In two days time the latest Mark Burnett show, I blogged about in April ‘Alternate Reality TV‘ , will begin. I think this programme will start to blur the line between pure reality TV and the immersion afforded by alternate reality game type quests across media. Much of this seems to be primarily designed to drive eyeballs to AOL and Mark Burnett Productions’ properties and of course the associated advertising that drives sustainability in this emerging media market – here is an article pointing out the heavy weight brands getting behind this from BigCharts. As to the show itself here, as the reality blurred blog points out, is the ‘knockout’ format of the show itself which is pretty simple.

  1. Twelve sets of 12 clues will be delivered over the 13 part series across TV (shows such as the Early Show, Survivor Cook Islands) and across online sites, presumably many on AOL, who is the shows main co-production partner.
  2. The 12 clues in total which will lead to an answer. Here is a taster: “Her kabbalah name is Esther,” and it’s easy: Madonna. The next one is trickier: “This flightless bird lives in the Ituri forest.” That’s the ancient Egyptian Ibis. The ensuing clues get ever weirder and more opaque until they eventually point to the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas — and the track length of Madonna’s “Ray of Light”, 5:21, is the clue to the final location of the gold: Room 521.”
  3. You work out the cryptic answer and then apply online. The first three (from anywhere in the world – could be you or me or a team) who get the answer, will be flown to the US to take part in the first treasure hunt for $100 000 in gold buried in the US somewhere. Cameras will follow, and vlog like 3-5 minute clips will appear regularly on AOL.
  4. Each of the 12 winners of each of the above will then be brought back to LA to compete for the big $1 million prize – again gold bullion buried somewhere in the US.

Simple really but I wonder if the mass viewer population can also take part in also working out the clues that the chosen three entities are faced with? If not then the distributed cross-media clue element is really just a greed-carrot, part of a selection process that leads to a traditional reality tv show – albeit delivered via the web. Wired also talked about Mr Burnetts foray into games via TV and web in its article Who Gets Games? This looked at the challenge now for traditional TV and Film format developers who have to think more and more at a game level, and game environment design level – making the rules easy and the challenge a lot harder than those dreadful money printing, TV/phone-in/SMS ‘joke’ questions, presumably aimed at an audience easily hoodwinked. Here is an excerpt that compares Survivor with World of Warcraft!

But this human tension wouldn’t exist without the game — the complicated and beautifully tuned rules that govern the world of Survivor. Much like the designers who crafted World of Warcraft or Monopoly, Burnett had to create a system that was hard to master, but not impossible. By interposing tests of skill and endurance with the occasional bolt of blind luck, Survivor forces its players to constantly headgame each other and engage in poker-class bluffing: Prime-time game design.
“Nobody talks about it on this level, but that’s what I do,” said Burnett, nattily dressed in a tieless pinstriped suit. I met him at Trump International Hotel when he came through town to talk about Gold Rush.
While tweaking Survivor, he closely studied John Nash’s game theory in order to better engineer the hysteria and emotional blowouts of each season’s finale.
“What Nash’s theory predicts is that whenever you have a group of people competing, they collude to squeeze one guy out, again and again, until there’s only two guys left,” Burnett notes. “Yet when there are only two of us left, we’re surprised when one of us fucks each other over. That’s the fun part. It surprised John Nash himself, but it happens every time.”

I suppose Goldrush is a step in the right direction at least, combining TV and the web in a more integrated cross-media way (rather than superficial and in-appropriate cross-referencing). Mark B must take control of the ‘game’ at some point to be able to produce a compelling narrative of sorts but I wonder how many individuals will take it upon themselves to try to get to the gold before the officially selected teams? If they do and break the constructed story arc, now that would really be reality TV.

©Gary Hayes 2006