Richard Branson's Quest for the Best is quite the strangest thing I've watched on TV since, er, well, whenever I last watched a light entertainment show on TVB Jade.
The idea is that a group of people are competing for a job. Richard Branson's job as President of Virgin. Well, if you believe that, you'll believe anything!
It has a certain similarity to "The Apprentice" (and of course TVB Pearl has been showing "Quest for the Best" between the 2nd and 3rd series of "The Apprentice"), but the challenges here are much more physical. The two shows seem to be very much in the image of their two stars. Donald Trump is primarily a property developer and 'The Apprentice' is basically a contest to find someone who could survive (an maybe even thrive) in the corporate jungle. Branson, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to find some who could survive in a real jungle, though later shows have been a bit more cerebral, and fortunately it is isn't all about flying upside down in aeroplanes or jumping into canyons (attached to a safety rope, of course).
Trump plays up his image as a tough businessman throughout the show, whereas Branson is here to promote his image as an amiable old hippy who does crazy things. So, while Trump seems to relish firing contestants, Branson obviously finds this rather awkward. At the appropriate point he delivers a short speech praising and criticising the two contestants and then hands each an envelope containing a ticket (one to go home and one to the next destination). Then he joins the surviving contestants on the plane and is his normal affable self again. The show would be better if they could let Branson be himself throughout, possibly by delegating the decision-making to someone else. At least in week four there was no decision to be made - one contestant fell asleep and was eaten by the lions. Oh, hang on, this is American TV - he was fine, of course.
One of the more puzzling aspect of the show is how they decide who is eliminated. The first part is simple enough - one team wins, the other team loses. Then the captain of the losing team is put up against a fellow team member, but then there seem to be several possible outcomes - they fail at the elimnation challenge and are both sent home (or maybe not); one fails (but sometimes this is not possible); or they succeed and Branson chooses who goes home. The team captain may therefore want to pick someone who can successfully complete the challenge but not impress Branson.
In the first show, Branson himself wore a disguise and drove the contestants (in a London Taxi) from the railway station to his estate. On the basis of the way they behaved and what they said in the taxi, Branson fired two contestants before the show even got started (though oddly the third miscreant made it to the final two). A promising start, but Branson was obviously uncomfortable being so ruthless.
There was a nice twist in the third week, when the elimination challenge was to go over Victoria Falls in a barrel. Or rather it wasn't. The test was apparently to discover who was foolhardy enough to take Branson's word and do something suicidal - the lady backed out, the man agreed to do it and Branson joined him. After the man was hauled up in a crane inside the capsule and confirned he wanted to do the stunt, Branson revealed that they would not in fact be going over the Falls to their certain death. Although the woman had made the correct decision, she was criticised for letting her fellow team member do something that was so dangerous. She did live to fight another day, but the rest of the contestants gave her the cold shoulder because of the way she had acted as team captain.
In the fourth week, the elimination challenge largely amounted to staying awake all night, though we were asked to believe that the contestants were in danger of being eaten by lions if they let their fire go out or fall asleep. Branson said that this test was because he needs someone with the stamina to work through the night if required. Yes, but in the middle of a wild game park, and on their own?
In a later show the two chosen contestants had to appear in front of the audience at the V Festival - one to sing unaccompanied, the other to be naked. Branson, of course, is famous for taking his clothes off at the drop of a hat if he thinks it will get him some publicity, so here was an obvious contrast with Trump, who was not impressed when Ivana (the contestant, not his ex-wife) took off her skirt to earn money in one of the Apprentice challenges.
Oh, and if you thought that there was a bit too much puffing of Trump and his companies in 'The Apprentice', RBQftB abandons all pretence of subtlety. The contestants fly around the world in a Virgin plane to destinations served by Virgin, and the Bearded One (Sir Richard as they insist on calling him) is assisted by Virgin stewardesses. One challenge was to find the best way to promote the Virgin Upper Class suite, another was about Virgin Space Travel.
Another obvious problem is that whereas it is possible to conceive of two or three of the Apprentices running one of Trump's companies, it is not so easy to believe that anyone here could be President of Virgin (assuming that this means anything). So it's probably just to treat this as a rather bizarre piece of light entertainment.