Whodunnit is on fire: a reality TV CSI where thankfully the cast gets killed off

While I like the first 10 minutes of Whodunnit, it was not until the last moments that I was hooked, as a cast member with a dumb theory and bad strategy was set on fire. Yes. More, please.

The middle parts of the episode were hit and miss, but it was still worth watching (the full episode is below).

What worked:

  • The CSI structure. The “murder” of a “cast member” that opened the episode was explained in full and shown in flashback at the end, just like CSI–which makes sense, since the series is produced and written by CSI creator Anthony Zuiker. It’s a smart decision to have each episode be a standalone mystery with a very strong cliffhanger.
  • The challenges. First, an investigation of clues at three locations, and then a very Mole-like challenge to figure out where a key fit; both were decent, and the second one definitely required some thinking.
  • The production values. The show looks amazing, and the special effects are pretty strong for an ABC reality series. The scripted parts with actors and/or stunt people (that are, presumably, shot at different times) fit in seamlessly.
  • Behind-the-scenes details. They include information about how many times the female stunt double was set on fire (four!) and that her trip was accidental; in addition, there were two fish tanks, and the one that was blown up had rubber fish.

What didn’t quite work:

  • Explaining their theories. I like the idea, but as a viewer, I don’t know what criteria the producers are using to decide who has the least accurate theory, especially since these are delivered in narrative form. While Dontae’s drowning theory was the most idiotic, the lack of an objective quiz seems wide-open for producer manipulation, i.e. let’s get rid of the less-interesting cast member. (Update and correction: A disclaimer at the very end of the credits revealed this: “Eliminations are based on the performance of participants on a written exam testing their knowledge of the crimes.” I don’t think the show needs to be like The Mole, but that should be acknowledge in the episode–and I’d love to see the questions, the answers, and even scores online, if that’s possible.)
  • Having contestants finger each other as suspects. That makes little sense, because there wasn’t any actually suspicious behavior. The evidence doesn’t seem to point to individuals, and since everyone’s acting like an asshole, of course they all seem like suspects.
  • The butler. The actor, Gildart Jackson (who, trivia, is married to The Office’s Melora Hardin), is great (finger sandwiches!), though I’d be glad for him to turn the camp knob up even more. To work as a competition, the show needs a host and a proxy for the producers, but the conceit kind of falls apart because Giles has so much contact with the killer, and it’s hard for him to be a character and host all at once. Then again, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the killer to confess his or her crime each week, either, so there are just some things that require suspension of disbelief. Which is hard for me.

What I want to set on fire:

  • The cast. I’m not rooting for anyone, and at this point only excited by the fact that most of them will be fake-killed off.
  • The post-clue/challenge/investigation conversations. They were the worst part of the episode, as the contestants lied to each other and tried to form alliances. Considering that whoever has the least-strong theory is the person killed off, it does make sense to withhold information, but the way it unfolded in the premiere was annoying, because it didn’t come off as strategic at all, just petty and pointless.

Once again, though, the show hooked me at its beginning and end, and I’m really looking forward to seeing who gets killed next week.

The Quest ends its journey stronger than it began

Verlox from The Quest

A review of the finale of summer's best reality series, which wasn't always perfect but was thoroughly entertaining right down to the finish, which included phenomenal challenges and special effects. Will ABC give it a second season?

Plus: an interview with the actor who played Verlox and the ogre.


Shark Tank is getting a spin-off

Shark Tank

Companies that get deals on the show will be followed for this new spin-off.

Also: Before the show began, Shark Barbara Corcoran was cast and then replaced--but then she sent this amazing e-mail and won the job.

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.