Let me make this clear: I haven't seen much Fort Boyard. The original French show is generally considered to be one of the most astonishing, involving, atmospheric game shows ever produced anywhere, but I've never watched as I don't speak French and episodes are usually two hours long. I have seen the British version, and frankly it's not as good as The Crystal Maze (which genuinely is one of the most astonishing, involving, atmospheric game shows ever produced anywhere). Still, I was looking forward to Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge, if only because a watered-down kids version of Fort Boyard still has to be better than anything else on American kids TV...right?
Geno Segers (who has an astoundingly low voice) and Laura Hamilton (who appears to be more famous for being a "celebrity" on Dancing On Ice then for the British kids TV hosting jobs that qualified her to do such) preside over a tournament in which six teams of four kids compete to be named the best on the Fort. Each half-hour episode features two teams competing against each other. The names of said teams? The Green Jaguars, the Yellow Scorpions, the Blue Sharks, the Silver Dragons, the Red Vipers, and the White Falcons. OK, I'll make the obvious joke - "Which team will go to the Temple today, Olmec? Will it be the Red Jaguars..."
Anyway, the two teams in each episode attempt to earn keys by competing in five challenges. Three of these challenges pit one teams against the other, with the winning team getting a key, while each team also gets one challenge they play by themselves against the clock and get a key if they succeed. At the end of the show, each team's keys are converted into time grabbing coins in the Fort's Treasure Room (as far as I can tell, each team starts with three minutes in the Treasure Room and is deducted twenty seconds for every key they fail to win). The coins are then converted...somehow...into a numerical result, and the two teams who score the most points over the season will compete in the grand final.
Let me start with the good: these challenges are pretty amazing and it is quite a surprise that they are being shown on American kids TV. I mean, yes, I've seen shows that do much worse things to their contestants, but how often do you get to see people stick their hands in jars of bugs or swing across the platforms of a Napoleonic fortress on Disney XD?
That's the good, now here's the bad: all the incredible atmosphere that Fort Boyard supposedly has is pretty conspicuously absent here. Certainly the Fort provides a backdrop ten times better then the same challenges would have in a studio, but most versions of this show have live tigers guarding the Treasure Room that must be moved out of the way by a wisecracking animal tamer! Laura Hamilton might as well not be there, and while Geno Segers sounds like James Earl Jones, he acts more or less like a stereotypical over-the-top kids game show host, all the way down to shouting "Let's go to the TREASURE ROOM!" in pretty much the same way JD Roth would shout "You're going to the FUN HOUSE!" Remember the classic Fort Boyard theme music? Well, forget it, because generic "adventure game show" music is all you're getting here.
I'm nitpicking, of course. This is far from a bad show and my eight-year-old self would have found it epic and amazing. Still, go on YouTube and watch the opening of Fort Boyard in France, with the classic theme music and the contestants approaching the Fort on boats as viewers get ominous glimpses of the perils within. That tiny bit of footage likely does a better job making you hold your breath than Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge ever will.
Next week: Million Dollar Mind Game! Why do I get the feeling it will be an even bigger letdown.