Channel Seven's new obstacle-course show (premiering on Sunday) is called Australian Spartan, because Nine Had A Monster Hit With Australian Ninja Warrior And We Desperately Want A Piece seemed too unwieldy.
Like Ninja Warrior, the name of Australian Spartan is a trifle misleading: Nine's show does not require contestants to blend in with the general population in order to carry out swift, silent assassinations, and Spartan does not pit nude Australians against each other to see who can best dedicate themselves to the embodiment of a militarist ideal.
What both shows do is test their participants' athletic prowess via a series of elaborate apparatuses designed for maximum spectacle on a huge set roughly approximating the set of The Running Man.
These shows are sports … sort of. In their demands that contestants master running, jumping, climbing, swinging from ropes and clinging frantically onto things, they fit the bill, but it's hard to classify them as sport because of the presentation. And, of course, the lack of any real grassroots structure: you can't enrol your kids in a local Ninja Warrior league so they can work their way up.
But if we let International Rules call itself a sport, I think Spartan and Ninja deserve at least the same level of dignity. Especially because, as cheesy and overblown and silly as these shows are, they are, well, kind of awesome.
I'm not blind to the flaws of the format. The atmosphere of an obstacle-course show is a weird blend of It's A Knockout and the Wicker Man.
The contest is presented as the only hope the contestants have of ever feeling whole as a person. The commentary is positively idiotic, except when it's really stupid – surely no sport in history has been cursed with commentary as teeth-clenchingly cretinous as Rebecca Maddern and Ben Fordham on Ninja Warrior.
But, for all that, it's just good mad fun to watch these muscly daredevils go leaping about on what look like the skeletons of giant robots.
Like watching the Olympic curling, it has the capacity to make you cheer despite yourself. And, after all, if we're going to celebrate home cooks for cooking, and celebrities for eating cockroaches, why not celebrate ordinary folk for dangling from rings and running up walls?
It's not as easy as it looks.
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This article was published and provided by the Sydney Morning Herald.