To loosely borrow a phrase from Nicole Kidman, we come to reality TV to watch human beings suffer.
Yes, it’s nice to see your favorite Real Housewife or Love Is Blind contestant enjoy some wins from time to time. But we mostly watch these shows to see amusing people deal with tough situations in the funniest and often worst ways possible, usually as a way to reflect on and metabolize our own struggles.
That seems to explain the success of Fox’s latest competition hit Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test, where reality stars, actors, athletes and people like Blac Chyna train under a group of intimidating (but unintentionally comical) former operatives and grueling weather conditions, while learning some valuable life lessons along the way. If you’re someone like Tom Sandoval, you’re seemingly on the show to rehabilitate your image—and maybe spite your ex who’s earned a more coveted, less stressful slot on Dancing With The Stars at the same time.
That said, Special Forces’ Season 2’s cast is particularly staggering—the buzziest gets being YouTube/gay icon Jojo Siwa, 90210 Beverly Hills alum (and Megan Fox’s ex) Brian Austin Green, Vanderpump Rules star Tom Sandoval, former Hollywood it-girl Tara Reid, and former Bachelor star Nick Viall. We also get a surprising appearance from Jack Osbourne, who informs us he would’ve joined the military after 9/11 if not for the success of MTV’s The Osbournes. (LOL.) Savannah Chrisley is also here to bring some honor back to her now-criminal family name. Rounding out the cast are Kelly Rizzo, Tyler Cameron, Dez Bryant, Bode Miller, Erin Jackson, and Robert Horry.
In tonight’s premiere, the cast arrives on the freezing-cold mountains of New Zealand, a modification from last season’s scorching-hot location in Jordan. In their first assignment—led by directing staff Rudy Reyes, Jovon “Q” Quarles, Jason Fox, and Billy Billingham—the group has to walk across two metal poles suspended 340 feet in the air between two cliffs and over a body of water. It’s an obstacle course that’s been featured on The Challenge, Fear Factor, and other stunt-driven reality shows a million times over. Only on Special Forces, these heights are inherently more intimidating and the fear amongst the contestants is way more palpable—and not just because they have the world’s scariest quartet of men hurling insults at them like NPCs. Unlike a competition with a hefty cash prize, it’s everyone’s dignity and public image that’s mainly at stake.
Like last season, Season 2 oscillates between being genuinely stressful and absurdly comical. The two breakout stars of the premiere are Siwa, who, as a former student of Abby Lee Miller, is extremely nonplussed by these former vets and the show’s grueling challenges. According to the former Dance Moms star, she’s using this show as a bridge to adulthood after becoming a rainbow-colored mascot for 8-year-olds on YouTube. By the end of the episode, she’s hilariously reprimanded by the show’s hosts/vets for being too jubilant. And already, her presence in this environment feels like a political act.
Another focal point of the episode is American Pie star Tara Reid, who’s like a clumsy, wide-eyed deer at every point of this episode. Her nervous antics at the start of the premiere, like when she pulls out a box of cigarettes while waiting for everyone to finish the first task, are initially amusing and even meme-worthy. Very quickly though, we go from viewing Reid as to the show’s main comic relief to someone who, by her own admission, has crippling insecurities from her days of being targeted by tabloids and the constant cruelty she receives over her appearance.
In a genuinely heart-wrenching scene, she tells the directing staff that she came on the show to learn how to be strong because she feels like a “broken bird.” That said, it feels like maybe this woman shouldn’t be on TV at the moment. At other points, it seems like a program like this is exactly what she needs. Whatever the results, it will hopefully drudge up some sympathy for the once-beloved actress who was an early victim of tabloid culture being a partying 20-year-old and has since been regulated to the Sharknado series.
While the first episode sets up some compelling emotional arcs, it also establishes this season’s villains. While there isn’t much screen time for Sandoval, he tells us that he joined the show to “punish” himself following his highly publicized cheating scandal. (Although, I think the internet would forgive him quicker if he simply stopped harassing both of his exes!) Unfortunately, the VPR star is in great shape, and I fear he may win this series unless the producers intervene.
Additionally, Austin Green looks pretty terrible in this first episode, as he begins taunting Blac Chyna for no apparent reason, like a school-aged boy who can’t articulate his crush on a girl. While the stripper-turned-reality star is certainly not one to mess with, the actor seems to assume everything that comes out of her mouth is an attack and not an adequate response to whatever “jokey” banter he’s trying to have with her. By the end of the episode, she’s sobbing alone in an interrogation room.
Based on tonight’s premiere, it seems like Special Forces is for another stellar and outrageous season. Fox’s other celebrity-filled competition series Star on Mars may not have given us the ridiculous soundbites and screen-grabs we needed. But Jojo Siwa and Tara Reid are already making up for it.