“Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test” began with the disclaimer “Do Not Attempt This at Home,” which seems unnecessary and silly, unless you have the resources to fly to Jordan and an unquenchable appetite for 15 minutes of fame. As is, 16 celebrities (and sort-of celebrities) take the plunge, in an unscripted Fox series whose premiere felt heavy-handed even by the genre’s standards.
Narrated with the kind of brooding solemnity that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of “Succession,” the format resembles an old Fox show called “Boot Camp,” a competition in which drill instructors put contestants through the paces of military training.
Here, there’s no pot of gold at the rainbow’s end, just a lot of physical and emotional torment, as a quartet of tough-talking trainers spend much of their time shouting at the contestants, with a handful failing to survive (figuratively, not literally) the two-hour premiere.
“Remember, you volunteered to come into our world,” the players are told by one of the trainers, which seems worth recalling when they’re asked to leap headfirst into water from a helicopter or cross a 300-foot ravine while tethered to ropes more than 100 feet above the ground.
Sure, there’s a lot of talk about embracing the challenge and testing their limits, but there’s also a tiresome amount of theatricality in the presentation, which includes throwing bags over the players’ heads when they’re brought in for “interrogation,” which sort of doubles as therapy sessions.
The participants include a by-now-familiar mix of the famous and vaguely recognizable, including several athletes (Danny Amendola, Dwight Howard, Carli Lloyd, Mike Piazza, Nastia Liukin, Gus Kenworthy); singers (Mel B, Montell Jordan), actors (Jamie Lynn Spears, Beverley Mitchell), those previously associated with other reality shows (Kate Gosselin, Hannah Brown, Kenya Moore); a TV doctor (Dr. Drew Pinsky) and TV chef (Tyler Lawrence); and Anthony Scaramucci, famous in part for his 11-day stint in the Trump administration, followed by good-naturedly joining in turning his brief tenure into a unit for measuring short-lived events.
The elevated drama notwithstanding, some of the challenges genuinely appear pretty harrowing, and it doesn’t require much in the way of acting chops to look apprehensive when gawking at the ravine test. Indeed, scanning some of the reaction shots, the title of another old reality show, the “Survivor”-like “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!,” comes to mind.
“You can’t call your agent,” a trainer barks at the outset. “No one’s coming to save you.”
Of course, one can argue whether their agents really had their clients’ best interests in mind in the first place, but for some the hope might be a call from another less-perilous showcase, earning them a few more minutes in the spotlight.
It’s not hard, seeing these big stunts, to put oneself in the participants’ shoes, which coupled with the celebrity angle could be a source of initial curiosity and media attention. But given how familiar “Special Forces” feels, it’s frankly hard to see that lasting more than a few Scaramuccis.
“Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.