LeBron James might have finally found his first real challenge in the television game. The debut of his new CBS reality show, Million Dollar Mile, drew less than stellar ratings Wednesday night despite a promising lead-in from network stalwart Survivor.
As a producer, James is best known for shows that reflect his social justice interests, such as Warriors of Liberty City, Shut Up and Dribble and Student Athlete. Million Dollar Mile is a lighthearted departure that pits amateur athletes (who are given a two-minute head start) against pros who excel at things like Tough Mudder, CrossFit, Spartan Races, etc.
There’s a crowded field of these shows, including The Titan Games (Dwayne Johnson), Ultimate Beastmaster (Sylvester Stallone), American Grit (John Cena) and Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge. (The last of which prompts this viewer to wonder whether you’re guaranteed a new 3-D-printed skull if you do, in fact, break the one you came with.)
Hosted by minor league baseball celebrity Tim Tebow, Million Dollar Mile fits in with the rest of the genre, which is to say it’s best watched on mute while fast-forwarding straight to the physical challenges. It’s shot in the dark, and the competitors are outfitted with harnesses that feature strips of fluorescent-colored light over each shoulder. The production design makes the mile-long course, which runs through downtown Los Angeles, look like a video game. And the course itself is characterized by obstacles with names that make you wonder which intern had the responsibility of coming up with them. To earn the chance to win the $1 million grand prize, competitors must first win five in a series of Byzantine challenges, including:
Bamboo forest – A field populated with bendy poles that look like pool noodles with little platforms on them. Competitors must jump from pool noodle to pool noodle without touching the floor. The floor is “lava.” (It’s not. It just means you have to start over again.)
Flies on the wall – It’s described as a parkour obstacle, but it’s really more of a test of how well you’d do hanging onto the ledge of a building and then scuttling from that ledge to another for about 80 or so feet.
Spiraling up – A bunch of vertically arranged honeycomb-shaped platforms. Competitors must pull themselves up until they reach the last platform, then bungee jump to the ground.
Each challenge is worth more than the previous one. If you decide to quit after, say, three challenges and $50,000, you get to keep the money so long as you beat your opponent at scaling a building. But if the opponent wins, the competitor forfeits everything. No one got past more than two challenges in the pilot.
The show possesses the same sort of professional gloss we’ve come to expect from a King James production. But will anyone miss it if it disappears from the CBS prime-time lineup? Give it a few weeks and we’ll know.