I’m not generally a fan of reality TV. I haven’t watched a full season of Survivor since the first, I’ve never watched a complete season of Amazing Race, and beyond the original season of The Real World, I’m not sure anything has really come close to true reality television, anyway. If ever a show was finally going to woo me to the “reality” side of TV though, it would be ABC’s The Quest where twelve participants – a.k.a. paladins – fight for the chance to wield the Sunspear and save Everealm from the encroaching Verlox and his evil army.
My bar for quality is set high, however, and TV time is precious little in life, so now that we’re two episodes in, has The Quest earned a place in my TV viewing pantheon?
In a word, no.
Let me be clear – if you like reality TV and high fantasy, you’ll probably enjoy The Quest. It’s a nice little summer show that’s attempting to stretch what reality TV can be. Although valiant in the attempt, the execution is a bit flawed by my measure, and flawed enough that I’ll not set the DVR for it.
Cursed with a “slow” spell
My first problem with the show is one that I have against every reality show I’ve ever seen, and that’s inefficient use of time. Taking out commercials and credits, there’s roughly 40 minutes to fill with content per episode. Of those 40 minutes, I feel like I get 20-25 minutes worth of meaningful, original content per show. Rehashes of what happened last week aren’t original content. Resetting the episode after a commercial break isn’t original content. I also don’t consider video of the setting content, either – it’s nice, but I can see pictures and video of most settings online or in a book somewhere. And then there’s the worst offender – the pregnant/dramatic pause before contest or elimination results are revealed. That’s annoying, not entertaining, and it makes me want to NOT watch.
In addition to displaying all of that, The Quest moves both its plot line and the competitions along relatively slowly. I feel like in the time allotted we could get two competitions in one episode, or learn more about Verlox, or Everealm, or anything. Surely this content is spread out to fill a half-season’s worth of episodes, though, and thus The Quest becomes like every other reality show out there…it’s cursed with a slow spell, moving only about half as fast as it could/should.
Dazed with a “confuse” spell
My second problem is that The Quest is trying to do two things at once, and ends up not doing either particularly well. On one hand, The Quest is trying to bring the audience into a fantasy setting where story drives the days’ events. To their credit, the producers and directors have created a wonderful castle setting, complete with a period-appropriate cast of citizens and void of electricity and running water. To wit, the contestants had no modern bathing facilities and had to use buckets and water to wash themselves. Unfortunately this setting was captured on video tape instead of film, and this violates what our brains have been trained to expect – never have we been exposed to a fully fleshed-out fantasy, sci-fi, or comic book world captured on video. It’s always been film, so there’s immediately cognitive dissonance in the viewer’s mind – is this a fantasy world, or *the* best costume party ever put on?
When I asked Rob Eric, one of the executive producers of The Quest, about the matter, he replied with…
— Rob Eric (@roberic1) August 1, 2014
I admitedly know extremely little about television and movie production so I have no idea how much tape costs vs. film, but apparently film is two whole, crazy $’s more expensive than video tape. The use of the fancy cameras is definitely noticeable vs. something like what was used to tape The Cosby Show or other sitcoms, soap operas, and “live” shows, but it sadly wasn’t enough to completely bridge the gap between how my brain expects to see a fantasy world and how the show was captured.
In addition to telling the tale of troubled Everealm, The Quest is also a reality competition…or is it? No prize has been announced for the final paladin standing. In fact, in an interview with Variety, executive producer Jane Flemming states that, “We talked at length about having a prize. It just felt wrong, like ‘Oh, you’re the One True Hero and here’s a new car.’” On one hand, this is fantastic and gives credence to referring to the particpants as paladins – a very “others before self” thing, where the only goal is salvation of the kingdom. On the other hand, if they’re all “competing” to help each other save the realm, who are we rooting for? What are we rooting for? We don’t know enough about the setting or plot to be emotionally invested into the story yet, and it’s hard to root for a participant when they aren’t really “competing” towards a known, tangible goal. In short, the audience is left wondering if this is a competitive or co-op setting – PvP or PvE. I tried to clarify this with Eric, to which he responded…
The prophecy which he’s referring to states that out of twelve paladins, one will be the true hero to reform the Sunspear and save Everealm; and The Fates, a la Greek mythology, are three detached goddesses that watch the story unfold and ultimately instruct the banished paladins to “meet their fate” as they exit the simulation. Based on the lack of prize and Eric’s response, the best I can gather is that the show is ultimately intended to be a cooperative effort, but the the competitive aspects of it prevent me from fully buying into the cooperative concept. I’d have been able to accept it more if they all carried on to the end as one or two parties (more similar to a role-playing game) where ultimately one paladin was chosen. Instead, I’m left a little unsure of exactly what I’m watching.
Desensitized with a “disinterested” spell
I wanted to like this show. I mean I *really* wanted to like this show! I wanted to get into the story, root for a paladin, and cheer when Verlox gets cut down (he *will* be defeated, right?). Instead, I’m two hours in and find myself knowing barely anything about the setting of Everealm, and the only paladin that’s proven to be memorable is Shondo, an MMA fighter who definitely looks and acts the part. This is a bit paradoxical for me because I generally don’t care about people’s back stories and such, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested into someone without knowing more about them. What’s worse, I had to go digging to even verify that the main villain’s name was Verlox. The antagonist should be memorable enough that I don’t have to Google him just to remember him. Instead, I find myself in a position where I either haven’t even been told what makes him a bad dude, or, if I have, I certainly can’t recall it (which might be an even worse television sin). Either way, I find myself simply not caring, and in a show like this with an unfamiliar setting and unfamiliar participants, not caring is the kiss of death.
Healed with a “cure” spell
Despite what my gripes with the show might indicate, the news isn’t all bad. The castle setting is indeed intriguing, and the competitions themselves are interesting and run somewhat counter to what you would expect – particularly the horseshoe redemption trial at the end of episode two, which was brilliantly conceived and enacted. The costumes and make-up are top-notch, and some of the villains’ faces seem to give Predator a run for its money with the servo-controlled parts and effects/make-up. What might be the best part of the show, however, isn’t the show at all, but rather the production team who so willingly engages with the audience during/after the show and throughout the week. Poor Rob Eric’s fingers have probably had the ‘prints worn off from excessive tweeting! Both he and Flemming – @HarveyFlemming on Twitter if you’d like to follow her – have done and continue to do an outstanding job of recruiting and communicating with members of #TheQuest faithful.
I applaud the team for trying to push the boundaries of reality TV and producing a storyline-driven reality show, and if you’re a fan of either reality TV, fantasy settings, or LARPing then I highly encourage you to check out the show. The Quest definitely has some strong points and the producers absolutely make it fun to be a fan of their work. The pace of the show, unclear genre, and lack of emotional investment into the setting or the players, however, ultimately leaves me wanting to change the channel. I’ll probably pay attention to how the show progresses, and when the webcast kicks off in September I’ll likely discuss it until only one paladin is left standing. It just won’t be required viewing in the Blogadin household (unless, of course, y’all demand otherwise, in which case I would be compelled to acquiesce to the demands of my audience).
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