if it’s on the opponent . . . but let’s hope it never comes to that. (Both Genders)

The Finale: Prelude

This season, the Axis Of Ass has horrific visions of the girls slowing them down in a long distance run, with Coral faking an allergic reaction to cover for fatigue. Hey, I believe that happened to her back in the day, but Kenny pissed on that in the preview special. Anyway, who knows what the mission will be? So here’s what I’m thinking: the winner of each mission gets a set of puzzle pieces. Collect five sets, you can read what the final mission will entail. If they get the gist in less than five sets? Whatever.

Finale: Rules

Originally, I was going to keep the long distance run with a twist: the results from the Gauntlet would factor far greater. In the original Gauntlet, Road Rules would’ve had a five-minute head start for each Gauntlet won by players on their team still in the game. With Sarah’s five Gauntlet wins and Cara’s two, the team would’ve had 35 minutes on Real World. However, fifteen minutes would’ve been deducted by the three RW players that won Gauntlets (Alton, Coral, Mike). This way, RR could’ve benefited directly from Sarah’s victories instead of Adam contemplate smothering her while she slept.

But then I got a better idea: why should some Challengers be deprived of going into the Gauntlet? There were underachievers who skipped out the endgames (Veronica, Rachel), supporting role players (Roni, Dave), and alpha dogs (Adam, Darrell, Theo) who never had a chance to go in. So the final mission for a Gauntlet edition? The Gauntlet.

Here how it would work: both teams make a list of players in order of when they’d like to be sent into the Gauntlet. Those on the top of each list face off. After that, each team sends their players in order. Once a team reaches the bottom of the lineup, they go back to the top. Each player gets one life, plus one more life per MVP and/or Gauntlet won. Once a player loses his/her lives, they are out of the game. Once a team reaches 3-4 players, the time between Gauntlets is extended to allow for rest. And we go on and on and on until one team runs out of players . . . then the other side wins the game. Simple as that.

I have three additional ideas, all of which would be optional. Let’s see if you like them.

1. Team Shares

Instead of spilting team bank accounts equally, how about by the amount of work done when it counts? For every MVP honor and Gauntlet win, a player receives one additional share. I came up with this idea near the end of The Gauntlet, where Sarah would have walked away with six figures easily. That would’ve been better than my other fantasy: Sarah getting into her prize car and trying to mow down Adam, Rachel and Veronica.

2. Last Person Standing

The Duel abandoned the pretense of teamwork, letting individual players go at it for $150,000. And the results were good . . . unless you remember dickhead Wes beat Brad in the final mission. I don’t care that Wes swore off Challenges . . . he’s still a dick. But I did figure out how to make my game into an individual contest at the end.

After the final mission, the losing team goes away, and the winners get 24-48 hours to celebrate before coming back to the Gauntlet. They pick up where they left off, going in two at a time to face each other. Figure for each win in the finale, they get an additional life for this bonus stage. And the last person standing in the end doesn’t get a share of the team’s bank account . . . that person gets the same total as the team. That means if the team wins $250,000, then the one who survives the ultimate mission wins a separate $250,000 jackpot. Of course, I’m not sure BMP has that much money to give out. Also . . . can you imagine if the winner was, say, CT? How much muscle mass formula and prostitutes can a man get for a quarter million bucks? I don’t think we’re ready for something worse than Wes with $150,000.

3. The Ultimate Incentive

Now this one might be my best idea, and possibly my most evil. Go to the first episode, where the host (Rob Dyrdek in fantasy, T.J. Lavin in harsh reality) goes over the rules. The he drops the bomb: “The team that loses the final mission . . . all team members either there or at home will be barred from competing in future Challenges. FOREVER!” Cut to everybody freaking the hell out. One or two veteran players interview how shaken they are. A newbie can’t believe his first time on a Challenge could be his last. And the editors subtly drop in “Never Again” by Kelly Clarkson.

Is it mean? Hell, yes. Could decent players be screwed over? For sure. But it would be the ultimate incentive to win . . . to keep yourself, your teammates, and those unfortunate to have lost in the Gauntlet to keep suckling on that Challenge teet. I’d be unfair enough to spare anybody that had been on the winning team, up to and including a case like CT getting kicked off Inferno III for hitting Davis before a single game was played. You lose, you’re barred from Challenges and any other BMP show.

Here’s another idea which might be even more horrific: you lose, no Challenges for three years or five seasons, whichever comes first. Let’s say this was in effect during Inferno II. Out of the ten members of the losing Bad Ass team, only three have not come back to the Challenge (Dan, Karamo and Rachel), and a fourth (Veronica) only came back for Road Rules: Viewers’ Revenge. Imagine the fates of the other six: Abram, Beth, CT, Derrick, Tina and Tonya. Out of that group, only Abram has appeared in just one more Challenge (Inferno III). Tonya would’ve had to find a new way to pay off debts, which I believe was her reason for coming back every few seasons. Speaking of Tonya, she wouldn’t have done Fresh Meat, and neither would Derrick and Tina, meaning Johnny (remember him? Not the “Bananas” guy), Diem and Kenny would’ve had different partners, and maybe Diem could’ve found somebody else to get cuddly with for a longer time so she never hooks up with CT, and Kenny gets somebody as a partner who wouldn’t enable his constant need to be funny on camera. And while the ten exiled players would’ve been trapped in their own private Phantom Zone, mental midgets from The Real World, Fresh Meat and Viewers’ Revenge would be recruited to fill the void, and those excluded would be praying that there would be a place for their drama when they’d come back. Otherwise, it’s actual 9-to-5 jobs for them. I’m thinking guys like CT and Danny would resort to armed robbery if they had my 7-to-3 schedule.

So that’s my plan. If you have an opinion, like I’m missing something obvious, let me know. I’m also contemplating mailing out this essay to actual Challengers for their feedback. That would mean they’d wind up with my address, and the idea of people like Beth and Evelyn having a way to contact me upsets my stomach. The bottom line is that I don’t want to feel like an idiot for watching this crap every week. Is that too much to ask?

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