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(21 May 2006)


Treasure Hunters

Regular airtime: Mondays 9pm ET (NBC)
Cast: Laird Macintosh
by Roger Holland

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Between Bananas


It’s out there somewhere, a treasure that will become the richest prize in television history, but its location is shrouded in mystery and guarded by a secret society with an ancient past. come the richest prize in television history, but its location is shrouded in mystery and guarded by a secret society with an ancient past.
—Unknown NBC copymonkey


Take an infinite number of monkeys and put them on steroids. Show them all nine seasons of The Amazing Race. Make them watch National Treasure every time they even think about bananas. And then read them Dan Brown’s bank statements. In 20 minutes, they’ll come up with something very much like Treasure Hunters.


The treasure hunt started with 10 teams of three split into two groups, each apparently unaware of the others’ existence. Five started at the Independence Mining Camp in Alaska, five on board the USS Jefferson somewhere off the coast of Hawaii.


Independence, Jefferson. Alaska, Hawaii. Can we see a theme here? Treasure Hunters is all about America, taking viewers back to a glorious past, boosting domestic tourism, and helping us forget about the war on terror, the price of oil, Karl Rove, and his New World Order. America! Fuck yeah!


Treasure Hunters requires teams to move from location to location, completing physical challenges, solving puzzles, and generally one-upping The Amazing Race while collecting artifacts intended to guide them to a Grand Prize. Teams that fail to find artifacts are eliminated. It’s simple enough, but it took the double-length premiere and a second episode to explain the format. Robohost Laird Macintosh didn’t just have a concept, rules, and teams to introduce, he also had a small mountain of product to plug. And plug. And plug.


The game began with a clue in Morse code. Code books were distributed to any team smart enough to look on a bookshelf or a desk. Up in Alaska, the Wild Hanlons (each team is assigned a nickname) immediately staked their claim to a nation’s disbelief by deciding to dig around in drainage ditches instead. This at least put them one up on Team Miss USA, who expected competitors to help them out because “We’re cute”. Just as the Hanlons would’ve been better named Team Redneck or Team Mullet, so Team Miss USA is also a misnomer. Miss Kentucky’s third place is the best any of them could manage in the Big Show. Nonetheless, Team Miss might be a good outside bet to take home the treasure. They’re clearly in shape, they’re not entirely dumb, and cuteness never hurts.


The other Alaska teams are the Young Professionals, the Ex-CIA Interns, and the Southie Boys from Boston. This last features twins who are actually firefighters in Los Angeles. Used to a commute like that, they also have a chance.


In Hawaii, contestants include the three Geniuses (10 degrees between them and not a shred of common sense), three fat black dudes called the Brown Brothers, and a highly competitive ménage á trois chosen by the Joint Chiefs to represent the Air Force. The Geniuses and Browns are clearly born to lose. The Air Force may win the whole shebang.


The two most interesting teams starting in Hawaii are the Grad Students and the Fogal Family. Two of the Grads are twins of the busty blonde persuasion, suggesting the casting monkeys hoped for some hot twin-on-twin action with the Southie Boys. Their matching high beams quickly scored a code book from the Geniuses. Then, diving for their next clue, non-twin Kat soon discovered that her bikini-clad boobage was all it took to persuade Air Force Matt (they’re both called Matt, and pretty interchangeable) to retrieve the clue box she’d just fumbled. By contrast, Pastor Brad Fogal is a man of God and firm moral fiber, which he promptly demonstrated by ignoring the temptations of the flesh, and—get this—snatching her clue right out of Kat’s box. Pastor Fogal is hell-bent on winning this mutha for Jesus. Testify!


In Lincoln, Nebraska, the two groups met up for an unconvincing “shock” sequence that must have seemed like a good idea to the script monkeys between bananas. The teams were paired up and sent off on buses with a new clue to solve. The buses were heading away from their next target and their drivers would only turn around when given one of two destinations. (This was a novel bit of business that sadly looks unlikely to be repeated.) Following some confusion over the meanings of clues, the eight teams who could tell a famous landmark from a mountain named after a president moved on to the next week’s challenge.


They received a rude awakening at the beginning of the second episode. Robohost Motorola’d them at two in the morning with the news that they were to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. Of course they had to leap out of bed, climb into the Official Japanese Truck of the show, and drive the 600 miles to Montana to get their next clue. At two in the fricking morning.


Ben Hanlon did not have a good day. First, he got less than two hours sleep. Next, he got his ass handed to him by his brother when he tried to pull map-reading rank on account of having traveled the world: “You’ve been to Europe one time. You went to Amsterdam… and you got wasted.” And then he got his team lost in Montana’s Lexington Mines for 11 hours. They’d still be there now if their cameraman hadn’t wanted to see his wife and kids again.


The Hanlons survived their personal mining disaster because there was a dusk deadline to start the next stage, paddling the Missouri. They slept in the following morning until 9:30, rather than hitting the water at daybreak with the rest of the teams. Which was a shame, because they missed seeing the Browns capsize their canoe.


Midway through their 20-mile journey, teams had to carry their canoes over land for three miles. During this portage sequence, the Southies helped the Fogals carry their canoe; and Grad Student Jessica stepped into a rabbit hole and destroyed her knee with a snap so loud it even woke the Hanlons. Her teammates carried their canoe and Jessica to the river. Meanwhile, those kindly Southie Boys, who must have been expecting a little quid pro quo from the Fogals, duly got theirs. The river was marked out with big red stars. The next clue was buried 40 paces behind the 14th star. After a makeshift flotilla of Fogals, Southies, and ex-CIA Interns had passed the 12th star, Pastor Fogal played an ace. “What,” he asked, “if we’ve miscounted? We could be paddling all day!” and so, he suggested, “Let’s stop at the next star and check there’s no clue there before we carry on.”


Can you believe the CIA fell for that?


A long story short: the Grads were handicapped by Jessica’s knee, the Browns by their size. The Hanlons may have slept in, but they sure knew how to paddle and soon passed up both the limping Grads and the wobbling Browns. However, they had no idea how to decode their final clue and, after four hours of failing to follow simple instructions, the Hanlons decided it was time to eat and set off on a 80-mile round trip in search of Angus Steak burgers and fries. By the time they returned, the Grads had arrived, solved the puzzle, and found the artifact of the day: a compass to go with their map.


Treasure Hunters has got its casting more or less right. Unfortunately, the format is flawed, in that there’s no reward for finishing first, and the leaders often do all the hard work for the others. When the always-first Air Force three-way finally figure this out, we can expect to see some interesting tactical games played.



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