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Million Dollar Mile: thoughts and questions after its quick flame-out

Million Dollar Mile: thoughts and questions after its quick flame-out
Million Dollar Mile contestants Kellen Pagel and Nikki Key. (Left image from Million Dollar Mile via CBS; right photo by Michael Yarish/CBS)

Million Dollar Mile was pulled off the air before I had a chance to watch a full episode. After just two low-rated episodes (though not as low-rated as Mark Burnett’s AGT knock-off The World’s Best, which wasn’t pulled), the show has been demoted to Saturdays, starting in May. The Amazing Race 31 will take its place.

I finally watched Million Dollar Mile, and what was most immediately striking is what a beautifully lit show it is, both the course and the obstacles. It’s a Tron meets a glow-in-the-dark mini golf aesthetic, with gold and blue accents making the obstacles pop.

Lighting often fades into the background—important, but rarely noticed—but here, it was the star.

The contestants’ vest straps light up, which look amazingly cool when they’re climbing up the side of a building, when they look like little glowing blobs of light, and also make them look surreal when they’re just running down dark streets, because the strap lights only illuminate a person’s neck, not their face.

Million Dollar Mile was filmed in the same general L.A. area that American Ninja Warrior has used for its spin offs (outside the the Los Angles Center Studios, which has a distinctive office tower that’s a backdrop for many shows, scripted and reality).

It is not, thankfully, an ANW knock-off, in the same way that World’s Best was just a shameless but thin copy of America’s Got Talent.

However, Million Dollar Mile’s slick production design is in service of a competition that is equal parts confusing and dull.

As simple as the concept seems—run a mile, win $1 million—it’s neither that simple nor that clear. The contestants are chased, which adds pressure, and would have been enough of a twist by itself.

There are also five obstacles, for which they earn money, but they don’t get to keep it until it gets banked. They choose which obstacle to tackle first, and also choose whether or not to bail mid-run, which leads to another obstacle that has to be completed in order to bank money—though some amounts of money are banked automatically.

And it seems like running a mile and completing five obstacles doesn’t earn $1 million, but instead the ability to try for $1 million. I think! I don’t know. No one made it that far.

The obstacles themselves slow things down, but just aren’t that interesting, especially not for the amount of time that they take to complete. They have scale, but here scale just means the obstacles are so big the contestants have to repeat the same action over and over. Climbing a big step. Swinging from overhead bars. Climbing on walls.

Meanwhile, the contestants’ two-minute head start is short enough that it seems almost too easy for defenders to catch up. American Ninja Warrior’s courses are incredibly difficult, too, but that show burns through contestants and obstacles much more rapidly.

My love for reality competitions means that I get excited about attempts at new shows, but Million Dollar Mile is evidence that even a simple concept is hard to execute.

The format seems like something simple that was unnecessarily overcomplicated to the point of watering it down. It also left me with a lot of questions.

Questions I have about Million Dollar Mile

Tim Tebow and Amir Yorke, Million Dollar Mile
Million Dollar Mile host Tim Tebow and contestant Amir Yorke. (Photo by Michael Yarish/Warner Bros.)

The questions that popped up while I was watching started with the course, which didn’t make any sense geographically. The on-screen maps didn’t match what we saw on TV.

Several of the obstacles were visibly right next to each other, so how are the contestants running a fifth of a mile in between them? Are they running in circles? Where are the decision points?

Were the obstacles designed to fatigue them for the runs, or for other obstacles?

The casting application said “all skill levels welcome.” Was there any minimum—like the ability to run a mile?

What do the defenders get if they catch the contestants?

Did the show just take the best people who applied and turn them into defenders, thus taking likely winners and using them to ensure no one else wins?

How does the time work with safety equipment? Does the clock stop after the contestant hits the plunger and restart after they’ve been connected to safety ropes?

Is this “the most challenging course ever designed,” as publicity for the show claimed? For real? Have the people who make that claim ever seen American Ninja Warrior or Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge?

Why is Tim Tebow shouting everything? I mean, Akbar Gbajabiamila and Matt Iseman shout sometimes, too, but they seem to do so out of enthusiasm when things are happening.

Do CBS executives and/or other network executives look at the low ratings and think: Thankfully we had LeBron James and Tim Tebow’s names—can you imagine how low the ratings would have been without them?

Or do they think: Oh yeah, having LeBron James and Tim Tebow didn’t help at all, so we really don’t need to keep using celebrity names to try to convince people to watch! Phew, glad that trend is over!

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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