Being a game show host looks like a fairly cushy TV job, but appearances can be deceiving. It’s tricky to find just the right tone when dealing with inevitably dim-witted contestants that have to be led through the process. Too interested in the players and their boring stories, and you come off looking overly eager like Grant Denyer; too smug and condescending, and you’re Eddie McGuire (and that’s never a good thing).
On the revamped version of classic British game show The Crystal Maze, Richard Ayoade opts for another tactic altogether: insulting the contestants. Channelling the approach taken by Richard O’Brien, the creator of The Rocky Horror Show, who hosted the first three seasons of The Crystal Maze in the early ’90s, Ayoade is never far from a put-down or send-up.
Despite The Crystal Maze’s format being relatively straightforward (more on that in a minute), Ayoade is given ample opportunity to berate and humiliate the players. He’ll castigate ones that don’t read clues properly, sarcastically suggest they take things at an even more leisurely pace despite the ticking clock, and put those that don’t follow the rules well and truly in their place. And it’s great. No need to yell at the TV yourself about how dumb people are being when Ayoade is there to say it to their face in his inimitable deadpan style.
So what is The Crystal Maze? It’s basically a series of extravagantly staged puzzles. Think Survivor immunity challenges crossed with the final round of ’90s kids’ show A*Mazing. A team of five – either everyday people or D-listers in the celebrity specials – complete challenges in four themed zones: Aztec, Medieval, Industrial and Futuristic. The aim of each challenge is to attain a crystal, and the types of challenges vary, testing mental powers, physical prowess, dexterity or overall puzzle solving ability. In other words, the opposite of this:
The more crystals you achieve, the more time you earn for the final round: the Crystal Dome, which is basically like that old game show staple where someone is shoved in a booth with a bunch of cash and a wind machine, and given a set amount of time to grab as many notes blowing around them as possible. Except, in the Crystal Dome, players want the gold tokens (which gain them points) but not the silver tokens (which lose them points).
OK, when you spell it all out like that, it does sound kind of complicated, but it’s really not. And besides, the process is kind of irrelevant when all that really matters is how funny and insulting Ayoade is. He even takes the piss out of the prizes up for grabs and himself – and that’s reason enough to watch.
Check out The Crystal Maze on Wednesdays at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. The first episode is streaming at SBS On Demand: