If there’s one thing Sylvester Stallone has a grip on, it’s bravado. Or, really, the bravado has a grip on him that has not let go since his early career as an action star. And that shows on Ultimate Beastmaster, the first competition reality show to premiere on Netflix.
Created by Dave Broome and hosted and produced by Stallone, it forms a loose pseudo narrative of six countries presenting two competitors each episode in an attempt to conquer The Beast. In reality, it’s a Ninja Warrior-style competition that forces each competitor to run a series of increasingly difficult obstacle courses. The first level, for example, includes running up a simple 45-degree slope. Level two, though, requires them to swing across a chasm via a series of dangling and shaking chains.
And it’s a mess. It’s slow and painfully repetitive in ways that Ninja Warrior avoids with careful calibration and Total Wipeout skirts with not giving a fuck about almost killing everyone with bullshit shenanigans. Here, though, we see competitors engage in the same problems over and over again that indulge in an awful blend of physical strength of random luck.
The final part of the first level (yes, the hosts refer to them as levels and refuse to stop calling the entire show “like a video game”) is a rather straightforward rock climbing sequence called the Mag Wall, which means that at indeterminate points, holds will just…fall away. It seems like a simple matter of not using those holds, but it also introduces a lottery sensation you only get when there are boxing gloves punching you in the face. Here’s an indication of a bad obstacle: does everyone walk away with bleeding wounds? YUP.
None of these obstacles feel exceptionally interesting, too. That might be because they all fall under a terribly oppressive and overproduced metaphor representing anatomical parts of this so-called beast including a digestive tract and, I dunno, some bungee platforms? Spinal Ascent, a series of alternating and elevating platforms that sometimes move, is especially painful. There’s no technique to it. It’s just landing on your chest and finding some way to flop your dumb fleshy body over the lip.
The ones that don’t fit that metaphor actually work the best. The aforementioned bungee beds are physically demanding, mentally taxing, and viscerally exciting. It doesn’t require any abstraction from the viewer to think about how hard it is (how far apart are those poles really, is there grip on that spinning disc, etc.) because it just looks hard, and that’s because it is hard.
I will say, however, that the show fully embraces the worldwide phenomenon that is Sasuke-style competitions. From each country is not only a pair of competitors but also native-speaking hosts. It’s invigorating to see how drastically different cultures celebrate themselves and each other. At the end of each episode, in fact, all the hosts seem to join in on the final winner of the night in dancing, yelling, and generally enjoying the good vibes. It’s the one part that is wholly pleasant.
The hosts, however, continue to be the weakest part of these shows. Vapid, empty, worthless commentary accompanies every single action, but it’s also necessary since you’re otherwise watching a completely silent demonstration of Stallone machismo. Oh, did that guy make the jump? Oh, is her 5’2″ frame going to offer some trouble for this terribly biased obstacle? Tell me more.
No, wait, the other thing. Stop it. Like, the whole thing. Stop Ultimate Beastmaster.