Firstly, this article might only make sense if you’re familiar with 1987 dystopian action thriller The Running Man. Secondly, this article might only make sense if you’re me. Do bear with me on this one though.
The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, takes place in a nightmarish future a couple of years from now. Society has all but broken down due to a huge worldwide economic collapse: people are starving, people are rioting, and the movie’s fictional USA is now a totalitarian police state as a result.
The government uses television to keep the population under control, with the invention of a bizarre game show called The Running Man. In the show, people convicted of crimes, or those merely deemed enemies of the state, are strapped into a chair and launched live from the studio via a tunnel into a ‘game’ area, where they are pursued by professional killers, called ‘stalkers’, and must fight to the death. In an even more inhumane twist, members of the studio audience have the chance to win prizes if their favourite stalker manages to kill the ‘runner’. Since the prizes are like those from Bullseye, I’d assume the audience are more interested in seeing some guy getting decapitated than winning them.
Could anything like this ever become a reality? Of course not, you might think, but I wouldn’t be so sure. In a lot of cases, the show formats are already in place, and only require the slightest bit of tweaking, and perhaps another World War, to fulfil their barbaric potential.
Mantracker was a Canadian show which aired for seven seasons, starting in 2006. Each episode of Mantracker sees a different pair of contestants making their way through the wilderness, attempting to evade capture by ‘bounty hunters’. The contestants are on foot; the bounty hunters are, for the most part, on horseback, and are given various other advantages.
Given this, it’s easy to make the leap to the show’s logical next step – give the bounty hunters flame throwers and jet packs, and round up convicted criminals to be used as contestants. Finally, rather than winning a cash prize for evading capture, just kill the contestants at the end anyway.
A similar show to Mantracker, shown here in the UK in 1989 for just one series. Interceptor featured two contestants attempting to evade capture by the ‘interceptor’ who chased them in a helicopter. You know, in the interest of fairness.
The contestants wore backpacks with Laser Quest style receptors on them, which the interceptor would attempt to hit.
You don’t really need to do anything here, expect maybe have the show presented by someone other than Annabel Croft, who might be too genteel for these purposes. And obviously give the interceptor a real laser gun.
Everyone on the planet has seen Big Brother, so I don’t need to explain the format here.
Instead of locking the contestants in a big house, send them all out on a camping holiday, then send a deranged killer to pick them off one by one as they try to find their way to the nearest civilization (probably a Moto Services) without a map, and especially without GPS on their phones.
You know what? I’d put money on the fact that the contestants would still only be concerned with the fact that someone said something about someone else’s hair, and how “that bitch Kelly has been using my straighteners, I’m sure of it.”
The Crystal Maze
With The Crystal Maze, the physical set-up is there already. A huge, sprawling game area conveniently divided into ‘zones’. Ominous sounding music, not to mention exposed pipework and near darkness in some zones.
In a post apocalyptic future, the show could do away with the need to win crystals in side rooms, and just have a team of office staff from Coventry attempt to navigate through the maze. And instead of a harmonica, Richard O’ Brien now has a machine gun. Those left alive at the end of the show win an abseiling weekend in Derbyshire.
The Jeremy Kyle Show
An odd choice perhaps, but bear with me. I know The Jeremy Kyle Show isn’t technically a game show, but it is really. The contestants come on and a lot of the time attempt to out-argue the Kyle. Kyle stands before them like some sort of king; he invents his own arbitrary set of moral rules, and berates his contestants for not following them.
While a token effort is made to prevent physical violence on the actual stage, the contestants are bullied into other potentially regrettable life choices, like splitting up with their long term partner. This is a real thing – in at least one episode, Kyle has had an audience poll along the lines of “Hands up who thinks he should dump her?”
It really wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine Kyle taking on the role of The Running Man‘s Damon Killian, standing there pouring out his list of the contestant’s supposed moral indiscretions, before pulling a lever and shooting them into a pit full of bears.
We’d better hope this show doesn’t get a reboot at any point after the breakdown of society, because the infrastructure is all there. An arena in which spindly contestants must fight a group of muscular, superhuman killing machines would be an obvious choice for the producers of the real life Running Man. In fact, during the original run of Gladiators, there was an event called Pursuit, in which the contestants were chased round an obstacle course by the gladiators.
Individual gladiators have ready made fan bases, just like the stalkers on The Running Man. You can easily imagine a slum full of people watching a screen, with one guy taking bets on Jet or Warrior to be the next one to kill a contestant.
If a sadistic, totalitarian government ever comes to power, it’s probably best to destroy all evidence that Gladiators ever existed.
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