What worked and what didn’t on Syfy’s Opposite Words

In its short six-week run, Syfy’s Opposite Worlds did not prove to be the opposite of Big Brother, nor even Glass House, which it strongly resembled. I’m not sure it has much of a future.

Broadcasting its live finale against American Idol and the premiere of Survivor was, shall we say, not smart. Only airing two episodes a week makes sense in a normal TV season, but for a six-week show, especially one airing against the Olympics (meaning most other shows are in repeats), there should have been three or more. If you want to tap into the rabid, obsessive reality TV fan base, give them more than two hours a week.

The reception appears tepid: Syfy’s post-debut press release pointed out that the show had 1 million viewers and was the network’s Syfy’s “highest rated series premiere” among women 18-34 since 2008, and also noted that the “hashtag ranked among the top 10 TV series hashtags across all of broadcast and cable with 19,000 tweets.” It was enough for the top 10, but just 19,000?

As with most first-season shows of this genre, it had strengths and weaknesses. There was a game that was both simple and confounding, with a barely social game that gave the players very little to do until the challenges; challenges that were alternately inspired, dumb, and brutal; live episodes that were excruciating bores with flat Q&As until the (sometimes) action-packed challenges; feedback for the cast about how they were being perceived, which only sometimes had any impact.

I appreciate what executive producer JD Roth told me he was attempting with the “constant battle between the haves and have nots in life”, and yes, the team that was in the past bonded a lot more than the future team. But it was still haves/have nots, and that creates such imbalance, it verges on boring. (Read more of his answers to questions about the show.)

How much mileage is there to get out of punishing one group? There’s not much beyond, Ha, you have to poop in a hole! And clean it! I really wish that it’d held more closely to an actual vision of the future, especially for a Syfy show. For example, why not give the future people only vitamins and powdered supplements for food while the past gets lots of food they have to prep themselves? (Oh no: I just suggested slop.) Or allow the past outdoor access but keep the future sealed off and dark, like it’s a spaceship or habitat on a polluted planet?

I also wish they’d made more of the social game, and given the teams more opportunities to interact other than those weird, forced one-on-one meetings. Some great stuff came from that, primarily Jeffry and JR’s alliance, their fake fight, and JR’s subsequent decision to bail on his alliance to make it more likely he’d win against weasel Jeffry.

The win went to Frank Sansonetti, which was close to a given when it came down to a single challenge for him. I did like that viewer votes sent one person to the final challenge automatically, but it also became nearly a foregone conclusion when that person was Frank; he wasn’t called a “beast” for nothing. That said, he was a satisfying winner since he had the most compelling arc, going from big dumb oaf who tore open someone’s face with a tomato to pawn to genuine member of the past team.

I’m not sure there’s a future for this show, but I hope Syfy gives the show another chance to see what it can become.

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.