You probably don’t watch many game shows. Our readership in all likelihood falls outside of the Jeopardy!-watching demographics (though I must say I love Jeopardy!), but allow me to persuade you, please. The Chase, like apparently all great American television now, comes from a British original series. Irregardless, our version is fascinating and frustrating and fantastic. Each episode features three contestants, first accruing money individually before trying to beat “The Beast” in battles of trivia. The different contestants and their stories may be interesting, but the real star of the show is said Beast.
He doesn’t seem to mind the moniker, but his real name is Mark Labbett, and he’s unbelievable to watch. He first starred on the British version of the show, and before that he was a math and law scholar, as well as a quizzing superstar. He has certain areas in which his knowledge is unsurprising — British history and the like — but his wealth of knowledge in areas like pop culture and science is astounding. When the contestants go toe to toe with him, as they try to qualify for The Final Chase, the focus falls on the wannabe champions, but when The Final Chase comes, the Beast lets loose.
In The Final Chase, the contestants who made it through their individual chases work together to answer as many questions correctly in two minutes as they can. This effort is usually fruitless, as the Beast usually proceeds to top their total with relative ease. If he’s forced to work hard, he seems to have an extra gear, rattling off answers more rapidly than seems humanly possible. Unlike most game shows, the contestants are playing against a tangible foe, and unlike any other I’ve seen, you sort of root for the bad guy. Watching people strive to get money for their families or homes is great and all, but watching a genius at work brings the same sort of joy as watching 2000 Tiger or 2006 Federer or 2008 Michael Phelps. Everyone and everything around him is simply background noise distracting from his immense talent, and the show’s producers understand that, letting him be the star who closes the show with a bang.
Supporting Labbett is Brooke Burns, hosting expertly and bouncing between respecting his skill and pushing hard for him to lose. She’s bouncy and energetic and harmlessly flirtatious, and her chemistry with the show’s star helps keep the flow. Most importantly, this show taps into the same thing as great game shows like Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?: you get to answer the questions in your mind, seeing how you stack up against those playing, dreaming of the winnings on which they so often miss out. Game Show Network has a winner here, despite the show usually ending in defeats. FOX originally tried out the show, with some different logistics, and now it and the other major networks seem to be missing out. The show has already been renewed for a fourth season next year, and it’s still gaining steam. It lost out at the Emmys to Alex Trebek and his unstoppable force, but Burns, Labbett, and whoever you throw out there seem to be their own force, one with which to be reckoned.