Capture’s unfair mystery box twist

In my review of Capture yesterday, I wrote about how the show works in part because the game play is simple and pure–so of course last night’s episode would have to introduce a lame twist that broke the show’s own rules and really hurt its credibility as a fair game.

First, teams learned that all of their vests would alarm starting at the start of the hunt, which was brutal but consistent with the past sabotages and advantages, which tend to be about revealing teams’ locations. However, once a team reached a mystery box, all alarms would stop. That happened after about 20 minutes, making the alarms nearly pointless.

Worse, the mystery box twist made the entire first day’s hunt nearly pointless: it gave its winners, the twins, the power to overthrow the hunters. Despite successfully capturing a very strong team, the gold team wasn’t even allowed to eat or rest, which has been a key part of the competition. In exchange for having the most difficult job and the potential to go home themselves, the hunters get some comfort.

That came off as unnecessarily cruel, an unnecessary attempt to create some drama. But the show really lost me when it became clear that the twist was going to allow the captured team to be released so they could become hunters. What?

The end result is that it looks like the producers tried to keep the red team, letting them basically pick who they’d face off against in elimination, especially since producers took away the immunity the gold team had as the original hunters. Even if propping up the red team wasn’t the goal–the goal was probably just to create drama–that’s the appearance, and in a contest for $250,000, there should be actual rules.

That said, the final hunt did become really fascinating. Because the red team was up for elimination along with whoever they caught, they knew that they had to catch a strong team, which basically gave the other teams a pass. The other teams lounged at the supply station, calling loved ones and drinking margaritas, and the hunt team let them walk right by, since they didn’t view them as threats.

It was an oddly weird dynamic for a competition that’s normally about fleeing, and made for great television. But those moments weren’t worth demolishing what Capture had established. It’s one thing to have a game where it’s known that the rules and backbone of the game can change at the whim of the producers–hello, Big Brother–and another to just change a game’s consistent, clear rules midstream.

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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.