Reality Bites: Full Metal Jousting

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

The premise is familiar: take 16 people, divide them into two teams and pit them against each other in a series of contests leading to a lone winner. It could be a variant of Survivor or Road Rules or any of a hundred other programs. The twists in Full Metal Jousting are that all of the contestants are guys (which is sure to lead to some baboon-style alpha male shenanigans), and...there's jousting.

Pretty simple, really.

Straight up, I dug this show. Granted, I've only ever seen "theatrical" jousting, which is a "lite" version of the sport (less armor, smaller horses, choreographed battles), though still painful. Even then, I have always been intrigued with the idea of suiting up in full plate and trying to knock another dude off a horse. Because how can you not be?

That said, FMJ really needs to back off the hyperbole. Are these really "16 of the toughest warriors in the world?" Well, two of the contestants are ex-Marines, but in there you've also got a show jumper, a couple of rodeo cowboys, a pool shark, and a philosophy major. Don't go making your plans to storm Pointe du Hoc with these guys just yet.

I also like how jousting is pitched here as "history's first extreme sport." The expression would seem to be meaningless, unless you want to also claim snowboarding has its antecedent in the Finnish ski infantry.

Set in that traditional home of medieval combat -- Jackson, Mississippi -- FMJ introduces us to our would-be Lancelots. Among those featured prominently in the premiere are:

Rope (yes, "Rope"), a Texas-based steer wrestler. James, the aforementioned show jumper (that'll be practical) who seems like he's having second thoughts amidst all the tats and aggressive facial hair. Dave, one of the the ex-Marines, who wants to "make a career" out of jousting (I think we just discovered our next economic bubble, everybody). Mike, the other ex-Marine. Mike receives most attention early on, thanks to being one of the oldest, being well-spoken, and having a Mohawk. Matt is a philosophy student and theatrical jouster. Josh K., a deep voiced beardo who favors black and looks like Thor's overcompensating little brother, also a theatrical jouster. Josh A., another theatrical jouster...jesus, how many of these fuckers are there? Jake, the horse trainer. Picked last.

Training these gentlemen is Shane Adams. According to the History Channel web site, Adams is "the former president of the World Championship Jousting Association. He holds 17 international jousting titles and co-founded numerous competitive spectacles around North America." Not knowing if the international jousting community suffers the same structural fracturing as, say, heavyweight boxing, I have no idea if this impressive or not. Still, he's Canadian and says "aboot" a lot, which is always fun.

They split the men into two teams, Red and Black, and a member of each will be "tilting" against one another each week. Coaching the teams are some of Adams' contemporaries, "Ripper" Moore for the Red Team, Rob Walker for the Black. Points in the joust are as follows:

Strike on the "gridded grand guard" (breastplate target): 1 point Strike on GGG that breaks lance: 5 points Strike that unhorses opponent: 10 points

Oh, and a head strike is -5 points. Not that we're not rooting for that, of course.

The teams meet the horses; jousters ride big draft beasts, which is in keeping with the overall surfeit of machismo on display. But seriously, you guys can stop referring to yourselves as "warriors" any time now. Their quarters are in the attic of a farmhouse, but we don't see much of that, because it's time for training. Black Team takes turns getting whaled on by a battering ram, while the members of the Red Team take turns riding into a swung softball bat.

As Matt describes it, "It looks painful, but it's more painful than it looks." Philosophy major, everyone.

Josh K. and Mike the Marine are set to square off this week. Adams gives us the high level overview on joust theory, which is pretty interesting. Josh unhorses Coach Rob, while Mike gets his bell rung by David, the diminutive show jumper, and this raises some eyebrows.

Both men talk about how they're in the contest for their kids, in between solemn pronouncements about whomping their opponent. They're well-intentioned meatheads, but meatheads just the same.

Finally, it's time for the contest. Josh and Mike will make eight passes, the first four with 1.25" diameter lances, tje second four with 1.5" lances, with the winner going to the quarterfinals. Early on, "theatrical jouster" Josh has trouble connecting, going down 2-0, but after some needless (and wholly expected) drawing out of the proceedings, Josh eventually prevails. The day is his, along with all the mead and comely lasses he can consume.

So against my better judgment, I actually enjoyed this latest History Channel offering. There's sure to be some head butting (especially from Josh K., who is already positioned as the primary asshole) and annoying personal drama, though I can't actually see any of these brohams crying on screen. What's more promising is the clash of lances, the impact of wood on metal, and the potential for massive thoracic trauma. Because really, isn't that what history's all about?

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