Review: The Great Escape isn't that great, but works as an escape
Jun 24 2012 11:32 pm CET

Sunday night featured TNT's debut of The Great Escape, an adventure competitive reality show from the creators of The Amazing Race. Though the concept of the show is intriguing and accessible, the execution and repetition makes for a long hour of television.

The Great Escape shares many elements of a strong leg from The Amazing Race: tasks that require skills beyond reading comprehension, needles in haystacks, and frustration from repeating tasks after making a mistake. However, the game of flashlight tag/capture the flag within famous landmarks wears thin as the hour progresses, as the aforementioned games do not make for compelling television.

Here's how the show works: three teams of two with a prior relationship (siblings, couples, co-workers, friends) are placed in detention cells in their landmark – the premiere's setting was Alcatraz. The game begins and the teams have to find a map and a key to unlock their respective cell doors. Once teams make their initial escape, they have to complete four tasks, each in a different location and generally requiring different skills, such as deciphering a riddle to get a combination or finding a gas can before getting to their escape vehicle. The first team to complete the tasks and find host Rich Eisen wins $100,000.

As the teams move from task to task, they also have to elude capture, both from patrolling guards and, in the case of Alcatraz, searchlights sweeping the open spaces. If a team is spotted, they must surrender all items picked up and return to their cell. Once the team escapes their cell they can pick up where they left off and hope they did not lose too much time in the process.

Though it made me nostalgic for the bonus round on Legends of the Hidden Temple, the capture process is the weakest part of the show. First, teams are followed by a cameraperson who will have a light on his or her camera, which throws into question how easily teams can be detected by guards. Also, while stressful for the contestants, multiple captures do not make things more interesting for the viewer. The audience's only engagement with the contestants is rooting for who is the least irritating rather than who has the most compelling narrative, so setbacks are more like speed bumps than hurdles.

This program follows in the footsteps of last year's Take the Money and Run (ABC, also with Amazing Race DNA), with an interesting concept that gets muddied in the execution. Perhaps if there were two teams instead of three, or one team facing a time limit, The Great Escape could amp up the excitement while reducing the repetition. It will be interesting to see future installments, as different locations may present different possibilities and potential for improvement. Overall, the show is fine in the sense that there's not much on TV right now so you have nothing to lose by watching.

Mike McComb –

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