So when I first heard about a reality TV show set in a fantasy world I admit that it sounded completely ridiculous. I am not generally a fan of the genre to say the least.
At it's heart, The Quest incorporates a scripted narrative into a reality competition, with the prize being named the "One True Hero". The show is rigorously true to its formats in both its aspects as a fantasy story and a reality television competition. Anyone familiar with Survivor will quickly recognize how the game works-- immunity challenge, elimination challenge, voting and elimination.
The fantasy elements of the story are absolutely archetypal and if you had a fantasy trope bingo card, you would fill it completely by the end of the ten-episode season. There's a savior prophesy and a demonic Dark Lord wreaking mischief in the land of Everrealm. The quest is for a powerful item that can can defeat the darkness. There's a noble queen, a gruff drill sergeant who becomes friendly and an unfriendly vizer who turns out to be... Well, you can guess. There are no original or memorable ideas in this story but the performers deliver pretty well, given that a lot of their task is essentially improv/LARP.
But that's where the beauty comes into play. Because in this world of stock fantasy characters they've created you have real, actual people. At first the emphasis is on why these kind of stories appeal to the contestants-- fantasy was an escape for them, a refuge. As a creator, I know that feeling as well, but it reaffirmed to me the importance of the work we do as writers in this genre. The delight of the contestants is palpable when they arrive at a real live castle fully populated with medieval extras.
But it gets even better. There's character development in the paladins (something that all too rarely happens with fictional paladins) as they work together and compete to complete the challenges ahead of them. For the most part the challenges are a bit contrived and somewhat unsafe looking. At first the people don't know how to react to this staged world and their interactions with the actors are awkward... but as the season progresses they really, really get into it as themselves.
The Quest is probably the best example of how real people would exist in a fantasy universe. They all want to be heroes, but they share a reflected examination of what it means. They struggle with their own flaws and work to overcome them in ways that are often moving. One woman, Laeticia, won a fighting challenge over a wrestler and an MMA fighter. As a child she always got beat by her brothers when they would roughhouse, and looked to fantasy as a place where women could finally beat men. And she fucking did it. Courage and confidence are a recurring theme for the women in the Quest.
The jock (Andrew who is hot as fuck btw) who always acted impulsively, had to use his brain and he came out ahead-- he also learned some valuable lessons about what makes a "true hero". These are real templates for character research. I could see someone like Shando, the driven competitor or Patrick, the protective father and math teacher reacting to being captured by lizard people.
It's also refreshing that the Machiavellian drama typical to these sorts of shows is quickly recognized and squashed. There are friendships but no real alliances and people are kept in the competition on merit rather than shoved off the island to level the playing field. People behave... heroically and everyone is gracious, for the most part. There's no cash prize-- just the satisfaction of defeating Valox. The budget clearly went to costumes and extras.
It's a ton of fun to watch and it's streaming on Netflix so you can waste a good part of a weekend.
Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out September. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.
Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out October. Sign up for the mailing list for more info. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest . (You can also follow him on Goodreads and even Amazon)