Discovery Channel, Travel Channel and TNT all look to offer new wrinkles to the venerable survival-based competition reality series genre with new shows set to debut later this year.
Travel Channel and Discovery are set to stretch the genre, in which strangers compete in desolate and extreme locales — born a decade ago, with the premiere of CBS’s Survivor — to include a married couple (Travel Channel’s Get Lost) and totally nude contestants (Discovery Channel’s Naked Castaway and Naked and Afraid) in an effort to find new ratings success.
Laureen Ong, president of Travel Channel, said Get Lost and other “adventure travel” shows appeal to the network’s core audience because they take viewers outside of their own traditional travel experiences. In addition, such series provides viewers with information about how to survive if lost or placed in vicarious positions while traveling.
Cable networks are some adding new wrinkles to one of reality’s televisions earliest premises — man vs. nature.
Get Lost features former U.S. Army Special Forces survival expert Mykel Hawke and his journalist wife, Ruth England, as they look to survive in unfamiliar and hostile regions with limited supplies and few clues as to where they actually are.
“The fact that it’s a couple it brings a different dynamic to it that’s unique from the single, host-driven [SurvivorTV series],” Ong said. “Married couples have natural stress anyway, so getting lost on a trip provides additional stress that one can only imagine. This kind of adrenaline travel is a unique travel experience and is particularly appealing to younger audiences.”
Discovery will offer a stripped-down version of the genre with the June premiere of Naked and Afraid, in which two contestants will be forced to survive in extreme and harsh environments without the benefits of food, water, tools or clothes, according to Discovery officials.
Discovery has already experienced some success in reality shows featuring contestants in the buff: Naked Castaway, which followed survivalist Ed Stafford over a 60-day period while on a deserted island without clothes, food or tools, averaged more than 1.1 million viewers over its three-episode run in April. The April 28 series finale drew more than 1.6 million viewers, slightly above the network’s primetime audience of 1 million viewers during the month of April.
On the competition-series front, TNT will take another stab at the genre in June with The Hero, a series starring and produced by actor/pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The series will test contestants on a physical, mental and moral level as they compete for a “life-changing” grand prize, according to TNT officials. The network’s most recent competition reality series, The Great Escape, which debuted last summer, was cancelled due to poor ratings.
Johnson told Multichannel News that The Hero would offer a different take on the genre.
“The idea was to create a show that was impactful, entertaining and inspiring, but flip [the genre] on its head in terms of things that you’ve never seen before,” he said. “It’s a nice setup for a pretty cool show.”
Travel’s Ong said the survivor/ competition reality genre continues to have appeal to elusive young male viewers who enjoy the fast paced action of such show.
“This has been a category of content that has been enduring over many years on many networks,” she said. “We’ll look to bring a different perspective that our audience will value.”
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