More than 14 years after it was to debut on broadcast television, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s competition reality show The Runner has arrived.
Starting at noon ET today, the runner will be released and five teams will chase that person, armed with clues and their phones. Those teams have just half of the information they need to figure out clues, however; viewers receive the other half, and can help the teams. Those teams can give cash to helpful viewers—$1,000 a day per team—and one viewer will receive $50,000 at the end of the season just for participating.
The show will unfold over the next 30 days on Verizon’s go90 app and Aol.com—and even if the runner is caught, the show will start again the next day with a new runner.
Here is everything you need to know about The Runner, which includes insight from my exclusive interview with executive producer Craig Piligian and executive producer/showrunner Mike Nichols.
Where and when to watch The Runner
Watch The Runner on:
There will be three daily episodes, which are five minutes long each. Yes, it’s just 15 minutes per day. Those episodes air at:
- noon ET
- 3 p.m. ET
- 10 p.m. ET
What happens every day
The Runner will take off, heading for a specific destination. That person may actually walk or run, but can also travel by car, airplane, boat, or train. At noon ET, the teams receive half a clue and viewers receive the other half, and work to solve it together. The 3 p.m. episode will show who solved the clue first.
The teams will have full access to their phones all day, not a filtered stream. “On all reality shows, you take their phone away. We fucking gave them phones and said, You gotta use this tool. They can build their community of social followers to help them catch the runner,” Piligian told me.
Teams will be able to anything from search to FaceTime-ing their followers. Nichols added that they can even “watch the show on go90 as they’re playing the show. … They can do whatever they want to solve that clue.”
The Runner is geofenced, meaning that there’s an invisible, GPS-driven perimeter around them, and when teams get close and cross that boundary, they’ll receive another clue.
That second clue forces each team to make a choice about solving it: “Do we crowdsource from America, or do we try to solve it ourselves? It’s a game of strategy,” Nichols said. “The reason they would try to solve it themselves,” he said, would be to not publicly reveal the information they’ve received and thus “not let the other teams benefit from my lead.”
Teams inside the geofence will then try to capture The Runner.
At the end of each day, if The Runner has not yet been caught, they will enter a safe zone, and the process begins again the next day.
What happens if The Runner gets caught?
A new Runner will start running the next morning.
The team that catches The Runner will stay in the competition and try to catch the next runner.
What’s changed over The Runner’s long history
Word of the show first surfaced in Nov. 2000, just a few months after Survivor concluded its first season. The Runner was initially supposed to debut Jan. 7, 2002, on ABC, and it even held open casting calls. In Oct. 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the show was put on hold. Five years later, in 2006, Mark Burnett teamed up with Damon and Affleck (via LivePlanet) to develop the show on Yahoo, though it was never greenlit.
Piligian was actually involved with the ABC version, and told me, “It’s been a 16-year gestation period so we’re over the moon to launch.” Back then, he said, “it was a national game, people could play, catch the runner, win a million dollars,” and today, the central concept remains the same: “it’s a national manhunt played out over 30 days.”
The one major difference is in how viewers will interact with the show. Nichols said that because of the shift in technology—smartphones, social media, GPS, et cetera—“you could have never imagined back then the things that we could do today. Otherwise, at its core, it’s the same show.”
There were two major challenges to producing the show, according to Piligian:
- “The logistics, the creative.” Specifically, he said that’s “a national game board: you had to figure out the course. The course isn’t completely figured out yet. It always depends on a) when The Runner’s caught, b) if The Runner’s caught. It’s an evolving game; it’s going to be ever-changing and ever-moving. There’s a lot of variables; every single day we’re going to have to make calls on the fly.”
- “On top of that: all the internet stuff we had to do, all the technology to drive this game so people could play. All the community stuff—Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, tweeting all that crap, we had to figure out—and then once we figured it out, we had to interface with go90.”
Involving the audience in the chase safely
In his description of the 2001 version, Piligian said “it was interactive, but it was unsafely interactive.” He elaborated, hysterically: “At that time, the way to catch the runner was to tackle him in the middle of the fuckin’ street,” he said. “The runner would have been tackled and tied and drawn—I got the fucking runner right here! He’s tied up in my fuckin’ basement, come give me my million dollars. You couldn’t even insure that, all of America looking for him. It was just too unsafe for the runner. The insurance was difficult…you just couldn’t do it.”
Now, audience members participate from home. “All of America can play because it’s all played out on the computer, on the app, you don’t have to leave your armchair,” he said.
Nichols said “you can win a lot of money playing this game at home”—teams themselves have a combined $150,000 to give away throughout the season to fans.
Keeping The Runner hidden
All chase-style reality competitions raise a key question for me: How can you have someone being followed by a camera crew without giving away their location?
The Runner will be filmed, of course, but without giving away that person’s identity. Piligian told me they solved that problem. “That’s a little trade secret. We’ve developed a way to shoot,” he said. While chase teams will be filmed normally, “The Runner we have to have to shoot very surreptitiously all the way through. We’ve developed a system of how we’re going to shoot that to where we can have the great coverage but not reveal what we’re actually doing. And I don’t want to get into to how we’re doing it, but you’ll see that the coverage is going to be fabulous.”
The identity of The Runner is secret for now, but Piligian told me that “the longer the chase team runs, the more identifable they will become.”
Nichols added that viewers can try to figure out who it is. “Hopefully America will get out there and take pictures and try to help the chase teams by identifying The Runner,” he said.
What’s on each of the three daily episodes
Although the episodes are just five minutes long each, and are made for viewing on mobile devices via an app, Nichols said that the show is “edited just like you would edit a broadcast-level show. It feels big and exciting and has a lot of action. It’s very raw, you know what you’re seeing is real and unvarnished in some way. It’s not overproduced, but it looks big and it’s very exciting. We already cut some tests and it’s heart-pounding.”
Here’s what to expect during each five-minute episode, according to press materials:
Daily Episode #1 (9 am PST/12 pm EST)
This first daily episode includes a recap from the prior day’s action and the LIVE reveal of the day’s first America’s Cash Task (ACT). As the ACT is announced live–anyone watching live on go90 or AOL.com can view and start participating for chances to win cash prizes.
Daily Episode #2 (12 pm PST/3 pm EST)
The second daily episode is a LIVE in-studio update and analysis of the current game status. The Runner hosts will also break down the current social media conversations that are happening across multiple platforms.
Daily Episode #3 (7 pm PST/10 pm EST)
The third daily episode will be the final daily update, as the game concludes for the day. During this episode, viewers will get insight into the Chasers and their relationships. Our Hosts will also provide analysis on the Runner and Chase teams’ current standings and strategies.
- If The Runner makes it across the country and completed six tasks along the way, the person wins $500,000: $450,000 for completing all the tasks plus a $50,000 bonus for making it to the final day.
- Chasers who catch the runner will win the current bounty, which increases by $15,000 every day up to $450,000.
- An MVP fan, “chosen via a lottery system,” will win $50,000 at the end of the season.
- Each Chase team will have $1,000 a day to give away to their fans who help them in their pursuit.
How to play at home
The Runner is pitching itself as highly interactive, and viewers can win $1,000 a day by giving tips and other support to teams. The show also says viewers should:
“watch the show for clues and connect with the show on Twitter (@therunnergo90), Facebook (Facebook.com/therunnergo90), Instagram (therunnergo90), and Snapchat (therunnergo90) for details about how to win cash prizes.”
Who are the cast members?
The Runner is unknown at this time, but will be revealed over time.
The Chasers, aka the teams competing to find The Runner, were revealed Tuesday, along with their team names:
- Sweet N’ Savage: Real World San Diego and The Challenge cast member Ashley Marie and Heather, who’s a former Playboy Playmate
- Friendzone: coworkers Jen and Rafael
- Bravo Square: brothers Brandon and Brent, who are from Queens
- Brother Nature: brothers Travis, a model, and Koa, a surfer
- The Brogrammers: Alex and James, who are techies
- YouTube star MatPat, whose real name is Matthew Patrick, and who just debuted his own series on YouTube Red.
- Vice’s Kaj Larsen, who previously worked as a CNN correspondent and who a press release calls “the on-camera expert.”
The live episodes and host segments will be filmed at a studio that’s being called Control90. “Picture a bustling newsroom where there are a number of people, dozens of peopple, who are tracking the game in real time,” Nichols said. “They’re watching social, they’re watching all of the chase teams’ social following, all of their interactions with the audience. They’re watching GPS. We’ve got all of our players tracked on GPS in a way that you’ve never seen before and it’s incredible.”
Who’s producing the show?
The idea initially came from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s production company, and they’re producing under their Pearl Street Films production company, along with Adaptive Studios, which produced the most recent season of Project Greenlight.
Bringing the show to life is the responsibility of Pilgrim Media Group, Craig Piligian’s production company that’s produced everything from Top Shot to Ghost Hunters, Wicked Tuna to Fast ‘N’ Loud.
The future of The Runner
When I interviewed him Thursday evening, Piligian was enthusiastic about both the show and its potential. “This is why we’re so excited and you hear my heightened sense of excitement in my voice—it is the first time you’ve taken a broadcast quality show, you’ve put it on an app, you’ve made it 30 days straight live, and it’s a national game that everyone can play,” he said.
“If it is successful and this works, this is the tip of the iceberg. We can create content with gameplay and all of this internet social stuff, for anything.”