“Why would they do this?” asks Beyond the Edge host Mauro Ranallo, referring to the celebrities and reality TV stars who agreed to spend two weeks in Panama to raise money for charity.
That is the question that hangs over this new celebrity reality show, which CBS is pairing with Survivor 42, and which will only highlight how flimsy and slipshod Beyond the Edge is by comparison.
“It’s much easier to write a check,” he continues. Of course, just donating to charity requires 1) spending your own money and 2) not getting face time on television.
Ranallo concludes: “It’s because this group of celebrities share a common mission: to prove that if we all work together, we can accomplish anything for the greater good.”
That’s a nice thought, but it arrives in a pathetic package. After years of hoping for a Celebrity Survivor, for CBS to offer us this flimsy facsimile—which is basically just a repackaged I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!—instead is insulting.
The greatest compliment I can offer to Beyond the Edge is that watching its first two episodes made me extremely grateful for Survivor, and how extraordinarily well-produced it is.
Beyond the Edge has shaky camera work that makes The Blair Witch Project look like Norwegian slow TV, and inconsistent production design which only sometimes tries to make show elements seem endemic to the environment. The slow-motion footage comes across as comedy, not drama.
It’s a mess. But it made me appreciate the craftspeople on Survivor who do things like setting up cameras for a single shot in a challenge, film B-roll, or paint props.
What’s surprising is that there is Survivor talent behind the scenes. While Deadline‘s report that Jeff Probst would sign on as an executive producer was not accurate—or at least, his name is not on the show—there are three veteran Survivor producers onboard as co-executive producers: John Kirhoffer, Survivor’s longtime challenge producer; Jimmy Quigley; and Kevin Hodder.
And the director of photography is Scott Duncan, who filmed Survivor’s breathtaking opening sequences for years. Alas, Beyond the Edge has none of that visual flair or emotion.
There are a few redeeming things about this Survivor knock-off
Beyond the Edge has gathered together nine “celebrities,” seven of whom have previously been on reality TV. They compete in challenges—er, “adventures”—to earn money for their charities. Each day they stay also earns more money.
They’re in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama, a place used for a past episode of Naked and Afraid. But this is not Naked and Afraid nor Alone; they’re just out there for 14 days.
There is a lot of worry and fear about their experience. They express concern about being in the dark, and yet they have a roaring fire and lanterns hung all around their camp, which also has supplies and a survival guide. Their individual bamboo cots in the pre-made shelters have mosquito netting, and when it rains, it’s far less miserable than it is for Survivor contestants because the celebrities have been provided rain jackets.
Of course, it’s not as comfortable as staying in a Hampton Inn. Yet after two decades of survival shows, all of this just seems silly. We’ve seen people do so much more with so much less. That has the effect of making the celebrities seem like babies, not brave.
In each episode, the celebrities split into teams for a challenge, which here has been re-labeled an “adventure.” They don’t wear team-colored Buffs, they wear team-colored arm sleeves.
The first challenge spans a mile and involves mules, boats, while the second includes a multi-story rope ladder and mountain biking. Both of the first two end with a puzzle. (I’ve seen the first two episodes.)
Having a long, multi-stage challenge is refreshing, and a throwback to earlier seasons of Survivor, which demonstrated more creativity and variety than the challenge rut the show is in now. These challenges do seem tough, though the fact that they’re staged over a long distance, and filmed and edited in jumbled manner, can make the true scope and progress hard to follow.
Mauro Ranallo is a bit awkward at some of the hosting duties, but he does excellent color commentary and narration, which is his day job as a boxing commentator on Showtime. In a significant improvement over Survivor, he does not talk non-stop; that’s a relief, especially since the challenge lasts for quite some time.
The challenges have a decision point, where the first team to arrive decides if they want to take a more-challenging route and get a clue to help them on the puzzle, or a shorter route that’ll allow them to have more time on the puzzle. It’s an interesting twist, though the first clue is perhaps too valuable.
The challenge winners get money to split for their charities, but beyond that competition, there’s no game on Beyond the Edge.
But there is Tribal Council, which has been renamed “The Lanterns,” and Beyond the Edge stays on-brand and makes The Lanterns look really pathetic: some logs to sit on, a couple of lanterns or spotlights in trees.
Since there’s no voting, it’s more like group therapy to process what happened over the past day. Ranallo asks questions but mostly listens; he’s not pushing for tears.
That produces some heartfelt moments that seem to emerge organically, and don’t become story points—they’re just people talking and sharing.
“I haven’t always felt safe,” Eboni K. Williams says during the first night, getting emotional about how Ray Lewis helped her in the challenge. “I’m not really used being able to trust anybody.”
The show has other moments like that, too, such as American Idol alum Lauren Alaina revealing how she was affected by the vicious, cruel things people said about her when she was a teenager.
One humanizing moment, though, had me cursing at the screen: “There was a lot of people angry and upset when they found out I am gay,” Colton Underwood says. That line sounded suspiciously like a frankenbite, cut together from more than one sentences, but just in case it’s not: Colton, while there may be some homophobic reactions, I think people were mostly upset about you stalking someone instead of dealing with your own shit. And now I’m angry and upset at CBS for giving you more of what you seem to crave more than contrition: attention.
While I’m always glad to hear celebrities and/or reality TV contestants honestly talk about their lives, a competition where people share stories has already been done better—and on CBS, and on Wednesday nights.
That’s Phil Keoghan’s great show Tough As Nails, which is also light years beyond Beyond the Edge.
Tough As Nails is basically just challenges and conversations, but the pacing, editing, and integration of those two things is much more seamless. And there, we’re getting to know people without privilege and money and fame, and I’d far prefer to spend time with them.
Still, watching Beyond the Edge, I could almost hear the gears grinding at CBS: This combines Tough As Nails and Survivor! But it has neither the heart of Tough As Nails nor the quality of Survivor, and probably should have just been pushed over the edge.
Beyond the Edge
Beyond the Edge is a weak attempt to combine Survivor and Tough As Nails, but ends up just proving how much better those two shows are. D
What works for me:
- The heartfelt conversations
- The (brief) attention to the charities
- The frequent on-screen reminder of who these people are
What could be better: