Are you a nerd? Of course you are. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t.
Then you probably already know about The Quest, ABC’s new fantasy-based reality competition that airs Thursdays at 8. (Thankfully, Hollywood Game Night is currently in re-runs, so you won’t miss out on Jane Lynch’s Emmy-nominated funstravaganza.)
If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s a one sentence summary to hook you: It’s awesomely nerdy LARPing brought to vivid life by a superawesome executive producer of The Lord of the Rings and the crazy gamemakers behind The Amazing Race.
Twelve ordinary people—called Paladins on the show—are sent on a, uh, quest to save the mythical kingdom of Everealm from an evil dude named Verlox. The contestants are thrown in a fully immersive environment, complete with actors performing an established storyline. There’s a queen (who just got poisoned! dun-dun-DUN!), a Jafar-like Grand Vizier, a demanding but dreamy head of the royal army, and the Fates. Plus, there are village people (sadly not those Village People) and goats! GOATS!
In each episode, the Paladins have to perform certain challenges—some physical, others strategic—called for by the story. (For example, evil dude Verlox may attack at any moment, so the Paladins have to prepare. Cue training montage!) And true to the rules quickly established by this fantasy world, the challenges involve things that most normal people don’t do, like attempting to crush a skull with a hammer whilst speeding by on a galloping horse. (Totally happens on Wall Street, right?)
Those who are in the proverbial “bottom three” after each challenge don’t lip sync for their lives, but they do have to perform one final challenge to prove themselves worthy. One gets saved; the other two must be voted on by the remaining Paladins. And instead of the quasi-anonymous write-in votes that Survivor uses, on this show, your supporters physically line up behind you if they don’t want you banished from the kingdom. So you get to see who’s got whose back. Literally. The one with the fewest supporters gets kicked off and sent back to the real world of traffic and mortgages and broken dreams.
The genius of this show, other than the pure fun of watching the bewildered Paladins collide with established characters and storylines, is watching the actors react to the contestants’ choices and behaviors in character. As an improviser, I can’t think of a more awesome challenge. It’s like being a Disney princess and having to deal with 35-year old gay dudes who line up with the ten-year old girls for a photo.
The other genius part is the writing. One of the producers mentioned having to do regular late night rewrites of the storyline based on what happened during the day. (The producers were also apparently *IN COSTUME* when they were around the contestants. Gaaaaaaah. How cool.) From an artists’ perspective, the pure creative genius involved in conceptualizing something like this and then ACTUALLY PULLING IT OFF is beyond amazing.
(I also have a theory — still unproven — that one of the Paladins may be a plant, a kind of subversive villain character who’ll shake up the game from the inside. If that does happen, I will gladly buy the producers a drink for the genius twist.)
If you think this show isn’t your cup of mead, I’d suggest checking it out. The show oozes nerdiness from all pores, and unashamedly so. After watching an episode, I’d challenge you not to yearn to be either a Paladin or an actor in the fully realized world of Everealm. Few reality competitions allow you to live out your nerdy fantasies with costumes and weapons and goats. This show gives those to you, and more.
Plus, it’s the perfect segue to Project Runway.