ABC’s Claim to Fame has been the biggest surprise of the summer for me, and while its finale was not full of surprises, it was a satisfying end to the season as it went from the final three to one $100,000 winner.
While I initially dinged it for its insecurity, and was continually frustrated by the way Claim to Fame’s editing revealed way too much—viewers were given clue and challenge answers immediately, and we were told about some celebrity relatives early on—that ultimately didn’t make the show less engaging. I just think it would have been more fun without that.
Claim to Fame ultimately lived up to its promise, delivering strategy and a few surprises, and is my favorite new competition format since Phil Keoghan’s terrific Tough As Nails.
What made it work was a combination of two things that haven’t worked as well on other shows: a guessing game and a cast comprised of celebrity relatives.
It’s the best use of celebrity relatives I’ve ever seen in a reality TV show, in part because it allowed them to become full characters aside from their relatives. At least, they became full players, because as I type this, I also realize I wouldn’t mind learning more about some of the people outside of the game.
I don’t need full-blown Survivor bio packages, but wouldn’t have minded a handful of scenes with more casual conversation among the players or details. For example, Logan told us “I’ve had to do some hellacious things” in past games of Truth or Dare, and that feels like a sentence that could use some explanation, unless what he did would make standards and practices blush.
Meanwhile, The Masked Singer’s early success spawned a bunch of mostly boring guessing games, never mind the fact that it’s turned into a stupid mess that will gladly pay awful people to costume themselves while an anti-vaxxer shouts out A-listers’ names.
Claim to Fame merged guessing with celebrity relatively seamlessly, though it did that in a package with such a low budget that the seams often showed. Episodes adhered pretty rigidly to a format of conversation, challenge, strategic conversation, guess-off, reveal, and mostly stayed put inside the mansion.
It was a perfect summer show in that its game and strategy were layered without being overly complex, and even though there were some hard feelings, it stayed light and breezy.
Kevin and Frankie Jonas were absolutely fantastic hosts, and that is rare: broadcast TV is littered with the carcasses of failed celebrity hosts who were brought on for their names, not their ability to navigate the demands of guiding an unscripted show.
The joke of Frankie being an unknown Jonas worked, of course, but he was far more than that, and just as strong of a television presence as his more-famous brother.
Together, they moved efficiently through the business, and had genuine reactions—enthusiasm, gentle mocking—without ever making it about themselves.
The final Claim to Fame challenge
The finale began with a bit of conversation that revealed both Logan and L.C. were not yet confident about who the other was related to—something that’d change by the end of the episode, thanks to the most-revealing, most-obvious clues yet.
Pepper, meanwhile, revealed that she was sure L.C. is related to Laurence Fishburne and thought Logan might be related to Garth Brooks, i.e. Pepper had no idea and was wrong.
Frankie Jonas introduced the final challenge as “the ultimate showdown of secret identities,” and then Kevin got in one last scripted joke about Frankie not being in the band.
The eliminated players returned to watch the challenge, having all been sequestered and thus not able to, say, go online. The only player who wasn’t there was DQed Chuck Norris grandson Maxwell.
The editing tried to make it look like the eliminated players were somehow irritated or mad at the final three, with repeated use of that overused waa-waaaa reality TV sound. But they were probably just bored from being forced to wait around—on the pool deck, and/or in a hotel room.
The final challenge, Truth or Dare, was held in a very special, far away location: the pool deck. Yes, we were back there once again, as we were for the final Guess Off. Props to the production for basically producing an entire competition and almost all challenges in a single house using mostly just one room and one patio.
The winner of the challenge would be truly victorious: they’d automatically go to the final two, immune from the penultimate Guess Off, and also get to decide the first guesser. Plus, the winner would later choose who made the final guess.
In other words, it was an enormous amount of power, and it affected the final three’s strategy.
Each player was able to choose truth or dare: truth meant they had to answer a question about their relative, for which they’d get two points, while a successful dare would earn one point. A failed dare would be zero points and they’d have to answer their question. So dares were a big risk.
Why choose dares? To conceal information. Why choose truths? To rack up points. Pepper and L.C. each went for points, giving up a lot of information in order to try to win that power, while Logan tried to hide information by choosing dares.
While basically everyone thought L.C. was related to Laurence Fishburne, L.C. ended that by referring to her relative as “she” in her answers, and went on to reveal that her sister had a roles in Scream Queens and is the star of Nope, never mind that saying her relative played Akeelah in Akeelah and the Bee. (Amara revealed that she has hung out with Keke Palmer, which was a twist I didn’t see coming.)
Pepper, meanwhile, mentioned a song, “Volare,” that her relative was well-known for, and confirmed he was in Cannonball Run with Sammy Davis Junior.
When Logan chose truth and/or failed his dares, he revealed things that were of no help, such as he person did a duet with Miranda Lambert or won the 2005 ACM New Male Vocalist award.
“A stunning lack of reaction from the audience,” Frankie said when Logan revealed one of those answers. At one point, I was fairly convinced that the producers could have brought out Logan’s relative, and everyone still would have been like, Nope, no idea!
The first dare Logan was 30 seconds to smash a dozen eggs on his head, an absurdly easy challenge, though a visually fun one.
“You call that a dare? I call that a day at the spa,” he said. But he did not have that same reaction to having to eat spicy food. Again, though, the challenge was a walk in the reality TV park, at least compared to what other shows, from Fear Factor to The Amazing Race, have asked their contestants to eat.
“The things that I’ll do to keep my cousin’s identity secret,” Logan said after apparently puking. ABC kept that mostly off-screen, thankfully. The next time, he had to eat what looked like a fried scorpion, and failed that too.
For those who still didn’t know, L.C. basically gave away her relative’s name when she revealed Keke Palmer’s birth name, Lauren Palmer. Logan had a similar clue about his relative’s birth name, Jason Williams, that proved to be decisive.
Jason Aldean’s name had come up earlier, as L.C. recalled, and as Pepper told her later, the only country singer she could think of named Jason was Jason Aldean.
Pepper and L.C. tied by giving up all that information, so they had to compete in a dare: eating five insects each. “I have to eat these bugs because I revealed everything,” L.C. said.
She ate them all almost immediately, and proved herself to be completely committed to winning this game and the $100,000.
The final Guess Off and Claim to Fame winner
After the challenge, but before the final Guess Offs, both L.C. and Logan were still unsure, but there was some additional help: the former players, who spent the rest of the day in the house.
I’m not sure what to think about this. One the one hand, it feels like a blatant attempt to inject drama and information into the game. On the other hand, it didn’t seem like it affected much.
Brittany said she’d help Logan because he’d been “the most loyal,” and she did that by telling L.C. that her clue pointed to Luke Bryan. But L.C. is such an astute player that she was skeptical about this misdirection from Brittany. Also Brittany told L.C. that after the challenge revealed that Logan’s relative was first named Jason Williams, which is a name as generic as Luke Bryan, so why change that?
Meanwhile, Michael talked to Logan and told him something about L.C. that we were not allowed to hear.
Back on the pool deck—yes, a very special location for the finale!—the final two Guess Offs took place. The first question: Would L.C. stick with her longtime ally Logan, choosing him to be the guesser? Or would L.C. let Pepper try to knock him out by choosing her?
She stayed with Logan, who had to guess Pepper’s relative: Dean Martin. Pepper Martin is his granddaughter, and she was just three when he died. She also said she has a “That’s amore” tattoo on her lower back that she’d been hiding.
That Pepper was almost eliminated in the very first episode—about to guess Maxwell was related to Steven Spielberg—but made it to the final three was an impressive run.
The two allied players were left as the final two, but L.C. had all the power: choosing who the final guesser would be. She gave herself the power, meaning she’d get $100,000 for being right or lose it for being wrong.
L.C. guessed that Logan was related to Jason Aldean, and that was correct: Logan Crosby is Jason Aldean’s cousin.
L.C. later revealed herself as Keke Palmer’s older sister—who gave Keke her nickname as a child.
Watching the two friends hug after L.C.’s win was quite a warm and fuzzy moment. “I’m so proud of you. I love you,” Logan said, and L.C. said, “I love you too” as fireworks went off, and there was a fun confessional where they were in the chair together and said they wanted the tape of their conversation if it didn’t air.
And while L.C. certainly proved herself to be a formidable player in the game, she also got more than $100,000 from Claim to Fame.
“I literally feel like I am a whole new person,” L.C. told us. “I came into this house shy and afraid, and I now I have my own claim to fame.” Yes she does, and it’s as the winner of a really fun, really entertaining new reality TV format that I hope will return for a season two soon.