Stars Earn Stripes: a post-Olympics NBC fail

Last night, NBC debuted its heavily promoted reality show Stars Earn Stripes, which comes from Mark Burnett and Fear Factor producer David Hurwitz. While Biggest Loser trainer Dolvett Quince had to be rescued so he didn’t drown, that seemed to be about the only moment of reality in a show that wants to pretend it is so much more than it actually is.

Here are some of the ways in which it failed, not including its so-so ratings:

  • The show might look great on the surface, but it was badly executed. The scenes with Wes Clark, particularly his alleged radio transitions to the teams, are embarrassingly fake, and much of his dialogue appears to have been re-recorded later. When Samantha Harris, the former Dancing with the Stars co-host famous for her blunders, is seems coherent, you know there’s a problem and/or a lot of over-production.
  • The show was surprisingly boring, dragging on and on and on until the mission started, and that was a 1, 2, 3 challenge. Like The Great Escape proved, challenges are not interesting if contestants are simply doing prescribed tasks in order.
  • We were told over and over again that there were real bullets. Top Shot uses real bullets, too, and doesn’t brag about it. Plus, even if there are real bullets, no one is in real danger, just as no one is in danger of not surviving Survivor. This is a reality show on a broadcast network, and broadcast networks are the very definition of risk-averse.
  • Although it wants to honor the men and women who serve and defend our country, it often seems to do the opposite. NPR’s Linda Holmes does an excellent job of explaining why it’s both “an offensive concept” and “stultifyingly boring as television and badly designed as a reality-competition show.”
  • The show managed to annoy nine Nobel Laureates, who wrote an open letter to NBC asking the network to cancel the show. They wrote, in part, that “this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence,” adding that “Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.”
  • Combing D-list celebrities with safe war simulations is perhaps the worst way to use television to illustrate what members of the military go through, especially because there are already documentary-style series that show the real thing. If you want to see what happens in training exercises, watch the Discovery Channel’s amazing documentary series Surviving the Cut. Here’s part of that series, for comparison to NBC’s show.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.