HBO Max’s ‘the Bridge’ is the next ‘survivor,’ 20 years later

TThree decades after the start of the modern-age reality TV craze, we’ve come back to where we started.

Since seven strangers first stopped being polite and started getting real in MTV’s first season in 1992 The real world, the genre has transformed and evolved – or perhaps evolved, depending on the example – through each iteration of plausibility, dignity, relevance, exploitativeness, critical appreciation, authenticity, rudeness, insight, experimentation, inventiveness and “Reality” whatever that may mean.

Given the genre’s propensity for intense and rapid mutation, it is certainly noteworthy that now, as we approach the 30th anniversary of The real world and the 20 years of Survivor, the bachelor, and American Idol, reality TV seems to have gone back to its roots. Case in point: the growing popularity of HBO Max’s The bridge, who premiered all six episodes on the streamer on February 11.

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The call of The bridge, as far as I know after bellowing its animated debut season this weekend, is that it’s the series today that most closely resembles the early seasons of Survivor, without being so blatantly a scam of Survivor that you would immediately dismiss him as a lame impersonator.

Survival reality shows have, like everything in the genre, become more and more complicated and exhausting, to the point of trolling. Beyond the likes of Naked and scared, even Survivor, yet another benchmark series all these years later, introduced so many twists and turns and rule changes that it’s dangerously close to garnering comparisons with it Bamboo game show parody on Friends. (Jeff Probst always seems one season away from yelling, “You get the Immunity Idol … and a Wicked Wango card!”)

The bridge begins by dropping off a dozen British foreigners in the middle of the wilderness, in this case the shores of a bucolic lake in the Welsh hills. They must survive for a month at their campsite on limited rations, while also completing the show’s main challenge: they have 20 days to build a bridge across the lake to an island with £ 100,000. They have to work together to build the bridge, but in the end, only one competitor wins the grand prize.

If the environment and aesthetics are different from the sunny beaches adjacent to the jungle Survivor was known for: cold, humidity and rain clouds The bridge, with narrator James McAvoy employing his comfortable brogue to warm the visual experience as best he can – the staged human experience is instantly recognizable. Outwit. Beat. Survive to. Just you know, more British. A little more polished … but maybe also, even more real.

As is the case with a show like Survivor, the game itself is both central to the show’s plot, but also an unnecessary backdrop. How will these people interact with each other under circumstances that are not just extreme at face value – staying alive in nature – but exacerbated by the physical challenge of the task at hand and the dangling carrot of many? ‘silver?

It’s a personality contest. It’s a manipulation competition. It’s a power struggle and a mental marathon.

Public observation has the advantage of being omniscient, bearing witness to all the stratagems, secrets and strategies devised by some competitors behind the backs of others. But they also endure the addicting frustration of not knowing how the hell this is going to go downhill. Nothing is more unpredictable than human behavior – the reason these shows are so juicy – and until the last moment, I rightfully had no idea who was going to be chosen to win the grand prize, a thrill akin to that of seeing Richard Hatch emerge victorious. two decades ago.

Could it be Zac, the stripper with more abs than he should be biologically possible, whose ego motivated him to run for a team leader, a position his inevitable failures have put a strain on. target on his back? Or Sly, the 60-year-old Londoner who is one of the few candidates with experience in designing something like a floating bridge, but whose age-acquired lack of filter bristled against authorized whippersnappers at the camp?

The appeal of “The Bridge,” as far as I know after bellowing its animated debut season this weekend, is that it’s today’s series that most closely resembles the early seasons of “Survivor.” “.

Would Tara’s recent recovery from battling COVID and her desire to live life more fully bring her to victory? Or would it be more beneficial to fly under the radar (Sam), assert yourself as a dominating force (Sarah), or just be nice (Julie)?

As could often be the case with SurvivorThe rules of the game when it comes to building the bridge, which seem to be introduced and changed on a whim, can sometimes be confusing. But the show’s big advantage is that it creates a storyline where, in theory, the task at hand is so tangible – building a bridge across the lake – that its progress, or lack thereof, makes it the kind of pressure cooker that defines all the personalities involved. at an instant boiling point.

The most fascinating aspects of The bridge, then, are the most human: the gender dynamics when it comes to a challenge that requires brute force, the resentment that kicks in when someone doesn’t weigh their weight or becomes too outspoken for their own. own good, or the times when actors should be making their case as to why they or someone else should stay in the game.

(Does one of those speeches touch on Sue’s iconic rat and snake monologue in the first Survivor? Of course not. Is there a moment of reality?)

Which means The bridge is, for all its slight flaws and patchy storytelling, refreshing.

There is a call for The bridge which almost reads as nostalgic for the reality bomb era. While the cinematography is gorgeous, it’s not overproduced like so many modern competitive series are, to the point where you wonder if anything is genuine: Was this moment orchestrated by producers? Was this person fed online? Would the competition really be shaken up this way?

At the risk of being repetitive, that’s what was so great about these early Survivor seasons; As much of a complex monster as the series has become, there was a fascinating simplicity when it began. The big moments were organic, so now everything can seem staged, and every person who appears on a reality TV series does so as a student decades of examples before. Being “good at reality TV” is now marketed as a skill. Once upon a time, it just meant that a person could be themselves. The bridge seems to suggest that it is possible to come back to this.

At a time when the genre of reality TV seemed to lose the intrigue, it is visibly returning to its roots to find itself.

There is a stripped down appeal to “The Bridge” that reads almost like nostalgia for the reality bomb era.

E! Next month is airing a documentary series hosted by Andy Cohen entitled For real: the story of reality TV, on the history and evolution of the genre. The series not only hosts a reunion of the original The real world casting but also a conversation with the stars of keeping up with the Kardashians, as the juggernaut finishes its influential race.

While reality TV has taken a quick detour over the past few years into a closed-off pop culture arena where it was seen as ‘guilty pleasure’ or an insane distraction, it has recently been reloaded into a space where la demand is to engage with the world as we know it.

You certainly see it on The real housewives franchise and through Bravo, which has incorporated conversations about race, politics, sexuality, and the pandemic. You see it in the Bachelor Nation fan revolt against The single person series and its host Chris Harrison for the deaf way they treat the breed. You see it in the meteoric rise of recent years RuPaul’s Drag Race, who found that a series of competitions can be made even richer and more entertaining when they focus on the reality of the LGBT + experience or the recent popularity of Queer Eye to restart.

Does the gimmicky reality TV series still exist? Without a doubt. But there’s even something back in the sheer stupidity of something like Love is blind, which has echoes of Married at first sight and Joe Millionaire in his ridiculous bait, or Too hot to handle it, the Netflix series that challenged its hot young cast to stay single and failed because she couldn’t allow herself to embrace how really stupid she really was. This cardinal rule of reality TV is to know what you are and to lean into it.

What has tormented reality in recent years is a loss of identity. An attempt to shock, go viral, or catch viewers with absurdity and escalating bad behavior has made these shows lose any resemblance to reality. It’s heartwarming to see this cyclical return to the genre’s fundamental roots: the illusion that something real and unprecedented is happening as you watch – even so far from your own reality.

Build a bridge over a Welsh lake and hope you’ve impressed enough people to win £ 100,000? It is no closer to my reality than proposing to a person even before having seen his face, to take a walk naked on the beach to celebrate my birthday on Survivor, or share a New York apartment with seven strangers while the cameras are filming. But when those shows are anchored enough, you can project yourself into those scenarios and assess how you would react. Do you want to stop being polite and start getting real?

You can think about this when the original Real world the cast reunites for a new series airing March 4 on Paramount +. In reality TV, as in life, everything old is new.

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