Les Forges du Desert (1999, France 2, Adventure Line)

Here’s an interesting show, intended as Adventure Line’s follow-up to Fort Boyard for broadcast in the winter, six episodes were filmed. Unfortunately it was a massive flop, only three episodes were broadcast on France 2 in December and January of 1999 and 2000 before it was pulled because of low ratings. The complete run of six went out on TV5, apparently the other three episodes were re-edited and burnt off on weekday afternoons.

Shame really, as I think there’s a lot to like about Bedouin Boyard, and it is not as if the show hadn’t found some success elsewhere in the world (notably Sweden and Quebec). Three versions of the format exist (in 50, 75 and 90 minute forms). There was a 10-episode UK version hosted by Richard Fairbrass and Gabrielle Richens for Channel 5 in 2000 to not much success. The set for the show still lies out in Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert, and it still sees use, albeit not as The Desert Forges.

Today we’re looking at the very first episode of the French show from 1999.

The titles, lots of people on camels trotting through the desert, that sort of thing.

The contestants are introduced. The game is played by four people, two women who will duel off against each other and two men who will duel off against each other. The strongest will be allowed into the palace of the forges and given the chance to pour their prize in gold. Which is then converted to money.

There are two routes to the palace – one coming in from the west and one from the south. Each route has its own set of tasks and challenges, and each pairing will duel across four of them. As you can see, today the females are on the East Trail, and the males on the South Trail.

In each game, the object is to win the Dagger, representing victory in the desert – Moon Dagger for the men, Sun Dagger for the women. The first game on each route is a face-off to determine who gets to hold onto it.

Our male host, popular French radio DJ and TV presenter Jean-Luc Reichmann.

In this first duel, the male contestants are lying in a box and buried up to their necks in sand. Their hands are also bound together. On the gunfire, they must race to escape and grab the dagger currently in the sand a short run away.

The symbols on screen are from the special cameras being used by characters acting as the eyes of the Poetess in the Palace.

Here she is watching on an old telly, look. She uses her remote to switch between routes.

This contestant (Patrick) is first to escape and grabs the dagger. That’s his for the moment but may well change hands later on.

And for that, he wins a flame, kept either side of the host’s travelling camel. Now, as far as I can tell, if one person has won three or more duels by the time they get to the palace then they will go through to play for the gold. But if there is a tie, whoever is holding the dagger at the end of the fourth duel will win as a tiebreaker. The contestants, hosts and hangers-on all travel to each destination by camel.

Across to the West Trail, our second host Karine Lemarchand is pointing out the game to the women.

There’s a rope bridge spanning a large crevasse. The dagger is in the middle, and the two women start from opposite ends, first to grab the dagger wins. Unfortunately to make it more interesting, the slats on the bridge aren’t joined to each other, so the contestants must work to cross without falling through.

Back to the South Route, the men are going to have a run through a tough obstacle course – lots of climbing and crawling through a lot of nets and tyres (there are four “bits” to this course, the contestants start bottom left, go up and back, up and back and finish bottom right).

As holder of the dagger, it’s up to Patrick to run first. Many of these events take the form of a staggered time trial – at the beginning of the course is a sand timer. The contestant pulls the trigger to start the clock then starts running the course. When the sand runs out, the other contestant starts chasing. At the end of the course is an identical sand timer, when the first contestant finishes, he starts that timer. If the trailling contestant can get to the end of the course and catch a grain of sand then they have been faster and win the duel. If the sand runs out then they have been slower and lose. If the trailling contestant manages to tag the leading contestant at any point then they automatically win.

This probably isn’t the sort of thing you ought to be doing in 40 degree C temepratures really but there we are. Jean-Marie has managed to tag Patrick in the home straight so he wins. He wins a flame and also takes control of the dagger.

He’s encouraged to impress the watching Poetess who seems to find it very amusing!

Game two for the women – this time they will take it in turns to play. One will hide behind a rock to they can’t get any strategy from the first player. This game involves three doors, they must progress as far as they can in the ‘time of the warrior’ (i.e. the time between two gunshots which in this instance appears to be about 80 seconds) The first door has four differently shaped locks requiring four differently shaped keys which are found by unscrewing some lids above the door.

The key [to the second door] is in the sand near the blue pole.

You can see the three doors on the right and red, yellow and blue poles stuck in the sand a short run from them. She must run, get the key and get back again.

The final task is to cut ropes with the knife provided. Each cut rope drops the board down one notch revealing a cubby hole. When time’s up, she’ll place the dagger in the lowest open cubby hole. Having seen the Quebecoise version of the game, this door opens up if all the ropes are cut, the contestant has the remaining seconds to sprint as far as they can, burying the knife at their final position.

Sabrine only manages to cut one rope, so puts the dagger in the first cubby hole. The game is then reset.

Marie-Ange has the same amount of time to play the same game and find the dagger. Which she does. So she wins a flame and control of the dagger.

Duel three for the men and they seem to have met up with palace’s captain of industry.

Simply, the contestants have to knock out as many logs that drop from the machine into the cradle as they can within the time limit. As the logs drop down, they reveal holes to put the dagger into. The contestant places the dagger into the lowest hole and the other contestant must try and reveal the dagger by being faster.

For the girls it’s the Four Charms, a race up and down the dunes and rocks, running to four poles, each with a necklace to collect. This works on the staggered time trial system. But you can’t be tagged if you’re unscrewing a necklace at a pole.

The final duel for the men is a run down an obstacle filled wadi. They have to do this whilst carrying a heavy bag. The host gets to ride a camel alongside the contestants.

The end timer is up the top of a tall tower. One of the Poetess’ eyes is perched right up the top there, which can’t be very safe.

The final duel for the females is the Seven Pillars – seven pillars about ten feet off the ground with increasing distance between them.

The leading contestant jumps as far as they can within the time, and if they are happy, the place the dagger in the hole in the pillar and spend the rest of the time screwing it shut as tight as they can. The other contestant must then match the first player’s performance and unscrew the box to grab the dagger before the time runs out.

Duels complete, the contestants and hosts meet up at the palace. The two winning contestants are then bound together with rope handcuffs – the trials of the palace require them to play as one. But it’s not all over for the losing contestants, but they are kept outside and bound to a stake.

The winners playing as a team are now led through a complex underground tunnel system to the forges.

The forges room in action. But unfortunately the contestants haven’t earned any gold yet.

The contestants have fifty minutes to earn and pour their prize. If they fail the trials of the palace, then their rivals waiting outside will come in, steal their place and also their gold.

First things first, it’s time to escape the tunnels. To do this they must push a minecart along a track to the exit. Unfortunately there are traps along the way. As you can see, there are turntables breaking the track at inopportune moments.

First task – use a hoop on a bit of string to pull a lever. They have 45 seconds in which to do this. If they complete it then that’s great – move on, if not then a gate shuts and they must waste time getting it open again.

They fail, so must spend time cutting through these ropes, dropping the barrel and opening the gate.

Second task – skilful use of a poking stick can push that buzzsaw to cut through three blocks of wood.

Unskilful use drops this spliked gate across the path.

And only by connecting the circuit will it rise up again.

The cart’s pushed to the end and it fills up with rocks. The contestants leave the tunnel, Jean-Luc and this guy roll dice and seem pleased with the outcome.

It’s time for the contestants to finally meet the Poetess! They are led down the streets of the palace by the “mascots” Midji and Jodie.

The Poetess’ tent in all it’s glory.

The amount of flames the pair won whilst out in the desert is converted into torches. These represent their lives in the game – lose all their lives, the other contestants will take their place.

This is what the team are after – Jidi. Each jidi token represents a forge. Some forges hold more gold than others – the star prize, if you like, is the forge ‘Helios’. The jidi will be shuffled around the six slots and the lids closed. Everytime they win a task in a house, they will be invited to pick one of the six slots and win whatever is hidden behind it. As you’ll note, one of them is empty.

To begin, the Poetess has a story for the contestants in the form of a lateral thinking question. This will be returned to between houses. The contestants can ask yes/no questions of the Poetess. She allows them a certain amount of time for questioning.

The team are led into a number of houses, each with a task.

This is the Tightrope – players stand either side of a pole and must work together to walk the tightrope, whilst they must also work together to get their binding over the obstacles on the pole. The games are timed – the evil Ziotor uses the team’s flame to light a candle. The candle must be used to light a fuse at the end of the tightrope blowing open a secret exit.

If the candle burns out because they take too long – the team lose. If they accidentally blow the candle out – they lose. If a drop of sweat extinguishes the candle – they lose.

But the team light the fuse – success!

They go back to the Poetess’ tent and pick one of the jidi slots. It’s not Helios, but it’s gold. They are also given a replacement flame for the one they used up in the last house.

Next house – the candle is on the back of a boat. The contestants must blow the boat to direct it towards the fuse. Obviously they must not blow it out.

Ziotor also hinders by pouring water through a hole in the roof.

Unfortunately the candle runs out before the fuse lights so the contestants lose a life. They must run past the Poetess’ tent to pick up a new flame.

One of the ropes tying the losers up is cut free also.

The next game was called ‘Mint Tea’ in the UK version. The contestants must use the rope swings to collect the cans of water hanging from the ceiling…

… then pour the water into the funnel which will drop a piece of glass releasing access to the fuse.

Unfortunately she accidentally extinguishes the candle. One life left!

The final house this week is the Old Forge and works in two parts. First of all, the team collect sticks lying around the floor. Then, with restricted access, they must try and put them in a hanging bucket.

This raises a gate. The contestants then use their candle to light another wick.

The wick is on the end of a rod. One contestant must guide the rod through a maze in order to light the fuse. Unfortunately they can’t see where they are going, so their partner looks through the hole and tries to guide him.

They succeed, and back to the Poetess’ tent to win more jidi and try and solve the Poetess’ puzzle. In truth, we’ve not quite worked out the significance of this board of numbers. Presumably it’s the answer.

No more challenges, it’s time for the forges run. First of all the binding is removed, then they must use the tunnels to go to The Dome of Spirit.

One contestant will drive a remote control car using an onboard camera…

… the other person is apparently wired to a machine that measures brainwaves. The camera only comes online when she is relaxed.

At two points, the remote car comes across three gates. Now, there are three routes into the forges – south, east and west. Two of the routes are obstacle filled, one is obstacle free. To eliminate the difficult routes, the female must solve these mathematical puzzles.

If the car goes through the correct gate, behind the gate is a sign eliminating a route for them. Don’t use the West route, here.

So, route chosen, the team get kitted up and it’s time to pour their gold.

The team get their jidi ready, and Sallah the Forgemaster intructs them to move the crucible to the correct place. The forge will then pour its gold into their crucible.

All gold collected, the first job is to pour gold into two moulds to make masks. Sallah gives a contestant a big ladle-thing filled with their gold, one contestant runs outside and pours it.

Once done, the team have the rest of the time and gold to pour into moulds to form ingots. Each complete ingot (part complete ones will not count) are worth 20,000 Francs each. They manage two full ones.

Here are the masks. Presumably the contestants will get these, although they don’t walk off with them.

And the contestants are sent packing.

Thanks to the King of Jordan!

The credits are lots of lovely desert-y looking things and buildings, a bit like the end of Fort Boyard does with nautical things.

4 thoughts on “Les Forges du Desert (1999, France 2, Adventure Line)

  1. David B

    Ouest is West, Brig…

    Nice article! And very handy…

  2. Boyardman

    I would love to watch this show again. The only VHS I have is destroyed and there is no episode on Internet (except a German one)….


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