NBC's 'Treasure Hunters' Map Leads Straight To Dullsville

The Miss USA team tackles a snowy challenge on the way to Nebraska in the dismal new reality show.
The Miss USA team tackles a snowy challenge on the way to Nebraska in the dismal new reality show. (By Hal Gage -- Nbc)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 17, 2006

Contestants on "Treasure Hunters," NBC's new global game show that premieres Sunday, are outfitted with three necessities: a cellphone, a laptop and a Visa card.

A Visa card! Say, do you smell a rat? Or at least a paid "product placement," as such things are politely termed in the TV biz? Fortunately, typical viewers are armed with a necessity of their own: the marvelous, wonderful channel-changer, with which they can effortlessly transport themselves to a location preferable to "Treasure Hunters" -- specifically, any channel not airing it.

Apparently, producers of these childish romps will never run out of happy saps willing to trudge and trek and trundle around the planet in pursuit of some inadequate prize and the ever-less-scintillating thrill of appearing on network television. "Treasure Hunters," which resembles any number of other outdoorsy exploits, belongs to a genre that is an offshoot of reality television. It's an offshoot that ought to be shot off.

The urge to play inane games -- such as scavenger hunts and searches for buried treasure that involve reading cutesy clues to the next step in the forage -- should by rights vanish by adolescence. But network TV has brought it back with a limp vengeance and induced actual adults who apparently have no trouble getting time off from their jobs (if any) to feign delirious delight at wading through muck and waddling through mire -- all in an attempt to beat the other guys to the big booty.

"Treasure Hunters" assembles, at widely divergent locales, 10 teams of players who will embark on a "journey" that -- harps hyper host Laird Macintosh -- "will test them like never before!" At the very opening, he says ominously, "It's out there, somewhere -- a treasure that will change the lives of those who find it forever." Find it forever? Ah, well. Who has time for grammatical niceties when there's a fjord to be forded, perhaps for a new Ford?

Here's a big, hot secret, which is revealed to the audience as if it were earth-shattering: The five teams that set out on the treasure hunt from a ship on the high seas don't know that there are another five teams setting out from Maui, Hawaii! Why should it make any difference? You're not supposed to ask questions like that. You can imagine how much breathtaking suspense it adds to the game. (For my part, I need my breath and resent having any of it taken -- even if the attempt to do so is inept.)

It's hard to respond at all to "Treasure Hunters," except perhaps to have your pulse quickened a bit -- not by the herky-jerky photography or raggy-taggy editing, but by the beat-beat-beat of the thundering din on the soundtrack, a musical score that could easily replace the fingernail remover as one of the world's great torture devices.

Among the show's few effective ingredients is a blessing, and fortunately not in disguise. That would be the requisite babe contingent. Not just babes, but big-time baberellas -- not, surprisingly, from the team labeled "Miss USA," but rather "Grad Students," three young women who bounce about in bikinis.

Others involved in this cross section of humanity (some of whom become very cross, indeed) include an Air Force contingent, three former CIA guys, the "Southie Boys" of South Boston, the beefy and burly Brown brothers and the Fogal family, a clan whose name brings back memories of the funky Farkle family featured a lifetime ago on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."

The Farkles were all blond and freckled, except for one child who was a redheaded dead ringer for the man who lived next door. Yes, it was silly, but not when compared with a segment of "Treasure Hunters" in which one of the buxom babes accuses Mr. Fogal, a minister, of stealing her metal clue case from the bottom of the sea. "Talk about a man of the cloth," she carps.

After absurdly quick visits to an Alaskan glacier and Lake George, wherever, the entire ensemble meets up at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln, Neb. Good goshamighty, couldn't they all just have gone straight there in the first place? It's not that we're treated to a feast of scenery along the way, since helicopters block most shots. Besides, if you want scenic splendors, the Discovery Channel's spectacular high-definition outlet is the place to see them -- a treasure in itself.

Now that the hunters have made it to fabulous Lincoln, the game will get even more thrilling, NBC promises. Unfortunately, only the first half of the two-hour premiere was available for preview (we say "unfortunately," but by that we mean, "thanks be to God"). The show, it seems, will do some ripping off of the 2004 film "National Treasure," in which a clue to a lost treasure was hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. The opening credits for "Treasure Hunters" imply that such icons as the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore will be involved.

If they hid any treasure up Teddy Roosevelt's nose, look out, because some of us are simply not going to stand for it. We're not going to sit for it, either; where the heck is that remote again?

It's also worth noting that in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," Frank Loesser's classic satire about life in executive suites, a desperate advertising man named J. Pierpont Finch tries to save the Worldwide Wicket Co. with a dreadful bomb of a game show called -- ta-dah! -- "Treasure Hunt." It turns out to be a horrendous fiasco on a massive scale.

"Treasure Hunters" is also likely to be a fiasco, and a horrendous one, but on a scale better described as teensy or weensy.

Treasure Hunters (two hours) debuts Sunday night at 8 on Channel 4.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company