‘Full Metal Jousting,’ too much ado
Folks on this History channel reality series talk talk talk
February 9, 2012
Premiering this Sunday, Feb. 12, at 10 p.m., the series takes the venerable sport of jousting and swaddles it in layers of 21st-century reality-TV clichÃ©s. The players’ personalities aren’t strong or diverse enough to justify all the up-close-and-personal footage, so most viewers will lose interest long before the brief moments of battle that end the episode.
Some of the inside details of the sport will be interesting to people who haven’t already learned them from the National Geographic Channel’s recent series Knights of Mayhem, which was also presented as one man’s attempt to revive jousting for modern audiences. In this case, the man is Shane Adams, a champion full-contact jouster with an endearingly thick Canadian accent. At one point, he tells us, That’s what joasting is all aboat.
If jousting is going to become a major spectator sport, it won’t do so by imitating shows like Survivor and Big Brother. Like those shows and countless other reality competitions, Full Metal Jousting opens with the contestants standing in a row waiting to get instructions from their host.
The contestants ” 16 guys who all seem to have some kind of riding background ” are divided into two teams by two tough-talking coaches. As is the case on every reality show ever made, the last person picked complains that the experience revived painful memories of school sports.
That guy, a horse trainer named Jake, stands out for being soft-spoken. A relatively small show rider named James is clearly being set up as the underdog. But most of the others are the kind of bluff, macho types who tend to get voted off early on Survivor.
The teams move into living quarters over the horses’ stables ” at least we’re spared the sight of them bickering over who has to share rooms ” and then start their training. The red team does push-ups while the black team dons armor and takes turns getting smacked in the chest with a battering ram.
Some of the training is moderately involving. For example, the knights ride along a platform where one of their waiting teammates swings at their chest plate with a metal baseball bat. One trainee manages to unhorse his much more experienced coach.
The episode very gradually builds to a one-on-one competition between two champions. The black team gets to choose both its own champion, an arrogant theatrical jouster named Josh, and Josh’s opponent, an ex-Marine named Mike. The black team’s reason for choosing Mike, Josh explains, is that Mike is a leader and if you cut off the snake’s head, the snake dies.
That line confirms our suspicion that Josh has spent too much time watching reality TV, a suspicion born earlier when he announced, I’m not here to make friends. As Mike and Josh prepare for their battle, we’re subjected to endless cuts to talking-head shots of them discussing themselves, their motivations and their opponent.
Their actual backstories, however, are blurry. Mike talks incessantly about being a Marine, but then an onscreen graphic says his skill is horseback stuntman.
Experienced reality viewers will pass the time trying to guess the winner, basing their judgment on which guy’s sound bites are more obnoxious or overconfident.
The actual joust consists of eight passes, the final four with a slightly thicker lance. The point system gives jousters one point for striking a small shield bolted to their opponents’ chest; five, oddly, for breaking their own lance; and 10 for unhorsing their opponent. One loser will be eliminated each week; the last man seated at the end of the season gets $100,000.
Since the individual passes last only a few seconds, this episode provides less than a minute of actual competition. But between each joust we get endless commentary from the coaches and the participants. So even the most exciting part of the episode drags.
Full Metal Jousting isn’t a total flop, but it’s hard to resist the old pun: They shouldn’t send a knight out in a dog like this.
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