Deadliest Catch established one of the highest-brow sub-genres of reality television, those shows that follow men and women who work on extremely difficult jobs, and that sub-genre is now reaching a level of saturation, with equally compelling knock-offs and others that aren’t so great. Thus, reality TV is due for the next stage in the tough jobs sub-genre, and NBC delivers it tonight at 9 p.m. ET with America’s Toughest Jobs. It’ll be rebroadcast Wednesdays at 9 and 1 a.m. on CNBC.
Producer Thom Beers pioneered the format, so it makes sense that he’d take it to the next level, which involves–what else?–competition and elimination. On each hour-long show, a group of 13 people work, to borrow from the title, a tough job, like bull fighting, driving monster trucks, or logging. They work alongside and/or for the people who do the job for a living, and at the end of every episode, the cast member who performs the worst–or, in the show’s terminology, isn’t “tough enough”–is eliminated. The last person wins the cash prize, which will be equivalent to the annual salary of all the jobs put together.
The host–Josh Temple, of TLC’s Backyard Nation–seems kind of flat when he’s on camera, but he’s not around that much, and instead we get the familiar Discovery Channel narrator as our guide. He has to do a bit too much work to get the show to hang together, as without him we wouldn’t know what was going on. But it does ultimately come together well. The editing is amusing at times, like in the second episode, when the music dies along with a truck one of the contestants is attempting to drive. And the competition structure works, with an interesting twist coming near the end of the episode.
What really works for the show is that the cast members are really doing the job; in the first episode, it’s crab fishing in Alaska. Some contestants handle their new tasks with ease, and others struggle. They’re the kind of people you’d expect to apply for this show, such as a woman who non-ironically refers to another woman’s lack of “balls.” Watching crew members yell at them when they do life-threatening things is entertaining, especially as it gets really tense and dangerous (more so in the second episode than in the first). If only all competition shows could be this real.