The Quest Review: Rise of the Twelve, Episode 1×01 ‘Pilot’
The Time Turner in my desk drawer and plastic Ring of Power in my pocket makes me a prime viewer for ABC’s new geek-driven reality show The Quest, a fantasy-themed competition pitting 12 strangers against one another (and more importantly, one Big Bad) in the direct-to-television world of Everealm. This world is one that smacks of fantasy tropes, featuring dark, misty forests and peasants from 6th-century western Europe, and is, we are told, a world at war. Verlox, Everealm’s resident Big Bad, has exerted his evil power across the land, driving the mysterious Fates to seek a hero capable of doing battle with the evildoer. Enter our 12 contestants, self-proclaimed geeks willing to wield the Sunspear (no relation to House Martell) and vanquish Verlox.
Breathe easy, because the fun is about to begin.
Every Story Needs a Protagonist.
In keeping with our fantasy theme, the opening scenes of The Quest are narrated by a British man. His Highness details the hectic lifestyles of the modern-day, mourning the lack of time in our busy schedules for imagination, but encourages us to take heart: Everealm, a world of slow-down-and-smell-the-roses, exists just outside of ours. We meet our 12 contestants — forevermore known as Paladins — and are treated to shot after shot of them embracing their geeky sides. In alphabetical order:
Adria, the short-haired mother with a zest for video gaming. Adrian is the Brienne of Tarth of Everealm, and will hopefully prove as hardy. May the Force be with you, Ser.
Andrew, the nondescript bearded white man who I’m pretty sure has been on every season of Survivor. Andrew will do well with the young women watching this show.
Ashley, who promises to do well on the show thanks to her background as a trick rider. If there’s any challenge that rewards standing on horses, Ashley’s your girl.
Bonnie, who tells us she was born with crooked legs — but they’re better now! — and crooked teeth — braces work wonders! Bonnie has the makings of a fine hero, and is probably a distant Weasley cousin. You’re my girl, Bonnie.
The Cocky Greaseball, known also as Christian, does belong in this competition if medieval-styled hair is any indication. The CG is good at sword fighting and Renaissance fair-going.
Jasmine Kyle, who is shown reading a book to a child and is evidently whip-smart. Jasmine will have the chance to prove her physical game later on, but I’m sold on her intelligence thanks to this book shot.
Jim, who looks like a prepubescent version of Andrew. Pre-Andrew here is a student, and claims membership in the Hogwarts Virtual Choir.
Thranduil’s Hair, also known as Katie, has the bleached locks of the Elvenking and the dark eyebrows to match. She insists that she will be a solid competitor, and the steely glint in her eyes agrees.
Leticia looks like a formidable competitor, but has arguably the least amount of screen time of all the contestants. You’ll get ‘em next time. Lettie.
Lina, Andrew’s female counterpart, has many a Survivor doppelgänger and this will serve her well. There’s no public vote to help her here, but she may still have what it takes.
Katie, Patrick, teaches children and loves fantasy, like the rest of this geeky herd. He’s a large man, and should do well in the physical challenges. Don’t cross Patrick.
Shondo is already The Intense One. He takes this competition seriously, and his MMA fighter background means you should take him seriously. Don’t cross Shondo either.
Once Upon A Time
Our contestants are ushered through an underground cavern and into the world of Everealm. On the way, we meet a trio of shadowy figures, who explain that among these twelve contestants stands one hero, capable of wielding the mystical Sunspear and defeating Verlox. Immediately upon exiting the cavern we understand that this is not a world to be underestimated, as the mysterious, hallowed Sunspear is lying in pieces on the ground in front of the cavern door. Quest objective #1, complete.
But trolls will be trolls, and one of our guides is dragged into the forest screaming. The Intense One reminds us that we will never again leave someone behind, and the other contestants look uneasy. Perhaps he has already forgotten this is a semi-scripted show.
In any case, they trek into the night-shrouded forest and emerge — in dazzling sunlight — into a field. Inexplicably streaked with mud and suddenly wearing peasant garb, our brave Paladins are thrust into the nearest city’s prison. Here the show makes its first missed turn, as the Paladins decide to opt out of a jailbreak — which would make for a truly interesting reality twist — in order to convince the peasant actors of their trustworthiness, and are eventually bailed out of prison by a slimy character whose title should be the Grand Vizier.
Of note: gleaned from character dialogue, this particular world seems to exist under a queen, and there is no mention of the king. Strike one for the patriarchy — Everealm seems to have escaped your grasp.
Forget Everealm, we’re back in middle school as the Paladins pick bedroom partners. There are five men and five women, which means that one bedroom will consist of an opposite-sex pair, and The Kindly Husband bemoans his fate as he is chosen as the male half of this pair. Otherwise, the bedroom couples get along swimmingly, and we get our first insights into what may make this show into something worth watching. The women begin to slip into Girl Power Mode, and all of Everealm begins to anticipate a female hero.
Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune
It’s morning, and someone who is presumably the Captain of the Guard is rude enough to wake the Paladins. They dress in brown Quidditch robes and leave the castle, only to find themselves at the edge of a battlefield. The challenge is explained: one contestant stands atop a wooden structure and shouts instructions to their two teammates on the ground, who aim and fire their team’s crossbow at a series of straw soldiers. The team scoring the least number of shots will be turned over to the Fates — more on them later — for potential elimination.
Teams are chosen at random, and the challenge seems over before it has even had the chance to begin. The Intense One, as usual, has an iron expression and by a team vote, bubbly Bonnie wins the first of The Quest’s marks, the importance of which has yet to be explained. The only all-female team, comprising Leticia, Adrian, and Jasmine, is set up as the obvious weak link, but in a twist of events only predictable in a fantasy reality show, they hit six targets and are left in relative safety (excepting the occasional troll attack).
Instead, Thranduil’s Hair, the Cocky Greaseball, and the Kindly Husband are sent in front of the Fates, and we get our first view of the (actually beautiful) Temple of the Fates, which seems to exist within a twilit, misty forest. The three goddesses — representing a true dedication to diversity on behalf of the casting directors — inform the doomed trio that, in keeping with the episode’s arrow theme, they are to shoot at a set of three targets, each one representing one of the fallen Paladins. The person whose target is feathered with the least number of arrows will be guaranteed safety, and the remaining two Paladins will place their fates in the hands of their peers.
After he makes a snarky comment about his superior level of competence, I’m pulling for the Cocky Greaseball’s demise, but he is immediately exonerated as his marksman skills spark memories of Katniss. Come on, where were these skills during the challenge? The remaining two Paladins go up for a vote at the hands of their peers.
Here, the producers seem to have made a misstep. The voting itself isn’t a problem, nor is the method used, in which Paladins line up behind the person they wish to save, removing all anonymity from the process, but at this point in the game there is seemingly no purpose for strategy. Some of the Paladins reason that it may be smarter to bring along a weaker contestant, clearing the way for others’ victories, but as so much of this show is scripted it seems unlikely that this would make much of a difference.
“Meet Your Fate!”
After the vote, the remaining 11 Paladins march back to their castle chambers and Katie is left standing in front of the Fates. The regal ladies — surprisingly less forbidding than might be expected from the arbiters of destiny — banish Katie from Everealm. She leaves through an enormous archway, but in a rather underwhelming twist of fate melts into thin air as she passes through. With her departure, the first episode of The Quest is finished, and noted problems aside, I’m ready to pledge my bow to the cause.
The Quest is geek-centric nerd opera at its heart, and it succeeds in its beautiful presentation of Everealm, resplendent in its medieval glamor. The cast itself is more diverse than typical fantasy fare, but follows the same trends established by older reality shows in its care to select one candidate per minority group. The fantasy tropes, though old and somewhat tired, should not drive away much of the book nerd-populated viewership, but if The Quest wants to stand on the shoulders of older shows like Survivor, it needs to learn from its predecessors and infuse a sense of danger and urgency into the episodes. ABC’s newest reality show has the trappings of the world’s most famous fantasy novels, but none of their teeth.
Take note, producers: eliminating Paladins by catapulting them into a moat or burning them at the stake would make for some pretty compelling television.