For years now New Zealanders have been calling for the return of Clash of the Codes, the high-octane 1990s game show in which teams of elite athletes competed over a series of low-budget obstacle courses and teamwork exercises. Well, they still haven't brought it back, but here is the next best thing.
None of the participants in the XVenture Family Challenge have ever won an Olympic gold in windsurfing or kayaking, but the spirit of the original codes is still strong. You feel it in how seriously everybody takes the challenges; it emanates from the brightly coloured team uniforms. The two shows even share the same presenter, Simon Barnett, who has barely aged a day in the intervening two decades.
The show is devised and produced by XVenture, an Australia-based company that runs mainly corporate team-building sessions. This is their second TV show after the more intense-looking XVenture Corporate Challenge, which aired in Australia in 2011. This is, if you're cynical, little more than a 30-minute ad for XVenture and the show's primary naming sponsor Ecostore.
But then, if you're cynical, what are you doing watching a show where the first challenge involves navigating a giant inflatable maze? The twist of the "Amazing Moments Maze" is that each member of the family team has some sensory handicap: one is blindfolded, one is wearing headphones, another isn't allowed to talk, while the fourth member can't see, hear or talk.
The challenges are meant to test "resilience and emotional intelligence levels," a concept that received no further explanation in the first episode. Christchurch's Team Musson apparently scored 83.25 in both their resilience and EQ tests, which made them one of the most resilient and emotionally intelligent families in the 16-team competition.
While Tauranga's Team Hemana simply linked arms and sprinted through the Amazing Moments Maze, the Mussons employed a strategic approach. Uncle Barry put the youngest family member on his shoulders to carry through the maze, but blind, deaf, mute Alex kept smacking his head on the inflatable beams and ended up hanging upside down, worn like a backpack.
Asked to explain his unsuccessful strategy, Uncle Barry puffed: "No senses. Passenger. Chuck him on. Take him for a ride. Trust." It has been years since anybody has taken a TV game show this seriously, and what a joy it is to behold.
In challenge two, Under The Stars, the four teams had 20 minutes to set up a tent site. The sickeningly capable Team Hemana triumphed again to go two-for-two. Only two families advanced to the semifinals and challenge three: The Drone Slalom, in which the teams took turns flying a drone through an obstacle course and landing it on a tiny landing pad.
"Forward forward forward ... up a bit, up a bit ... down down down down," Uncle Barry instructed Alex's sister, Sam.
"I know. I know where I'm going," she replied, showing great resilience to not just turn around and drop-kick the remote control into the ocean. Uncle Barry, to his credit, aced his turn on the drone, and displayed impressive emotional intelligence by biting his tongue when Alex incurred a time penalty by missing the landing pad.
Luckily it didn't matter. Team Musson clinched The Drone Slalom to join Team Hemana in the semifinals for a shot at the grand prize of $25,000. Team Cederman from Whakatane and Nelson's Team Seelen, meanwhile, each left Russell's luxurious Eagles Nest resort with an Ecostore gift bag.
With inflatable maze navigation, tent building and drone flying already ticked off in episode one, who knows what other challenges await us over the next seven weeks of XVenture Family Challenge — or just how seriously Uncle Barry will take them all. It's not quite the Clash of the Codes reboot we've all been waiting for, but it is absolutely perfect "5.30 on a Sunday afternoon" TV.
● XVenture Family Challenge (Sundays, 5.30pm on Three)