Dog Eat Dog
BBC One, 14 April 2001 to 2 November 2002 (29 episodes in 4 series + 1 special)
In the valley of the blind the one eyed man is king. In the New Romantic movement, Adam and his Ants were king, mainly thanks to wearing an eye patch during his contemporary videos. Some people say his success was due to his image, some say it was thanks to his music and the tribal drumming. Others say it's because he had an uncanny knack of predicting future television programmes in his songs. Come with us now as we explore the lyrics to the Adam Ant song Dog Eat Dog from the album Kings of the Wild Frontier, and see how well they fit the television show Dog Eat Dog.
"You may not like the things we do, only idiots ignore the truth."
First: the course day. At the top of the show we meet our six contestants and we hear how well they did during the various tests at a training day - a 24-hour intensive management-style course which allows the players to assess each other's strengths and weaknesses.
As well as a film of the day with host Ulrika Jonsson's commentary, our six talk about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses and so on. This works fairly well, we see enough of the training course to know what they did, and enough is revealed about the contestants to know pretty much how they'll do when a certain challenge comes up.
"It's easy to lay down and hide. Where's the warrior without his pride?"
Back in the studio, the six contestants battle it out in a tense battle of survival as they nominate each other to fail the five tests testing different skills throughout the show. The person left at the end of the show could win £10,000.
Ulrika introduces the challenge by describing what's going to be tested (be it testing physical ability, word power, maths and memory, observation, stealth etc.) and then what the challenge is.You choose the person you think has least chance of completing the challenge, and you vote them using a whizzy electronic pen a la Prime Time Weakest Link (although this time there's a lovely purple concrete effect behind the names).
Whoever gets the most votes will be asked to do the challenge in a fight for survival. (In the event of a tie the last person to go to the losers bench gets the casting vote, which is neat because it allows one of the losers to extract revenge on one of the people who thought they'd fail before.)
The games design is a bit of a mixed bag - on the one hand many of the games are very good, with simple but compelling ideas. The mental ones are the sort of thing you'd get on a MENSA test or puzzle magazine which you can play along at home. The physical stunts are also interesting enough to watch, including a 360 degree swing machine and a clever electromechanical climbing "rock".
The main problem with the games is that the calibration is nothing short of awful, with most of the mental games (particularly the maths) being far too easy and the physical ones quite difficult. This seems to skew the outcome somewhat.
If the contestant playing the game fails then they are sent, head hung in shame, to the orange plastic wilderness that is the Losers Bench... but they'll be back later, as you'll soon see. If the contestant wins their game, they get to boot out one of the contestants that voted for them to play the game.
"We're gonna move real good - yeah right. We're gonna dress so fine - OK"
Some quick points to make about the style of the show. It's niiice. First there's Ulrika Jonsson dressed in black leather, which is no bad thing. She's no Anne Robinson and although she will point out the awful truth she's far more sympathetic to the losers. If there's one criticism we'd make, it's her voiceover that's played during the games which suffers from the same stilted quality previously seen on Grudge Match. But beyond that, the show seems to suit her a lot better than previous attempts.
The set is quite big. Ulrika walks in through a gate resembling two pairs of sharp teeth. The contestants are seated on the left of the set, the losers bench is on the right on the set and the main playing area is in the middle. There's a giant screen in the middle wall as well as a second screen to the right of the losers bench for contestants attempting something on a computer. Contrary to other shows by Master of Minimalism David Young, this set feels just right - small enough to see what's going on but big enough to be uncluttered and is quite stylish.
The music is by Paul Farrer, he of Weakest Link fame and it does show a bit. If we were being honest it sounds like they've taken the Weakest Link tracks and garaged them up a bit, not that that's actually a bad thing. We did detect exactly the same changes in key during the timed challenges when the time was running out in the same place as you'd expect to see them on Link, make of this what you will.
"It's dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog."
Yes, if there is no doubt into the mystic fortune telling talents of Adam Ant, let that line be a lesson to you. We've noticed that bits of the logo look a bit like the Grundy "G". Perhaps that's just us though. In fact that's probably just us.
"It makes me proud, so proud of you. I see innocence shine through."
Of course the reason Adam would be proud of the innocence shining through is mainly thanks to the "clever but not as clever as it likes to think it is" end game which we'll come on to in a second.
When there are two players left they must go head to head together in a final test called Stealth. This is a race in slow-motion across a grid of squares. The catch is if you make any sudden movements a bell rings and you've got to go back, so it's a test of nerve. This was the case during all the first series, but, fortunately, they varied the game considerably during later series. The other games they used included finding the hidden path along a series of squares, which would light up as the contestant stood on the correct one, but choosing a wrong square would set a buzzer off and send the contestant back to the beginning; a maze with some spatial awareness tests as part of it and having to make a path along a platform, using differently-shaped pieces of plastic. In all cases, Ulrika would say, 'The route/test is exactly the same for both of you, so how much time you choose to spend watching each other is entirely up to you!'
Whoever loses Stealth goes to the Losers bench but whoever wins is crowned "Top Dog" and could win £10K. Here's the thing though - to win the cash they must compete in a head to head contest of knowledge. However, the winner won't answer any of the questions. Instead, they must select which of the losers would be most likely to fail a question, hence the "innocence" of the Adam Ant line. Altogether now: "Aaahhhhhhhh!"
The Top Dog is given the category and each loser can only be selected once. If the Top Dog can select three of the five to get their questions wrong then the £10K is rightly theirs. If however the losers can get three of the questions correct then oh, the beautiful irony of ironies, the losers split the £10K between them (that's £2,000, maths fans) whilst the Top Dog goes home tail between his/her legs empty handed. A little bit like Everybody's Equal, then. Sort of.
The problem with this end game is that it doesn't really fit with the rest of the show - it's a quiz segment in what's otherwise a game show, and in some senses it's a twist too far since it (almost) makes the previous five games pointless. The only thing you get by winning through the games is the chance to win £10,000, which isn't all that great really. It's also a shame the categories weren't different, or at least less broad, than the bog standard TV, Science, Geography, Music et al.
To round off with we get the usual David Young post-game thoughts interview extravaganza during the credits.
Do we like therefore? Does it Stand and Deliver? Is it a gameshow Prince Charming? Is it the King of the Wild Frontier? Are you finding this tedious yet? No? Good. The thing about this show is that it doesn't actually do anything that hasn't been seen or done before, but it's been done in such a way that it feels fresh and different and for doing that, how can we complain? It's slick and stylish, reasonably interesting and it's got Ulrika in rather fetching gear. However, it's not as tough and ruthless as it is trying to make itself out to be.
"It's time to choose the loser!"
"Your fight for survival...starts...now!"
"See you next time - and remember, every dog has its day - good night!"
"The test/route is exactly the same for both of you, so how much time you choose to spend watching each other is entirely up to you!"
To be completed