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Thoughts on American Grit season two: John Cena is a star, but…

American Grit host and star John Cena (center) with cadre members Grady Powell and Chloe Mondesir. (Photo by Jeffrey Neira/Fox)

The good news is that, in its second season, American Grit did not, like its Fox summer predecessor Home Freebecome an unwatchable mess, in the same way that Home Free did.

In fact, while that show became joyless, American Grit season two (which ends tonight with two back-to-back episodes) has a lot more fun and joy in it than season one—a season I really enjoyed.

That’s thanks in no small part to its host, John Cena. The show smartly leaned in to his talents, and when the show works, it’s nearly entirely because of his talents and charisma.

Making him an omniscient narrator has turned him from a participant into the core of the series, from his sarcastic commentary to the way he toys with the members of the cadre as a producer surrogate. All of this happens in an gorgeous location that’s impressively shot and edited, and there’s a lot of care in the production visible on screen.

So why does American Grit feel like it lost all of its grit?

Let’s start with how the challenges didn’t feel up to the bar that season one set. Though there was a team challenge and an elimination challenge in each episode, there was less of an emphasis on them, and the creative felt like it took a backseat, too.

They just weren’t as interesting to watch: running through mud, paddling around a lake. Eh.

Recently, American Grit even reused the exact same challenge build from the week before, a slanted wall over a lake that required the contestants to hold on or slide off. While it was fun to watch the cadre compete in the second incarnation, and though I enjoyed Cena acknowledging the repeat (“before you go getting on my case…”), it still meant watching the same thing two episodes in a row.

The other contestants are no longer at the elimination challenges to cheer on their teammates, and that’s let a lot of the energy go, especially because these endurance challenges haven’t always been active.

There isn’t a cast member I’ve grown attached to while watching—or, more accurately, the show seems to be good at creating attachment for characters who are about to go home, which leaves a blank slate for the next episode and not much to care about.

The other changes have not failed so much as they’ve failed to come together.

A cast of people lacking grit, a more competitive cadre, and an increased focus on strategy and social interaction have each delivered their own moments, such as the intrigue and drama over advantages won by teams and Grady’s subsequent strategy.

That was fascinating but fleeting, which is how American Grit season two felt: fleeting. And John Cena can blow only so much air into the balloon.

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