Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Tout le Mole

Remember how a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post detailing all the things that would conspire to make the relaunched, reformatted Australian version of The Mole a complete and utter catastrofail? And then how I was proven entirely correct when it was dumped in a late-night timeslot, like, almost exactly a week later? Well, as the season limps on, it seems I was perhaps being too generous with my critique. Believe it or not, The Mole keeps getting worse and worse, to the point where it's beginning to look a lot like another 'Tom Williams plus live eliminations!' season might have actually been preferable. I know. I KNOW.

Spoilers ahead, in every sense of the word - discussion of the season to date, discussion of the season result thanks to incompetence on the part of people who really should be smart enough to know better, discussion of the future of the show Seven replaced with this mess, minor discussion of upcoming Aussie reality shows on other channels - and all the faults are now so intertwined I'm not going to split them up this time. Also, swearing. And Soylent Green may or may not be people.

The most obvious issue is the pacing. It was one thing when the season premiere basically had a grand total of one-and-one-third challenges in it, but it really doesn't seem to have improved by enough. Take the most recent double episode, for example. Though each episode in the original 7:30 timeslot was extended by fifteen minutes to fit more commercials, the individual episodes are back to their usual one-hour pace in the 9:30 slot. So how was it that, with five full challenges, an elimination, fewer commercials, and a total of thirty minutes less airtime, the episodes still dragged on unbearably? I... literally do not even know how they managed to do it.

While this show may also be a casualty in the apparent desire for fatally sluggish television, I'm starting to think there may be another victim: The Amazing Race Australia. You see, the reason we have this show instead of that is because it was too expensive to produce a show on that scale for the ratings it was getting. But instead of, say, putting it in a decent timeslot and advertising it effectively, Channel Seven apparently decided to investigate the cost-effectiveness of making a stripped (nightly) version of the show to get more episodes for the same amount of money. Of course, if you're going to attempt it with a reasonable chance of failure, it makes more sense to potentially ruin a lower-budget show in your guinea pig scenario instead of forking out the extra money for another race and have it fail just as miserably, essentially destroying the potential of two shows (both the local race and the American one) in the process. My thought right now is that a third Amazing Race Australia is only going to happen if Seven fail to learn from their litany of errors here and strip the show regardless of what happened with The Mole: Soap Opera Edition. And that's not going to happen, especially since advertisers (most notably the Nova radio stations, who had tie-in competitions promoted through onscreen graphics) seem to be pulling out of The Mole left, right, and centre.

Of course, one of the things Seven could have done effectively even with the show as it is would be to prevent the results from being leaked. And they didn't. Sure, the Mole was never going to go undetected for the entire season - not least of all because they clearly chose Shaun, who had as much chance of going undetected as the rotting corpse of Marcel Marceau has of winning next year's Eurovision Song Contest - but managing your show's website to prevent spoilers is a basic thing, and yet you can tell that Nick is the winner. How? Each player has two headshots uploaded to the website, one normal one to show they are still competing and a shaded one (in the background, ready to be switched over as needed) to show their elimination... except Nick, who only has the normal one. Ergo, he is the last player standing -- and for the record, we already know he believes Shaun is the Mole, since he gave Shaun the two jokers he was forced to give away in order to remove them from the game (explaining it to us with this exact reasoning).

But you know what? I don't care that Nick is the winner. I don't care that Shaun is the Mole. I don't even care which of the other players joins them in the final three. Which, frankly, is absolutely fucking ridiculous. Counting the extra time added to the first seven 'hours' of the season, this show has already been on for longer than any of the other five previous seasons, and I still don't give a shit about any of the players. Why not? My only possible theory is the casting people were so obsessed with the Culture Clash bullshit that they forgot to check the people they cast (1) were actually enjoyable to watch and (2) had any awareness of how the game works. I mean, take out the people who have proven themselves to be insufferable assholes (all the men minus Hillal, plus Ally) and the people so dull you forget they even exist until they turn up in a clearly scripted confessional (Hillal, the woman who kinds of looked like Jan but wasn't nearly as fun, the blonde one, and Q-Bert), and you're already down to three, one of whom didn't last long enough to judge. And is anyone really that invested in Kerrie or Aisha to stick around, especially since they were two of the main people the editors were trying to get us to hate early on?

Shura, by the way, continues to be lovely - and confirmed the 'prominent, highly-respected Australian celebrity' he introduced a pixellated portrait of himself with was intended as mildly sarcastic, which earns him ten extra points for Hufflepuff (because you just know he is) - but dude is still not working in terms of hosting this show. I'm not sure how much of it is that he's uncomfortable in the role, which is unlikely given it isn't his first time as a game show host, and how much of it is that the scripting is so bad not even Grant Bowler could make it sound natural, but it's gotten to the point where I'm muting the show whenever he starts talking. And I really don't want to be forced to do that. But here we are.

You'll note that up above I used the term 'jokers' instead of 'freebies', and not just in protest at how stupid the latter sounds. In many ways, that little, seemingly insignificant change is the epitome of this revival's flaws. You see, the producers have been so inspired by the long-running Dutch version of The Mole that they've basically gone and copied the entire thing. Most of this season's challenges (pretty much all of the ones that might have had some promise if handled competently) have come from there, as has the concept of the jokers/freebies, the pointless addition of the team selecting a treasurer to look after prop banknotes representing the kitty, and the decision to give each player a journal to track their suspects. Pretty much if they'd copied any more, Seven might as well have hired the people at SBS to put subtitles on the Dutch episodes and aired them instead. But would they have needed to? You see, at the time the producers would have been planning this season, there were four seasons of the Dutch version uploaded to Youtube with English subtitles (this year's Dutch season has since joined them). Out of the nineteen challenges we've had so far, all but three are adapted forms of challenges from these four specific seasons. Coincidence? I doubt it, especially when the four seasons in question aren't chronological.

There are several issues here: Firstly, recycling challenges and expecting people not to realise. Aside from being condescending and insulting to the audience, in this instance it's fair to assume that if they were able to find the subtitled seasons others also were. (Indeed, I did. Two years ago, back when only two seasons had been done.) This is the same reason I'm frustrated with Channel Nine's apparent decision to use a twist for this year's Big Brother that was already oldhat internationally TEN YEARS AGO. Secondly, recycling challenges and making them worse. If you're going to go to the effort of claiming credit for someone else's idea, at least make sure you're doing it properly. Among the other blunders, adding pointless binary decision after pointless binary decision - the shortcut envelopes in the opening challenge, the champagne tower in the sandbag challenge, having to choose one Scattergories category from each of two pairs instead of picking any two from the full list, the offer to wager a set amount of money on an increased prize in a quiz challenge and so on - to recycled challenges to make them seem more inventive just makes you look like idiots who don't understand the potential of this show. Thirdly, recycling challenges that didn't work the first time. There was absolutely no reason to recycle the opening hiking challenge, or to adapt the challenge that became Keys to Comfort, or the kite treasure hunt, especially since all of them were made worse when adapted. Next, recycling challenges that worked the first time, but completely ignoring what made them work. Even with the slow pace, why on EARTH would you save a challenge that's all about exposing the group's burgeoning alliances and their fear of being the first player eliminated (Path to Temptation, the game in the State Library with the boxes) until the tenth challenge of the season, when two players have already been booted? For that matter, why would you take a challenge designed to exploit the group getting to the point where they are narrowing down their Mole suspect (Chain Gang) and put it before the first elimination? As another example, I know I pointed out the season starting with three Walk Over There challenges in the first critique, but since then we've found ourselves having to endure what were essentially five quiz challenges in a row, with the pixellated images, aerobatic tricks, location distances, a 'how many fingers am I holding up?' game, and a giant spot the difference puzzle. Because you know what makes television seem fast-paced? Q and A.

And then the two original challenges we've seen so far (the third of the challenges not taken from the subtitled Dutch seasons was taken from another Dutch season) have been among the worst challenges to have ever existed on The Mole. And I should know. The first was basically another Walk Over There challenge with players rolling a ball down portable gutters for an hour, except half of them aren't doing anything at all, except they can break the minimal rules as much as they want as long as someone calls them out on it. Believe it or not, that was basically the entire challenge. Still, at least it offered the opportunity for subtle sabotage. The second, on the other hand, had no such hook. It was literally 'ride a zipline and hit pinatas with prizes on them', with the only additional rules being blatant stopgap measures to stop players from smashing everything on the way down - only the first pinata broken by a player counted, and individual prizes awarded were given to the player on the randomly-selected baseball bat used. It was even more terrible than I'm making it sound.

It's not as if we can't come up with decent ideas in this country - the infamous PYRO timebomb challenge in season two of this show was original, as was Big Brother's 'ignore the obvious' challenge, and even fucking Australian Survivor is responsible for the American version's glut of 'obstacle course with puzzle at the end' challenges - so to see show after show after show resort to recycling things from overseas simply because of sheer laziness and inability to even want to try anything new is, frankly, offensive and ridiculous. There's absolutely no reason Australia can't be a world leader in terms of quality. If you hire the right people, yes, you might still get an occasional failure like the gutter challenge, but you'll also stand a much better chance of having a high-quality product that can help recoup the costs of making the thing when sold to other countries. Do a show properly, you get Masterchef. Do a show poorly, you get The Mole. Shouldn't be too hard to realise, should it?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guiding the Guide

I've done The Mole. I've done The Crystal Maze. I've even done Survivor twice. All with different formats. And pretty much every time I even open a draft of a challenge guide now, I find myself hating the format and wanting to rearrange everything to make it easier for my readers to follow. So I thought I'd go directly to the source and ask you how YOU want future guides to be presented. I've come up with a shortlist of alternatives for each of five important elements, each with pros and cons listed, and I'd like your input. Just comment on this post and I'll take your thoughts into consideration as I update the existing guides and continue to write guides for even more shows. (Obviously, if you can take the time to explain said thoughts that would be even better, but... eh, I'm not picky.)


Option 1: Shorthand text.
Pros: Short paragraphs.
Cons: Important details may be lost. Nobody can rant concisely.

Option 2: Full, text-based paragraphs.
Pros: Detailed coverage.
Cons: Possible TL;DR-ness for more complex challenges.

Option 3: Text, divided into appropriate sections (eg Rules, Prize, Commentary) as needed.
Pros: Easy to vary as needed for different shows, easy to search for necessary information.
Cons: Disjointed read.

Option 4: Simple table - title on the left, details on the right.
Pros: Quicker to scan down the titles to find particular challenges.
Cons: Same problems as using any of the above text approaches. Not all titles will be official. Why not just use Control-F?

Option 5: Table, divided into appropriate sections (eg Rules, Prize, Commentary) as needed.
Pros: Easy to search.
Cons: Will be too wide for portrait (normal) A4 presentation, and table cells will be too tall to fit more than a couple on a landscape page, making printing pages impractical. Tough to vary for different shows without changing appearance.


Option 1: Copy-paste descriptions.
Pros: Saves searching. Easy to adapt for minor variations.
Cons: Tedious. Increases file size.

Option 2: Cross-referencing.
Pros: Short, reduces file size.
Cons: Pain in the ass when used frequently. Pain in the ass when challenges have very minor, near pointless variations (especially when the variant is then reused).


Option 1: All twists treated as challenges and listed when they occur.
Pros: Listed when needed. Same format.
Cons: Repeated twists, for example Amazing Race non-eliminations. No differentiation.

Option 2: Alternate colour, but listed when they occur.
Pros: Easy to tell them apart from challenges.
Cons: Eyesore. Repeated twists.

Option 3: Separate table, at the start of the relevant season.
Pros: Simple.
Cons: Non-chronological. Twists returning from former/international seasons - ignored or included?

Option 4: Paragraph, at the start of the relevant season.
Pros: Simple. Easy to counter returning twists.
Cons: Multiple twists, returning or otherwise, could get confusing.

Option 5: Only challenge-esque twists included, listed as challenges.
Pros: Avoids repetition.
Cons: Some major elements, for example Survivor's hidden Immunity Idols, will be ignored.

Option 6: All twists for a show listed before the first version.
Pros: Easy reference.
Cons: Tough to follow. What if a twist is directly tied to a challenge?


Option 1: Ignore spoilers at all cost.
Pros: No spoilers.
Cons: Will make some challenges and twists nigh on impossible to describe accurately.

Option 2: Puzzle solutions etc only, regular text.
Pros: Still no result spoilers.
Cons: Readers lose ability to try and solve puzzle themselves. Knowledge of season results often needed for Idol et al song selections and quiz challenge questions and answers.

Option 3: Puzzle solutions and quiz questions/answers only, coded text.
Pros: No result spoilers. Allows readers to try and solve puzzle.
Cons: Text-based solutions are usually wordy and decoding them could take more time than simply figuring out the puzzle on your own.

Option 4: If they come up, they come up.
Pros: Makes accurately describing challenges and twists much easier.
Cons: Constant risk of spoilers.

Option 5: Spoil everything, regular text.
Pros: Complete coverage.
Cons: Someone WILL skip past spoiler warnings and STILL complain.

Option 6: Spoil everything, coded text.
Pros: Complete coverage for those who want it.
Cons: Who would decode a result spoiler?


Option 1: By country, alphabetically, then by season.
Pros: Easy to navigate to particular seasons.
Cons: Impractical for regional versions, co-productions, and shows with recurring challenges. US versions usually original and/or most copied but often last alphabetically.

Option 2: By country, chronologically by debut, then by season.
Pros: General chronology.
Cons: Essentially pointless unless each version only lasts for a single season. Hard to scan back and forth between versions - no logical order unless you know a show's history. Can't skip seasons with not enough available information.

Option 3: By country, US first then alphabetically, then by season.
Pros: Many readers looking only for US information.
Cons: Seems random if US version wasn't the original.

Option 4: By country, original country first then alphabetically, then by season.
Pros: A nod to the origin of a show.
Cons: Deviation from standard order could be confusing.

Option 5: Individual seasons listed chronologically by debut.
Pros: Tracks the history and development of a show - surely should be included in a detailed guide?
Cons: Tough to find particular seasons, or to read only sections for a single version.

Option 6: Categorised, for example 'Obstacle Courses' and 'Local Delicacy' challenges.
Pros: Easy to find similar challenges.
Cons: Amazing Race Detours, and other tasks that fit into two categories. Tasks so unique they don't fit anywhere. Tough to find exact challenges.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Colonel Bastard in the Library with the Re-Mole-ver

First things first: Recap of and commentary on Week 1's challenges. (Orange boxes mark challenges recycled from other versions, with the original episodes listed beneath the titles, which are bolded if official. NL = Netherlands.) (As a sidenote, while recycling ideas from foreign versions is good in moderation, I'd rather go and watch the fan-subtitled original Dutch seasons most of these challenges are taken from on Youtube than sit through a vastly inferior copy.)

Look, first I wasn't originally planning to share my thoughts at all outside of the usual internet forums and such. Then, after being convinced by Steve Molk and whatever Twitter nickname he's using today, I considered doing a weekly wrap. But then after sitting down to write it, I realised that there's no point when there's really no tension at all in the hunt. And also, there's no point writing a weekly wrap when, if the show's ratings get almost literally any worse (they're down 25% within two days), the show is likely to be cancelled by the end of the week. But in the meantime, it's Shaun. Consider the following:

1. In the opening hiking challenge, he is the first to realise the instructions don't tell them they have to bring their suitcases with them. He justifies this to the rest of his team with a slip of the tongue, saying with absolute certainty "We're not gonna get penalised for leaving our luggage here", despite having been given no indication at that point that there were any penalties of any kind. At the end of the challenge, his team and another team are penalised a total of $800 for leaving their eight suitcases behind. Whether this slip was intended as the standard 'blatant first episode clue' remains to be seen, but I wouldn't be too surprised if it was.

2. His team is the only one of the three teams to open their shortcut envelope, taking a rescue car to the challenge's finish line but being fined $5000 in the process. The two girls in the four-person group are hesitant to even consider the shortcut, but his slow walking throughout the start of the challenge is apparently a major contributor to Alex misjudging the passage of time and agreeing to taking the shortcut. (He also attempts to walk in the wrong direction, wasting more time, but is immediately corrected by his team.)

3. He goes first in the high-wire relay challenge, and succeeds. It doesn't sound like a sabotage when you look at it on its own, but as part of the larger picture - where if a pair fails their attempt, the money won so far during the challenge resets to zero - it means that when a pair fails, which was bound to happen either accidentally or by someone deliberately pretending to be the Mole, the amount of prize money is cut from $16,000 to a maximum of $4000. You look good, and yet you still manage to win nothing. (His crossing was negated by the very next pair.)

4. In the 'Money Bags' challenge, which involved groups of six players using an assortment of supplies to transport up to twenty sandbags along a trail from opposite directions to meet each other, he creates a simple carrier that is inefficient (only carrying three sandbags) and just plain didn't work (Aisha is later seen carrying the two component poles with no sandbags attached). The design is part of the reason twelve sandbags - worth a total of $1200 - are left behind.

5. In the same challenge, having been told that "there's more money up for grabs today than there has been at any time in the game so far", he wastes time arguing about stopping at the $10,000 bonus flag, which if the two groups were to meet would have been added to the value of their sandbags for a total of at most $14,000. The problem? Both prior challenges were worth more. (He may have known the other group had a chance to swap their sandbags for a $10,000 pyramid of champagne glasses, but the rest of his group didn't, and they have no reason to stop.) Had they stopped, the challenge would have failed and they wouldn't have won $10,800.

6. When searching a disused fortress for keys in the first part of a challenge, he is the only player to find more than one. After the search is complete, it is revealed that there was nothing to be gained from finding keys, but that with more keys found, there is more chance for money from the kitty to be spent on camping gear for the night. One of his keys is not used, but the other opens a $1000 crate representing dinner and dessert even though a $100 crate of survival rations had already been opened. (He is also notably the only person supporting Nick's decision to open a $750 crate containing sleeping mats without consulting the group, despite $500 having already been spent on tents.)

7. In a challenge the following day designed to give players a chance to recoup their losses from the previous night, he puts himself in the 'puzzle solver' group that determines the result of the challenge, then does not contribute when his group faces their part of the challenge. (Unlike past instances where players are categorised and split, there doesn't appear to be a set number of puzzle solvers, meaning the Mole was always going to wind up in the group.) Despite this, his group is successful and the money is won, although approximately half is removed because the other group allegedly failed to complete their part of the challenge (which would have made the second half impossible, not that anyone analyzes this show or anything).

8. The only way to sabotage the final challenge of the week is to take an exemption and condemn yourself and other players to spending the night chained up outside. The challenge was passed, suggesting the Mole was one of the earlier players to forgo the exemption and unchain themselves - if they take the exemption early it's too suspicious, if they take it near the end, it's almost understandable. Shaun was second person chosen to make a selection.

9. The other players are clearly almost all expecting another 'under the radar' Mole based on the approaches taken by the previous five. It seems plausible that, expecting this, producers chose the most brash, opinionated player of the bunch as a way of making the game less predictable. It seems obvious that Shaun would have fallen onto everyone's radar almost instantly (both with the first challenge and with his general belligerence), but how many of them would have kept him there rather than discounting him as too over-the-top to be the Mole based on what they know? (If you're wondering, by the way, only Shaun, Kerrie, and Alex have lost more money than they gained over the first week, and the latter two haven't lost anything since the first episode.)

So, basically, I'm ready to call it. After one week. Should I be ready? No. Alaina got to the final episode before any of her opponents even suspected her. I've watched seasons and not been able to rule out any of the final three before. And in the thirty-odd past Mole seasons I've seen, my ability to correctly pick the Mole after one week is currently working out to be three times less accurate than random guessing among the average ten-person cast. (I wish I was joking.) But what is making it so easy? Even I'm not entirely sure. Is it because of the three episodes a week thing, and the editors' need to fill time by focusing on every minor attempted sabotage as though it's a big deal, making it less "Are you sure you didn't imagine that?" and more "HOW ABOUT NOW? WOULD YOU LIKE SOME NEON LIGHTS IN THE SHAPE OF AN ARROW TO POINT IT OUT? MAYBE A CHORUS LINE OF TWINKS IN ASSLESS ONESIES?"? Is it because the other players are all completely inept at being inept and suck at the metagame, despite all of their bluster about how pretending to be the Mole is such a smart strategy? Is it because the Mole they've chosen doesn't appear to understand the power of subtlety, and is even easier to find than Petrina was? Honestly, all of the above are probably true to some degree. But I do know two things about this choice: While it seems the 'Culture Clash' edict has been fulfilled as many expected by hiring an obnoxious white bogan as the Mole, it really shouldn't be this damn obvious. And I really shouldn't feel this annoyed by the concept of having to spend the entire season with Shaun on my screen. Or feel that the entire season is bound to be ruined by the dumbest player in this show's history making it to the final by answering the elimination tests based on a personal grudge in lieu of actual evidence. And yet I do.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mo' Money, Mole Problems

Edited July 4, 2013 to fix typos and finish off a paragraph I'd somehow left dangling.

So, The Mole is back. And even though the last season way back in 2005 pretty much all but smeared the show's reputation with its own excrement, there was still a loyal fanbase with high expectations for this. Did it meet those expectations? In short, no. Not really. As in, grab a plunger and some heavy-duty gloves. But how on earth have they managed to fuck up a show that should be impossible to fuck up... for the third time? And how have they managed to do it so completely?


The attempts to advertise and promote this show have all been abysmal failures. From being announced as "The Mole: Culture Clash" and dropping the title almost immediately after it was criticised as suggesting deliberate "Racism, yay!" undertones (and it will hopefully not come as a surprise that I'll be discussing that in more detail later), to the official website making a point of how the long-running Dutch version films in a different country each year even though it makes Seven look cheap by filming this season domestically, to not even revealing the show's airdate until eight days out and then doing so through a random tweet from new host Shura Taft, to then not adding the timeslot to the commercials themselves and adding a tag at the end as an afterthought... frankly, it's a wonder anybody watched at all.

And then there's the "Coming Soon!" commercial. Appearing on screens since the Australian Open tennis tournament in late January, despite Seven knowing the show wouldn't air for months, the jawdroppingly stupid slapstick commercials only served to alienate those who remembered and appreciated the tone the good seasons of the old version had, and somehow managed to simultaneously be too light-hearted and too mean-spirited. It's quite astonishing, really. But what's more surprising is that they weren't shot down in the pre-production phase, given it's about as representative as advertising Lost with clips from Gilligan's Island and expecting people not to care because hey, tropical island.

By the way, speaking of Shura, Twitter, and promotion? I've discussed the promo failures on Twitter a few times, and on at least two occasions he's replied to tell me, basically, that I wouldn't be complaining if I'd seen the show itself. But... shouldn't a better job have been done advertising the damn show in the first place, so it wouldn't even have become an issue? He also responded to a direct criticism of the comedic tone, saying the Mole takes their job very seriously. Which'd be great, if it didn't miss the point entirely. It's not the Mole I'm worried about, it's The Mole I'm worried about. (Again, more Shura later.)

Scheduling, Pacing, and Editing

Can we please get away from the misguided idea that running a show multiple nights a week, when it's not a show that suits such a format, is in any way preferable? Or did we learn absolutely NOTHING from the runaway success that was Celebrity Splash? Because The Mole is definitely a show that needs to be on only one night a week. This is a show where you really need to sit down and focus, and honestly, people have better things to do. The Block sucks, but it rates fairly well as a stripped show because it's mindless entertainment where you don't have to pay too much attention. This... is not mindless entertainment, and any more than one episode a week is just overkill. It's not like there's a valid reason to saturate the schedule with a show that works infinitely better in small doses - and there's evidence of this in several countries where The Amazing Race (tonally a very close analog to The Mole) is aired multiple times a week. It just. Doesn't. WORK.

But all that could have been said before the show began. Watching the first episode, it gets even worse. You see, because Seven have decided to have so many episodes, it means what would normally have been shown within the space of a single one-hour episode now apparently takes three. And each episode is also fifteen minutes longer. Because nothing says "stressful situation" like filler. Repetitive filler. If you're going to explain the basic format of the show over the opening credits, you don't need to explain the Mole's function over and over again during the show. We get it already, and it's condescending. Quit it.

Consider this: The first challenge of the season was taken from the 2012 Dutch season, where it was considerably more difficult (players travelled individually and weren't told which direction to travel, only to get to the landmark in the photo) and was tedious after five minutes, let alone the twenty minutes it was shown for in its episode. Here, a much easier version of the challenge was shown for almost an entire hour. Why? No freaking clue. You want the show to be event television, with plenty of time to develop your cast? Show a slightly longer episode - either ninety minutes or two full hours - once a week. Best of both worlds.

Challenge Design

It probably sounds a bit early to be criticising this, having only seen one-and-a-half challenges, but five have been revealed in one format or another. Three of them - the opening hiking challenge, the sandbag challenge seen in the preview for tonight's episode, and a signalling challenge listed on the TV guides for next Tuesday - are adapted from the Dutch version, meaning I'm familiar enough with them from my work on the challenge guide to know whether they will work or not, while a fourth also sounds like it's a less direct adaptation of a Dutch challenge, and the fifth is one of the ones we've seen already. And, honestly, it's a remarkably underwhelming bunch.

When you're trying to have a big beginning to your show, you don't start with a challenge that at its heart is just 'walk over there, carrying this'. You certainly shouldn't ever do it for the first three challenges in a row. And yet it seems they have. For the first challenge, it's "walk in this direction with your suitcases". In the second, it's "walk across a tightrope while transferring a baton in a relay". In the third, it's "walk along a marked path while carrying a makeshift stretcher loaded with sandbags". Even in one of the remaining two, the challenge appears to (in part) be "walk through a cave, carrying keys found along the way". It's ridiculous. It's not as if these challenges are so kickass that it can be overlooked. Hell, they don't even require twelve people - the suitcase and sandbag challenges weren't originally designed for twelve people (the suitcase one was for ten, the sandbag stretchers for eight), and you can easily cut one pair out of the tightrope challenge and do it with ten.

Also, let me just leave you with this: If players had to transfer the relay baton over to each other while on the tightrope, then pass each other to finish their respective journeys, doesn't that mean the baton travels back to where it began, defeating the entire purpose of the challenge?

Casting (Both the Contestants and the Host)

As much as the above issues irritate, they could have been mitigated somewhat if the cast was enjoyable enough to overcome them. But they're not. Not by a long shot. In fact, between those who are utterly unpleasant and those who are merely boring beyond belief I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to watching any of these people again tonight. And the sad thing is this was set in stone even before the audition phase, with the bizarre decision to subtitle the season 'Culture Clash' - a hint many took to mean 'a couple of token minorities and a bunch of white people to tell them to go back to where they came from'.

To be fair, this tagline was scrapped in record time after the astoundingly negative reaction (which speaks well of Australia, but not of the people who thought it was a good idea to begin with), but it seems as though the people responsible for actually casting the show didn't get the memo. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having fewer straight white bogans on Australian reality shows - it's among the largest of the many things that killed Big Brother the first time around - but if you're going to do so you have to have the right context. And I feel like it wouldn't be too hyperbolic of me to say that doing so on a show all about fostering suspicion and distrust, with the planned subtitle mentioned above, on the same network that shows Border Security and Today Tonight, and which insists on casting the same 'Camp Gay' and 'Bitchy Asian Girls' stereotypes on My Kitchen Rules every season is about even with "Pauline Hanson campaign fundraiser" in terms of being the right context. (In related news: Four Queenslanders in this twelve-person cast. All white, all having some variation of "I tell it like it is, that's just who I am, fuck you if you think that makes me an obnoxious asshole" in their media kit bio.) In this case, either you're enforcing a negative stereotype about a minority contestant by making them the designated villain, or you're making it look like a white player has been hired to stop a minority player from profiting. Neither is a good look for the show or for Seven.

Just doing it (without being forced by a negative reaction to how white the previous season's cast was, as was the case with The Amazing Race Australia) and not even trying to make a big deal about it would be a start - compare the reception given to Big Brother 2008 (which got the show cancelled) and Masterchef 2010 (where more than a quarter of the country watched the finale). For an international perspective, compare the preliminary reactions given to Survivor: Cook Islands (twenty players initially divided into four teams by race) and The Amazing Race 10 (which featured among its twelve teams a gay couple, a lesbian, black single mothers, two non-Arabic Islamic guys, Korean brothers, an Indian couple, and an amputee). Casting a minority just so you can say you did - which based on the subtitle was evidently the case here - is just as closed-minded as deliberately not casting any minorities. It's like that person in everyone's life who thinks "I can't be racist, my boyfriend's sister's fiance's cousin is black!" Do you really want to be that person, show?

One of the things this show used to do so well was its casting. Yes, you got the requisite pretty people, but you also got a bunch of normal, unremarkable people who (while not always likable) were far more interesting. To be simplistic for a second, the casting comes across a bit like they were asked to consider what made the first season so great and came up with, "Josephine". Where are the Jans? The Lindas? The Patricks? The Beverleys? Even in later seasons, we had Brooke, Hal, Mal, Fiona, John, Helen, Marc, Bob, Ann-Maree, David, Thao, Kris, Josh, Greg, Stace, Craig, Liane, Mark, Brett, and Sonya. Not necessarily all nice people, but I get the feeling none of them would have gotten past the first stage of the audition - even with Thao, the only non-Caucasian contestant in the first five seasons, they'd probably be like "Law student? Sorry, we have two of them already. Try again next year."

Finally, there's the host. Through Twitter and his past television work, Shura Taft comes across as a genuinely nice, cool guy. And that's a huge part of the problem. Being nice and trying to be the players' friend doesn't work on The Mole (as proven with Tom Williams's spectacular flame-out), and Shura isn't good at not being nice. Though wooden at times, he's at least conscious enough of the format not to try buddying up to the contestant, but finding the right tone for hosting on this show is a tough balancing act, and at times he comes across (intentionally or otherwise) as a smug dick. Smug works in small doses, but even then you've got to have the gravitas required to pull it off. Grant Bowler absolutely had it. So did Anderson Cooper in the US version, and Glenn Hugill in the British version, and Karel van de Graaf in the Dutch version. Shura? Not so much. Time will tell, and it may just be a nervous start, but between the seasons covered in the challenge guide and those watched since, I've been exposed to a total of sixteen hosts over eight countries, and without quick improvement Shura will be firmly inside the bottom three.

In Summary

Should have been an easy sell. Should have been fast and exciting, dragging viewers along for the ride. Should have had great, inventive challenges. Should have had a cast you can root for in their fight against the Mole. Should have had a host who felt like a natural fit. On all five counts, Seven and the producers dropped the ball. And all the impressive visuals and stylish graphics in the world can't save a show that's been that much of a misfire. The problem with this show is that either (1) it becomes a runaway success and they think there's no reason to bother changing anything, or (2) it doesn't do as well as Seven hoped and they axe it again, this time for good. And neither of those options is what this show deserves. This show deserves better. If the quality of what we've seen so far is any indication, I feel entirely justified in saying I could do better. I shouldn't. But really. I could do better.