The Reality-Competition Race Handicap

Andy Patrick is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Considering that upstart docureality series like Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo are dominating ratings and pop culture, reality-competition series have largely been overshadowed. NBC’s buzzy singing contest The Voice last year injected some fresh blood into the Emmy reality-competition field, which had mostly been filled by the same shows for the past decade. In fact, CBS’ The Amazing Race has snagged the Emmy every year but one since the category’s inception in 2003. However, The Voice is coming in strong in ratings and challenging Amazing Race’s hold on the title.
So while you contemplate whether the reality-competition category is primed for a shakeup this year, here’s our assessment of the competitors.

CBS' The Amazing Race is the reigning reality-competition Emmy champ.
CBS’ The Amazing Race is the reigning reality-competition Emmy champ.

The show has taken home the statuette nine out 
of 10 years, so there’s no question whatsoever about whether it will be nominated again. (If anything, the question is, where will producers put their 10th Emmy?) And although The Voice is generating ever more buzz, CBS’ globetrotting thrill ride still earned its fair share 
of attention in its 22nd cycle, thanks to a controversial trip to Vietnam. Maybe this will even be the year that four-time also-ran Phil Keoghan gets the (golden) girl.

Is it time to change the Fox sing-off’s title to Fallen Idol? After nine consecutive noms, the reality juggernaut got locked out of the category in 2012 by rival The Voice. And with a big ratings slide and the unappealing Mariah Carey-Nicki Minaj feud casting a shadow over the competition, this year Emmy voters might smell blood in the water and snub Idol again.

Though NBC’s original Apprentice won nominations in 2004 and 2005, its parade-of-has-beens spinoff has never received a nom. Given the right-leaning politics of boss man Donald Trump—not to mention the show’s continued exploitation of addled Gary Busey—there’s not so much as a combed-over hair of a chance of that changing.

ABC's Dancing With the  Stars has never won a reality-competition Emmy.
ABC’s Dancing With the Stars has never won a reality-competition Emmy.

Nominated every year since 2006, ABC’s ballroom smackdown has yet to quickstep away with the Emmy. And its last season was the uninspired 16th edition, meaning its cha-cha-chances of emerging victorious this time around are slim to none, though an eighth consecutive nomination is within reach. (A better bet: a second win for affable host Tom Bergeron, who last year became the first host to win over Survivor’s Jeff Probst. Probst, who has four previous trophies, wasn’t even nominated.)

Unlike so many reality-competition series that don’t really launch the next top anything, the sophomore season of Oxygen’s televised talent search produced a viable star for the Glee mothership in the form of winner Blake Jenner. The triple-threat teenage dream beat a diverse, talented crop of competitors—the suspenseful finale found him taking on a Muslim beauty and a spunky gal in a wheelchair—to eventually land the role of football star and glee-clubber Ryder Lynn. So who knows? If The Glee Project’s root-for-the-underdog spirit (and successful track record) catch voters’ attention, maybe a surprise Emmy nom could materialize.

Lifetime’s haute couture face-off has been racking up noms since its days on Bravo. And yet its 11th cycle felt so last season, thanks to a twist in which individual challenges were replaced by team competitions. The twist was a misfire, so now the question is whether the show’s streak of eight straight nominations might finally come unstitched.

How fun would it be to see Logo’s campfest in the running? No T, no shade, but its best chance of being recognized is a nod for its wiggy host(ess). Unfortunately, that chance is as slim as RuPaul is.

While it’s a far more legitimate talent contest than Dancing With the Stars, Fox’s sublime dance-off gets a fraction of its ABC counterpart’s viewership (and even less of its buzz). So it’ll be lucky if enough voters board Mary Murphy’s hot tamale train to win it a third nomination.

Once considered a real contender to bring The Amazing Race’s winning streak to an end, CBS’ long-running adventure series hasn’t been nominated since—yikes—2006. In 2012, even Jeff Probst—the victorious host the four previous years—failed to score a nom. After an unremarkable fans-vs.-favorites season, a nomination for the show seems highly unlikely.

Bravo's Top Chef is the only series ever to beat The Amazing Race in the category. It only happened once.
Bravo’s Top Chef is the only series ever to beat The Amazing Race in the category. It only happened once.

Aside from The Amazing Race, only Bravo’s cook-off has ever tasted victory in this category—and that was three years ago. Unfortunately, there was more excitement in its 10th season in its web offshoot, Last Chance Kitchen, than on air, so a seventh nomination is probably all that it’s going to be served by Emmy.

Arguably the contender with the best chance of stealing away the reality-competition Emmy from The Amazing Race, NBC’s singing contest has going for it strong numbers, enough buzz to drown 
out a hive, a nomination last year, and do we really need to mention the swivel chairs? Also to its credit, the show once derided as an American Idol knockoff managed to swap out judges Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green for Shakira and Usher without missing a beat.

Considering the Great Britney Spears Experiment was a total failure, Simon Cowell’s post-American Idol endeavor doesn’t stand a chance of breaking into the top category. Maybe the third season will be the charm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s