Capture: reality TV’s Hunger Games finds drama in a game of tag

On paper, The CW’s Capture was The Hunger Games, reality TV style. Halfway through its first season, it instead seems more like Survivor with a game of tag thrown in–and the results are often pretty awesome. (The show airs Tuesdays, but because it’s on The CW, you can watch it all online.)

Instead of hunting each other to the death, teams of two try to avoid being tagged, essentially, during a four-hour hunt by a designated team. One of the two captured teams is voted off by the other teams; if the hunt team fails to tag two teams over two days, they face elimination themselves.

Like 72 Hours, there’s a real simplicity to the game that works well: teams just have to run. There are advantages and supplies, which provide nice incentives and have been smartly chosen (the virus was a particularly evolution of an earlier advantage), but ultimately, if they run fast enough or far enough away, they’re safe.

Teams also have to keep moving, because if they stop for more than three minutes, their location is revealed to the hunters, a nice twist. That makes the game more than hide and seek–and more physically demanding than it appears just from their limited food supply and minimal living conditions.

That game and its social component come together pretty seamlessly thanks to a cast of people who are easy to root for and against. They’re CW-friendly in that they’re all in their 20s and attractive, and while that often means a lack of life experience and diversity, that’s not true here. Instead, these teams feel both diverse and well-matched, regardless of external characteristics such as sex or sexual orientation.

The cast consists of people with pre-existing relationships, and includes somewhat well-known twin actors, Nikita and Jade Ramsey, and a brother and sister who inefficiently hold hands as they run around evading capture. It also has a team of villains who emerged and grew even more cocky, at least until one of them sought redemption once he realized that they were going to look like jerks.

Rarely does a show’s limited budget look good on the screen, but Capture only sometimes feels cheap, perhaps because most of the action happens in natural terrain, and there’s nothing like nature for rich environments that cost nothing. That said, the map is frustratingly imprecise, not showing distance or terrain well; the voting disc orb thing wobbles its way up out of the voting platform; and tape over the brand names on the casts’ wardrobe is pretty visible.

How exactly the show was produced raises a lot of questions, starting with the “random” selection of the hunt team, which I don’t believe for a second is actually random. (How convenient that the blue team became the hunters just as they really started to piss everyone off!) I’m also curious about the actual content of the screens/phones on their arms, the disclaimer in the closing credits that says some scenes may have been re-created, and the visibility of the camera operators (it often seems like they might be giving a team’s location away because they’re standing behind a team that’s crouched down, trying to hide). In addition, the host’s explanation to each hunt team has clearly been modified in post-production for some reason.

Yet even those questions or their possible implications don’t detract from what’s a really strong core game, and the thrilling moments when hunters are chasing another team that they’ve spotted. That’s when Capture really takes off. Who knew tag could make for such compelling reality TV?

Capture: B+

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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.