"In life, everyone gets knocked down. What matters is how fast you get up." That's deep Sly. So opens the premiere episode of NBC's latest reality show, The Contender.
I must say that I've never understood the fascination with boxing. Most fans and participants probably view the sport as the ultimate mental and physical challenge. I see it as intelligent cockfighting; wrestling without the personality. So why did I watch this show? Because it has heart, or at least that's what hosts Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard have been repeating in the press. (And being Monday night, there was little programming alternative).
Here's how the show works:
Sixteen of the most promising professional boxers compete for the dream experience: To fight live at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas for a million dollars.
“Who'll have the heart, who'll have the courage, who'll dare to be great?” Who writes these awful lines?!
The contenders are divided into two teams, uncreatively named "The West Coast" (Death Row) and "The East Coast" (Bad Boy). In each episode, the teams compete in a gut-wrenching physical challenge. The winning team gets to choose which two players fight in the episode's boxing match finale because, in the words of Sugar Ray, “You never choose who your opponents are.” Whoever loses the match goes home with nothing but a dream deferred.
Sound familiar? That's probably because Executive Producer Mark Burnett recycles the formulas of other reality shows, namely The Apprentice, Survivor, The Biggest Loser, hell, even MTV's Real World vs. Road Rules Challenge. Sure some of those are his shows, but still...
Hey, which of these guys committed suicide?
This particular episode's challenge had something to do with moving logs. I apologize for not being more specific, but I made a cup of tea and lost focus. Anyhow, the West Coast - or as Dr. Dre once proclaimed “The Best Coast” - won.
While it might seem smart to begin with a weak player fighting a weaker player, they decided to have their novice wild child Alfonso Gomez fight the other team's undefeated 21-0 champ Peter Manfredo. Hit ‘em up hard.
To fill time the fifteen minutes of pre-fight time, producers rolled Olympic-inspired family segments, combined with a pointless press conference, the highlight of which was a verbal “East Coast-West Coast” fight. Gotta say, it's not so entertaining to see boxers spar words. Let's keep it purely physical boys.
And then the fighting began. But first, pan on celebrities in the house!! James Caan! Melanie Griffith! Tim “Santa Clause” Allen! Hey, where's Carl Weathers? He can't be too busy.
Attempts at making this fight look mild for NBC's housewife demographic were successful, especially with frequent shots of Peter's young wife and child. Nothing like seeing daddy getting beat up. Attempts at making this fight look real for sports aficionados...eh, not as successful. The fight basically consisted of flashy camera work, a few punches, and a moving soundtrack likely scored by John Williams.
In the end, it was the underdog Alfonso Gomez who emerged as this episode's champ. Because of the housewife factor, it was difficult to tell if his victory was huge or slight. What was clearly conveyed was the heartbroken emotion of “loser” Peter. "I feel like I let everyone down. I've been fighting since I was 5 years old. Where do I go from here?" Geez! And this wasn't even the guy who committed suicide!
Bottom line: If you gave Million Dollar Baby a thumbs up, you'll likely champion this show too. If you thought Clint's film was bullshit, continue to tune into The Simpsons and ratings-starved Arrested Development. Or just watch one of the other formulaic reality shows.
The Contender airs on Sundays 8/7.