Guessing game reality TV shows are all the rage, and so are shows that borrow The Mole’s conceit, so it makes sense that ABC has combined the two into Claim to Fame, a reality competition between the (kinda) unrecognizable relatives of (actual!) celebrities.
Make no mistake: Claim to Fame is not The Mole, but more of a throwback to mid-2000s era reality shows that took place entirely in a Hollywood Hills mansion on a budget best described as “bargain,” and sometimes with celebrities also best described as “bargain.”
Claim to Fame (ABC, Mondays at 10) has no actual celebrities except host Kevin Jonas and his long-suffering brother Frankie Jonas, a relationship and dynamic that is totally underused, since they mostly spend their on-screen time reading off of teleprompters, despite some promising improvised moments in their intro to the show.
But (at least some of) the contestants are actually adjacent to A-list talent—though that’s A-list talent that would never appear on a summer ABC reality TV show but whose likenesses that ABC reality TV show can use anyway, albeit with a disclaimer: “The use of any particular celebrity’s name and likeness in this series is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and no endorsement or authorization by any such celebrity is implied.”
Those celebrity relatives guess who their fellow relatives are related to, giving Claim to Fame the requisite reveal at the end of every episode, but also strategy to go with it.
While we wait for Netflix to actually bring back The Mole—c’mon, Netflix, you filmed the thing last summer, give it to us already!—Claim to Fame offers a promising game, despite some baffling choices on the producers’ part.
Celebrity relatives guessing celebrity names
Claim to Fame’s game is actually quite simple, although it unfolds in a way that makes it appear unnecessarily complicated. There’s a challenge; the winner gets immunity, and the bottom two are vulnerable. The house votes for one of those two, who must guess the identity of a fellow player’s relative in something called “The Guess Off,” because they stand and face each other, I think.
If the guesser is right, the other player leaves; if they’re wrong, they leave, and reveal their relative on the way out.
Nearly all of this takes place in the mansion, including challenges at a cramped poolside that make me long for the slick production design of the early days of Big Brother’s shoddy challenges.
The players may not be famous themselves, but most of them have made-for-reality TV personalities, and are fun to watch, whether they’re jokingly accusing someone of being a vampire or finding actual connection over parts of their lives.
Meanwhile, the producers dribble out clues: through some of the challenges, via a wall of props that’s in the house, and to the challenge winner (who gets a clue about a player of their choosing in the form of a Survivor 41-ish easy-to-solve rebus puzzle).
All of that, plus the two-truths-and-a-lie introductions, are enough to fire up a surprising amount of discussion/strategy and bonding/alliance-building that happens in Claim to Fame’s first two episodes. A bulk of the time spent with them hanging around the house talking.
Like in The Mole, the players are given notebooks to record their thoughts, but the producers have given them photos of the cast, plus at least two pages of printed material that’s affixed to pages of their books. (It seems as though it’s a copy of everyone’s three introductory facts, i.e. their two truths and a lie.)
The contestants’ throwing around names to guess each others’ relatives is actually interesting, and not like Jenny “vaccines are safe and please vaccinate your children and yourselves” McCarthy throwing out superstars’ names as if any of them would appear on Fox’s dumpster of a reality show, no offense to dumpsters, which are actually useful and don’t regularly launder the reputations of insurrection-inspirers. But I digress.
Alas, the producers and/or network have made a disappointing decision: they just tell us who some of the players’ famous relatives are.
Claim to Fame spoils itself by dropping spoilers
During the two-truths-and-a-lie intros, on-screen text tells us which of the players’ statements are lies, so we’re already ahead of everyone. And then the editing just starts dropping names and some pretty revealing details.
(ABC has asked critics to not reveal any details that are in the episodes, which is ironic because the episode itself just drops spoilers left and right. But until after each episode airs, I’ll replace names spoken on the show with XXXXXXs.)
Louise is Simone Biles’s sister, and basically looks like her, which prompts one of the players to label her “The Layup”—an easy guess should a player end up in the bottom.
Amara tells everyone her grandma won an AVN award, for performance in an adult film. But her grandmother is actually Whoopi Goldberg, who told Amara, “Be a strong bitch and come back happy.”
We get information that narrows down others’ relatives: Brittany’s dad, she says, is “a Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame quarterback,” while Logan tells us he’s related to a “very well-known country music star.” In episode two, though, the producers let us know whose Brittany father is: Brett Favre.
Spoiling the game for viewers has the effect of—well, spoiling the game for viewers.
It also dilutes the players’ guesses and analysis. When Logan says he knows who Brittany’s dad is, we know he’s right, because we’ve been told.
Would The Mole tell us who isn’t The Mole in the first few minutes?
The editing also telegraphs who’s going to be voted into The Guess Off, and based on what guess is getting attention, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen. And then the obvious does happen.
I found it much more interesting to watch informed speculation, like if Maxwell is related to Steven Spielberg or not, and whether certain clues point directly to that or are being completely misread.
All of these choices, besides pandering to viewers who just want answers poured into their mouths, probably makes the editing easier, but it limits the game.
Since this show is on ABC, I’m attributing these choices to a kind of residual fear over what happened to The Mole, a show that even scared its host away with its intelligence.
Watching Claim to Fame, I wanted to be more confused, at least by the identities of the celebrities.
I also wanted more possibilities: Only allowing the house to select from the bottom two immediately cuts down on a lot of potential drama. Why not let them vote for anyone except the person who has immunity? That’d allow for strategies and alliances to blossom more—but also make for a more-complicated game, and a more-challenging edit.
There is one other choice in the first episode so bad my eyes rolled out of my head: a pretend interruption from a crew member, who takes Kevin and Frankie aside to tell them A Secret That The Producers Clearly Already Knew: Maxwell has been DQed because he snuck in a phone. Audiences are smarter than this now, although even Survivor did this recently.
Despite the dumbing-down, I’m in for Claim to Fame, and curious to see if and/or how alliances and strategy become more of a part of the game. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a brand-new network competition format with this much promise.
Claim To Fame
Claim to Fame offers a promising game, despite some baffling choices on the producers’ part. B+
What works for me:
- The format and the game
- The cast, who are personalities on their own
What could be better:
- Stop telling us the answers
- Not putting just two players on the block for eviction