The credits on Fox’s Paradise Hotel go by quickly during the elimination ceremony, and you might miss them, especially if Kristin Cavallari’s delivery about whatever just happened has lulled you off to sleep.
But there are four people credited who I was surprised to see, even though I do not know any of them personally or even by name. It’s because they’re all listed as challenge and game producers, yet Paradise Hotel had zero challenges in its first five episodes.
The show ends its five-week run tonight, awarding $250,000 to its winner(s) at the end. There may be some kind of competition during the two-hour finale, but in the 12 hours that have aired so far, there has been just one challenge, which aired last week.
Yet there is a four-person team of challenge producers credited in each episode. The names I noticed in the closing credits are:
- Challenge Development Producer Sydney Leier
- Games Associate Producer Max Flores
- Games Producers Cami Kershek and Kristifer Kowaleski
Leier’s credits include working as a supervising competition producer on Big Brother 23, and a challenge producer on earlier seasons; a “country producer” on several seasons of The Amazing Race; and a competition producer on American Grit season 2.
Kershek’s credits include working on games and challenges for Fear Factor, Candy Crush, MasterChef Junior, and Nickelodeon’s reboot of Double Dare, while Kowaleski has been a challenge or segment producer on shows such as MTV’s The Challenge and Are You The One?, and NBC’s The Titan Games.
That’s a solid roster of competition- and challenge-heavy reality television shows.
So what are they doing for Paradise Hotel? Were they really hired to conceive of and create a single challenge?
That one challenge itself seemed kind of incomplete, or perhaps I’m just used to multi-stage Survivor challenges. The couples had to use their bodies to melt giant ice pops to free a key. That was it; they didn’t even have to use the key!
What role would those challenges have played? Were there going to be many of them? Were some cut when Paradise Hotel was cut from three episodes to one every week? What is the challenge team doing instead of creating challenges?
Someone with knowledge of the production told me challenges were essentially cut from the format, but the reason wasn’t clear.
I asked Fox, and a spokesperson told me that “producers did not set a certain amount of challenges beforehand,” and that element “was always meant to be a fluid element that could be introduced if they felt it was needed or would add to the storyline.”
Fox also said that the drop from 13 episodes to seven probably played a role, as “additional challenges may have” been in those additional episodes.
That’s disappointing, in part because it may have offered an opportunity to liven up what’s been a surprisingly flat show. Then again, it also would have been a significant change to the format, since the original was challenge-free.
Bachelor Pad had challenges as part of its format. But Bachelor in Paradise does not, nor does Love Island, and both of those are essentially using the original Paradise Hotel’s format. Would challenges have made it more Big Brother or Bachelor Pad?
The ice pop challenge gave its winners significant power: they sent home one person from the losing pair. That’s far more power than challenge winners typically have on other shows; the Big Brother head of household essentially chooses who will go home, but does that by nominating two people, and those people have a second chance at immunity for themselves and can also wrangle votes. Not here: The challenge was held, someone was sent home.
Perhaps challenges would have added more tension; perhaps not. But staffing an entire department and then basically not using it is a fascinating example of how plans can change, especially on a show produced in near-real time.
It’s also an example of how a format that once worked so, so well (as Paradise Hotel season one did) can also fail to catch fire again.
Maybe if the contestants had been literally catching fire—or competing in some other kinds of games—Paradise Hotel would have been different. Or maybe it would have just looked even more like a shadow of other shows, even though it was the first.