I know that headline is a bit “local paper” but there we are. I watched the premiere of Mark Burnett’s new CBS physical competition show TKO (Total Knockout – part Total Wipeout, part It’s a Knockout). And it’s surprisingly OK!
Five people take on the TKO obstacle course one at a time and the fastest round wins $50,000. Second place wins $5,000, then $2,500, $1,000 and $0. The course consists of four zones, a sort of perspex wall ledge thing, a balance beam thing, some wobbly platforms and finally some rolling beams called “The Grinder”. These are tough but largely fair obstacles. The fun is that whilst one person is running the course, the other four are manning battle stations and try and knock them off the course with various projectiles. It’s kind of Hit and Run/Danger Zone off of Gladiators mixed with The Eliminator off of Gladiators. The first time a contestant falls from an obstacle is a “Knockout” and they must try again. The second time is a “Total Knockout” and they can move on to the next zone with a minute penalty added to the end. On the final obstacle there is also a “time capsule” which if grabbed deducts 90 seconds from the overall time.
I was initially rather sceptical that watching an obstacle course run five times would sustain over an hour but surprisingly it works quite well. Given that the order the contestants run shouldn’t really matter – everybody runs and everybody gets a go at each station – the angle they’ve gone for, that of “defending your money,” and giving people skill-based means to slow players up actually makes for quite an entertaining narrative. Whatsmore because projectiles in some of the zones are limited or one-use, there’s some quite fun strategy/psyche-out chat going on. If I had one criticism of the format, it’s that it looks a little bit like on a few of the zones just immediately taking the dive twice and moving on would be quicker than actually completing successfully which is never really what you want to aim for.
Kevin Hart’s a fun host, doing contestant chat before each run and commentating and encouraging and laughing from the gantries. As he goes round with the contestant surprisingly dynamic as well. He seems to find the whole thing a lot funnier than I did, the obstacles don’t quite have the pratfall element of something like Wipeout for example.
The fastest winners across the series come back for the end of season “battle royale” for $100,000. Can it sustain across an entire season? Don’t know, especially if it’s going to be the same obstacles each time. But whilst the show isn’t a must watch, it manages to be a surprisingly entertaining hour.