So, the wife and I fell down a show hole on Netflix and have been binge-watching Steampunk’d. It’s a pretty neat program that combines building shows with one of my favorite design aesthetics. The setup is that various steampunk makers in various disciplines are tasked with building themed rooms in a makeshift house. Contestants divide into two teams, and each makes, say, a kitchen or a bedroom or a secret lair.
At the end of each show, as is per usual, someone gets voted off. The last one standing wins $100,000. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting kind of tired of the Elimination Round being a necessary part of every reality game show.
It makes sense in something like a dating show, or Survivor (which is apparently still going strong in its 33rd season). The basic premise of these shows is a group will be whittled down to the chosen one.
Steampunk’d, though, that’s not the point. It’s a show about making things, and who ever makes the best things wins. When you’re talking about something as big and complicated as rooms in a fake house, you’re going to need multiple skill sets. You need a person with some woodwork experience, someone who is good with gadgets and machinery, a designer, someone that can sew well, etc.
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The show starts off with those people, but as the episodes progress those necessary skill sets start to go missing. You can almost perfectly predict who is going to go home because they’re down to the only one with contracting experience and if he leaves the rooms will look like crap.
Elimination Rounds are a great, if cliché, way to build tension in a contest, but there are other ways to do it that don’t bleed your cast and all your character development to death. You could start with a prize money total that the judges slowly deduct as your team fails challenges. You can make sudden changes in the teams, which Steampunk’d already does. There are plenty of ideas if you spend a little ingenuity.
When you take something like steampunk makers, you’re already dealing with a pretty interesting set of people, people who have gone out of their way to do something unconventional. Keeping everyone in the game to contribute to the betterment of the drama, and in this case the quality of the overall entries, would make shows like this a less arbitrary-feeling experience. All the tension between the contestants is lost when one of them is simply not there the next episode.
I doubt Elimination Rounds are going anywhere soon. They’ve become a trope for the same reasons horror movies have jump scares and cops visit strip clubs in crime dramas. It would be nice if they weren’t quite so automatic an inclusion, though. You can have losers without exiles and suspense without negation. When your show is “these are neat people who build things,” cutting out the people who build things one by one just means fewer cool things being built. Perhaps show producers will think about that a little harder in the future.