Military-Themed Celebrity Challenge Shows Are F*cking Stupid


Country singer and radio personality Chuck Wicks fires a rifle at targets during the Special Forces Tactical Challenge at the Miller Training Complex at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dec. 10, 2020. US Army photo by K. Kassens.

US Army photo by K. Kassens.

This morning, the fine writers and editors at Coffee or Die were discussing story ideas when, much to my horror, an editor suggested I write a piece on Special Forces: The Ultimate Test, a military-themed celebrity challenge show that is currently being developed by Fox. Believe me when I tell you, I almost quit. But then, it occurred to me that this was an opportunity for me to say something that I’ve wanted to scream from the rooftops for quite some time, which is that these military-themed celebrity challenge shows fucking suck.

The idea of having to write anything favorable about a show like Special Forces: The Ultimate Test was so abhorrent to me that I was more than ready to end my writing career and go back to stripping. Luckily, I was given free rein to write whatever I wanted on the topic, which means I will keep my job and leave my days at Velvet Thunder in the past, where they belong … at least for the time being.

celebrity Special Forces Tactical Challenge 2020

Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson fires a rifle at various targets from behind a vehicle. US Army photo by K. Kassens.

US Army photo by K. Kassens.

If you’re lucky enough to have never seen one of these shows, this particular genre of reality television typically features a ragtag group of C-list actors, washed-up singers, shitty pro athletes, and anyone else desperately clinging to whatever modicum of fame they once had as they undergo a series of military-style trials and challenges meant to simulate life in the armed forces.

According to the Fox website, Special Forces: The Ultimate Test is “an all-new series in which household names endure some of the harshest, most grueling challenges from the playbook of the actual Special Forces selection process.” It goes on: “These celebrities, who are so used to being in the spotlight, quickly learn the meaning of ‘no guts, no glory’ — and no glam.”

Sound cool and exciting? No, of course not. This is the same tired formula used every time: Bring in some legit combat vets, have them smoke the shit out of some miserable, out-of-shape celebrities until they cry or pee their pants, then cut to the celebrity saying that this watered-down military training course is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Other “challenges” might include shooting guns, climbing ropes, and marching around in circles with rucksacks on. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the season. Nobody gets shot or blown up, and when it’s all over, everyone goes home.

“Hey, everyone! Come watch Dr. Drew struggle to do pushups as he gets yelled at a little bit!”

Hear that? It’s the sound of no one giving a shit. If I wanted to watch a 64-year-old man struggle to do 10 pushups, I’d just head down to the local football field the next time the National Guard holds its annual “PT test.”

celebrity, Special Forces Tactical Challenge 2020

Country singer Lee Brice fires a pistol at various targets from behind cover. US Army photo by K. Kassens.

US Army photo by K. Kassens.

In case you haven’t gathered it by now, I think 95%-100% of these shows are absolute shit. They are terrible spoofs of the military experience, and they are about as close to the real thing as Nancy Pelosi is to being human. There’s very little genuine interest in and respect for the military involved in the creation of these shows. Their only redeeming feature is the actual veterans brought on to haze and humiliate the celebrity contestants. In fact, seeing people like Scary Spice do burpees until they puke is the primary reason people watch these shows and the only thing that justifies their existence.

Don’t kid yourself. You know I’m right. These shows are nothing more than exercises in sadism, and the only way to make them better, and more accurately representative of the military experience, is to increase the pain and suffering. Reality TV show producers, take note while I tell you how to do your jobs.

Special Forces Tactical Challenge 2020

Former star of The Bachelorette Shawn Booth engages targets with a rifle. US Army photo by Chau Nguyen.

US Army photo by Chau Nguyen.

Training is the easiest part of the military experience, and fake military training is even easier. Unfortunately, that’s what most of these shows end up looking like — Boot Camp Lite. Sure, the suck factor is there, but there’s very little true suffering to be found in a training environment. The real suffering occurs in war zones. So that’s what I want to see: a military-themed celebrity challenge show where the celebs are neck-deep in the shit. Less TRADOC, more combat.

What sort of stuff am I talking about here? Well, for example, I wanna see how the Desperate Housewives react to contact after a near ambush in Mosul. I wanna see Brett Favre’s second cousin performing tactical combat casualty care on the drummer from Blink 182 as he bleeds out from a shrapnel wound on a mountaintop somewhere in Afghanistan. I wanna see Limp Bizkit skull dragging his way through a rice paddy to frag an NVA general in the darkest depths of the Mekong Delta. I wanna see Courteney Cox clear out an enemy trench line with a Winchester Model 1897 and a shovel. Simply put: I want to be entertained.

So there you have it. This is the winning formula. This is how you make these military-themed challenge shows more than just glorified LARPing. This, my dear friends, is how you make damn good television.

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Eric Miller is a former Army Combat Medic from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and has worked with homeless populations and veteran services throughout the state. He is an avid outdoorsman and has recently become interested in woodworking.
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