I have seen the best parkour artists, rock climbers and Crossfit freaks of my generation destroyed by the "Faceplant" obstacle on Ultimate Beastmaster.

Netflix's first foray into competitive reality programming claims to be, as executive producer Sylvester Stallone gravely intones at the beginning of episode one, "the most physically and psychologically demanding obstacle course in the world." Basically, it's Ninja Warrior with a set designed to look like a giant steel dragon and an even more preposterous title. It's undeniably dumb and incredibly addictive - and it could be the future of television.

A contestant from the television series Ultimate Beastmaster. Photo / Netflix
A contestant from the television series Ultimate Beastmaster. Photo / Netflix

At least, it hints at the direction reality programming might take as our viewing habits rapidly shift online. With Ultimate Beastmaster the point of difference is that it's a global show - released simultaneously in every Netflix territory, going out as six different versions in six different languages.

The nations represented in the show - USA, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, Japan and Germany - each have their own pair of commentators. For the English-language version, which also has a slightly heavier focus on each episode's two US competitors, we get presenter Charissa Thompson and actor Terry Crews, a commentator so diabolical he makes Justin Marshall seem like the Poet Laureate.


Their constant chants of "USA! USA!" are at least counteracted by the presence of the other commentators, who we see cheering on their countrymen and women in a similarly deranged manner. Sometimes they'll even wander into each other's booths to engage in confusing cross-cultural banter.

It's fun, and they all bring something slightly different to the show, whether it's the pantomime emotion of South Korean duo Seo Kyung Suk and Park Kyeong Rim or the enthusiasm of Brazilian UFC champion Anderson Silva.

Twelve athletes start each episode; by Level 2, that number is cut to eight. Those who don't make it through will almost always have met their demise on the godforsaken "Faceplant". The obstacle, midway through Level 1 (after things like "Jawbreaker" and "Brain Matter"), requires competitors to leap from an angled platform, grab onto a thick rope and haul themselves onto a hanging steel "Energy Coil".

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To watch the early stages of any episode is to see a cavalcade of the world's fittest, most agile athletes suffering terrible rope burn on their hands and plunging into a pool of murky dyed-red water. "Oh no!" Terry Crews will inevitably shout, "he's fallen into the beast's blood!"

Those who somehow manage to grip the rope and risk knocking their teeth out leaping across the Energy Coils are all heroes. But to claim the title of "Beastmaster" - as well as a US$10,000 prize and a place in the final, where the winner is crowned "Ultimate Beastmaster" - the remaining competitors must first survive obstacles called things like "Spinal Descent" and "Stomach Churn" across two even tougher levels, before the top two race each other up an enormous climbing wall.

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All nine rounds and the grand final were released on Netflix in one go, which is good for solo bingeing but does dampen its potential "talkability" - that quality so important to successful reality television.

Still, as the global streaming giant looks to move into the reality game, Ultimate Beastmaster offers a curious hint of what it could do, and what the future might look like.