Film and TV

Reality Bites: Hungry Games

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

The first Mockingjay -- which is the penultimate entry in the Hunger Games movie franchise -- comes out this week. Normally I'd have reviewed it, but I was unable to make the screening. You can probably count on some stuff happening, sufficiently padded out to make a 390-page book stretch for two feature-length films.

Even though I honestly wasn't that upset that I didn't have to drag myself out to hang with an audience more suited to monster truck fandom than sitting quietly in a theater, I figured I'd try and make it up to you. So for this week's Reality Bites, I tried to find something similar in tone, if not overall archery content.

The result: Hungry Games, a show I hadn't heard about before I found it on my channel guide and am likely never to watch again. In that last respect, it's a lot like those Jennifer Lawrence movies.

The show airs on the Food Channel (what a shock) and is hosted by Richard Blais (pronounced "blaze" and not, uh, "blay"). Blais was the winner of season eight of Top Chef and comes across as a generally affable fellow, though as the show wore on, I began to suspect more sinister things at work. But more on that later.

The Episode I Watched, "Barbecue Games," set out to answer a question that's plagued mankind since at least the mid-1950s: Do bikers make the best barbecue? Seriously, this was one of the questions put to the audience, along with other culinary mysteries to solve. At this point, I have no idea what this show is about. Is this a cooking competition? Taste test? To the show's home page:

Hungry Games is a deliciously fascinating series that will change the way you think about what you eat. Through a series of fun and viewer-focused experiments hosted by Chef Richard Blais, we'll reveal what's going on in your brain when you taste, choose and crave your favorite foods.

Fair enough, though I fail to see where the "games" come in.

Near as I can figure, the show involves Blais polling hipsters and then feeding them to assuage their guilt over their stupidity. Along the way, he presents "fascinating" statistics, such as: "80 percent of American homes own a grill or a smoker, which is more than the percentage that own dishwashers." I presume those folks just let the dogs lick the plates clean, like Grandma used to.

And the experiments, such as they are, include testing whether people will be more attracted to the smell of frying chicken or chicken on a grill. Shockingly, potential diners prefer the aroma of wood smoke to boiling oil. To quote Dr. Venkman, real scientific.

Here's another one: Describe what Coca-Cola tastes like in one word. You can't, can you? That's because of the fullness and balance of flavors known as "flavor amplitude." And also because "malted battery acid" is three words.

Blais continues his weird experiment in self-indulgence by attempting to craft the perfect barbecue sauce from a variety of ingredients to increase the AMPLIFLAVORTUDE, and boy howdy if he doesn't stump these people with no culinary experience who are unable to separate the individual tastes.

[Fun fact: Lyndon B. Johnson coined the expression "barbecue diplomacy." I guessed right thanks to The Right Stuff.]

Another part of the show involved duping unsuspecting participants into eating identical sides prepared by two diametrically opposite personae -- one a Paula Deen lookalike, the other a greasy biker dude -- then gushing about the relative merits of each. Say what you want about Guy Fieri, he can at least fake an interest in human foibles. Blais, on the other hand, is incapable of anything more than casting weird cocked-head glances at the camera, like a puzzled (and bespectacled) dog.

And then it hit me. Blais isn't human at all, but rather one of Skynet's new Terminator prototypes designed not to bring about nuclear war but to confuse into inaction when our robot overlords attack. A little more work on the "Blais-800's" human interaction module, and they just might succeed.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar