“There is no catch,” The Trust: A Game of Greed host Brooke Baldwin tells the Netflix show’s 11 players. “You’re here, you’re already winners.”
Yes, they’ve already each won their share of the grand prize. Game over!
There is, of course, a catch: if they’re greedy little wretches, they can increase their share of the prize.
Every night, they have the opportunity to vote someone out. Players cast their votes privately, and have the option to not vote, too. That means everyone could stay. But if even one vote is cast, that player is out.
The only twist, at least in the first four episodes, comes from two players getting an opportunity to enrich themselves or the group, presented with two offers, each with pros and cons.
The simplicity of this game, and the concept itself, recalls Fox’s Unan1mous, in which nine players had to decide which among them would receive $1.5 million. Every second that they weren’t able to decide, the prize shrunk, increasing the pressure to act.
Here, though, the greed is optional. The real greed, though, seems to be coming from Netflix itself, inside a show that looks just like other shows Netflix has given us before.
The prize being offered is kinda pathetic: just $250,000, split 11 ways. That means each of the trust’s contestants start the game with $22,727 and 27 cents.
I don’t want to pretend it wouldn’t have a real impact for some people. But for people who can afford to bail on their jobs and lives to film a reality TV show in the Dominican Republic, is it really that much, especially once taxes are subtracted?
Bryce, a 22-year-old realtor, reveals himself to already be a millionaire, and tells us he’s wearing a watch that “might be worth a couple hundred thousand dollars.”
What does he need with even $250,000? What incentive is there to play this game?
At first, I thought this prize was just was too little to be interesting. Compare it to Netflix’s $4.56 million prize for Squid Game: The Challenge, and the $22,727 is practically loose change.
But the relatively low amounts may actually serve as an incentive to play the game. Why sit around and wait for $22,727 when you can possibly have $250,000? That’s a considerable jump, even if it’s not $4.56 million, or even Outlast’s $1 million prize.
The show actually acknowledges this. “A quarter of a million dollars is a lot of money to me, yes,” one player, Lindsey, says in a confessional. “However, when you divide that by 11, it is not a lot of money to me.”
Is someone really going to not play the game, content with $23,000, when they could get $250,000?
Thus, The Trust: A Game of Greed’s game escalates quickly, despite—or really, because of—Netflix’s own greediness, and thanks to some great casting.
The Trust looks and feels like other Netflix shows: glossy, shiny, an oceanfront house hosting beautiful people rattling off reality TV clichés (Juelz: “If they do, they’re going to put a huge target on their back.” Tolú: “At the end of the day, I’m here for number-one.”)
Even its format—a group of people trying to earn as much money as possible while navigating obstacles the producers placed in their way—is familiar: Surviving Paradise and Too Hot to Handle are close cousins.
“We are the stars of the show,” someone says in the second episode, and this reveals that the show may just be about more than the cash for some of them.
It is the cast, however, that makes The Trust watchable, both through their personalities and game play.
They’re quite funny. Simone, unemployed, 55, tells us, “I have a non-binary plant. Their name is Chris. And I have a spider plant; his name is Harry. Harry’s always coming on to Chris; Chris won’t have any of it.”
Jay, a 70-year-old retiree, declines to cast a vote during the first voting opportunity, and she tells Brooke Baldwin, “We’ve gotta stand tall. We’ve gotta totally trust each other. We can’t be pussies.”
Julez—who tells everyone else they’re “family” on day two and insists he’s “one of the honest people”—lies to everyone and doesn’t tell them he’s actually a cop. “Your perspective is not about me,” he says, “it’s about what I do, which is not who I am.” So he tells everyone he’s a stripper. Problem solved!
By the second episode, conversations deepen, surfacing their past traumas that affect their ability to trust strangers.
Then it’s on to a test, The Trust’s version of a challenge, i.e. the producers trying to inject more distrust. It works.
The first episode’s test is just some water-treading until the vote. But the test is more diabolical in the second episode (Netflix is releasing the show over three weeks).
It’s an exercise that asks the players to rank themselves by things like intelligence and leadership, Jake, a military contractor, insists he’s the smartest and the best leader of all the players. His cockiness and reality TV stupidity earns him the task of sorting the other players, instantly fracturing some of his relationships.
Julie, an entrepreneur who grew up in a trailer park, tells us, “Jake already has everything. You’re a white, blue-eyed, good-looking male in this society. For him to so confidently put himself above me, when we didn’t start even close to the same starting line. So I know you have no emotional awareness.”
“We should all have the confidence of a straight white man,” Tolú says.
Tolú is the breakout player of the early episodes, with her earnest search for authenticity in other players leading her to want to earn trust and be skeptical of those who just insist they trust complete strangers.
Her own well-calibrated no-nonsense approach to analyzing the game and other players’ actions—including Julez and Jake’s actions—
Many of The Trust’s players have a level of emotional intelligence not always included in these games. The way with each other and in interviews deepens what could be a shallow game.
Gaspare, a teacher, addresses Jake in a confessional: “If you need that validation, just to be told that you’re a good leader, good for you. You are a great leader. Congratulations. But a lion doesn’t need to tell people he’s a lion. He’s just be’s—I fucked that up,” he laughs.
Yes, even when it’s serious, The Trust finds moments of levity.
All of this fuels the game itself, twisting The Trust into a tight knot of strategy, emotion, and fun, and a game that has more to say about how people interact and relate to each other than Squid Game: The Challenge ever could.
The Trust: A Game of Greed
The Trust starts slow and predictable, but its simple format and strong cast give it unexpected depth. B+
What works for me:
- the cast, and their emotional intelligence and humor
- the simplicity of the format
- the humor
What could be better:
- The prize?
- A different aesthetic than all of Netflix’s shows filmed at a sprawling oceanside mansion