On February 24, Netflix launched its first ever reality TV series, “Ultimate Beastmaster,” created specifically for streaming audiences. The show features skilled competitors from all over the world taking on an impossibly dangerous and challenging obstacle course known as “The Beast.” The big question, of course, is whether “Ultimate Beastmaster” will be a success for Netflix.
The first thing you need to know about the show is that “Ultimate Beastmaster” has absolutely no relationship with the 1980s sword and sorcery cult film “The Beastmaster” starring Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts. Instead, this is a reality show executive produced by Sylvester Stallone and Dave Broome (creator of “The Biggest Loser”) in which “the Beast” is an extraordinarily difficult obstacle course pitting 108 different competitors from 6 different countries – the United States, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Germany and Japan – against each other. That’s 18 different competitors from each of the 6 nations.
In judging whether this streaming TV series is going to be a success or not, here are five important factors to keep in mind…
This show is really part of Netflix’s broader strategy of branching out into 130 different countries to transform the company into a truly global powerhouse. Thus, one core aspect of this show is making sure that it appeals to a global audience. Not only are there 108 different competitors (18 from each nation), there are also 6 different teams of announcers (one from each of the nations).
Moreover, there are 6 different show formats, each designed for a specific audience. Thus, the audience watching in the U.S. is mostly going to see U.S. athletes, while the audience watching in Brazil is mostly going to see Brazilian athletes. The idea is to create the same type of national pride that one gets from watching a major sporting event like the Olympics. (In one teaser clip, the show’s hosts are shown chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”)
The one narrative element that ties together the show is “the Beast.” Each part of the obstacle course is modeled on a different part of the beast’s body. So the key to creating compelling drama is to make this unscripted show as exciting as possible. For that to happen, there needs to be a general consensus that the show is really based on talent and grit, and not just blind luck. The best and most talented team should win, not just the luckiest.
One of the underlying motifs of the show is that it’s “like a videogame.” In order to succeed, competitors have to move to the next “level.” So it’s obvious is that the way the action is filmed is going to reinforce that perspective. In a world where even ESPN now covers e-sports, this videogame narrative could prove to be a surprisingly effective tactic.
The (unofficial) star of the show is probably Sylvester Stallone, who is one of the executive producers. In fact, some critics have noted that the whole show has been imbued with “Stallone machismo.” In terms of athletes to follow, the one that the show appears to be staking the most on is former U.S. Olympic swimmer Ed Moses. He’s the “hero” featured in all the “Ultimate Beastmaster” clips for U.S. audiences.
So, just as certain stars emerge during the Olympics, the hope on the part of Netflix is that certain stars of this reality show will also emerge, complete with their own fan base. In the trailers for the show, Netflix is playing up that some of the athletes are quite accomplished in other fields of athletic endeavor.
The two hosts of the U.S. version of the show are Terry Crews (from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and Charissa Thompson (from Extra TV and Fox Sports). For now, they’ve drawn less than favorable reviews as they try to explain what’s happening to the athletes when they try to navigate “the beast.” One critic complained of the “vapid, empty, worthless commentary.” Listening to the co-hosts say stuff like, “Wow, that sure looks hard,” isn’t going to win over too many fans. These hosts need to be more like the hosts of “American Idol.”
Netflix has always been known as an innovator in the streaming TV space, so it will be interesting to see what kinds of twists and turns the streaming giant can bring to the reality TV format. Executive producer Dave Broome, when talking about why he helped to make the show, explained that Netflix gave him a lot of creative freedom to make the show as compelling as possible for audiences. That’s partially what’s behind the idea to create 6 different shows for 6 different markets.
For now, though, the show looks and feels much like what you’d expect from an obstacle course competition series like “American Ninja Warrior,” just with a few high-tech bells and whistles. For example, Netflix shot this series in 4K with 50+ cameras.
This may be the first reality TV series from Netflix, but it’s not the first-ever reality TV show from a streaming giant. Amazon, for example, created a QVC-style show (“Style Code Live”) that was meant to create some synergies with its online e-commerce business. The basic thinking was that people would check out some of the styles featured in “Style Code Live” and then go to Amazon.com and purchase them. But that didn’t exactly work out as planned, with the show garnering only mixed reviews.
The big takeaway from all this is that creating a show simply to fill a business need – creating a global reality TV show to make it easier to expand globally – sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always work out in practice.
That being said, it’s exciting to see that Sylvester Stallone is back in the game, and maybe he can turn “Ultimate Beastmaster” into an audience smash. It’s already picked up some good reviews (7.7/10.0 on IMDb) online, and so it’s just a matter of convincing Netflix’s millions of TV show fans to also check out the next great reality TV show. Check out Ultimate Beastmaster on Netflix with a fantastic internet connection in your home.