Strip Search: First Impressions (Spoiler Free!)
(I know this isn't necessarily about video games, but it is from Penny Arcade, and it is fantastic. I do suggest all of you check it out.)
When this show was first announced, it barely caught my interest at all. Okay, to be fair, the fact that this show was full of webcomic artists and was created by Penny Arcade did give me some hope. Otherwise, the concept of an elimination-style reality show was completely lost on me after the corporate mess that was Sony's The Tester, which I had only given a try due to Egoraptor's involvement in it. But, this isn't about picking on other shows, this is about how absolutely fantastic a show like this can be done when it is done right.
For those of you who don't know, Strip Search is a reality webseries that takes twelve webcomic artists, puts them in a house, and eliminates them one by one through challenges, with the promise that the winner will receive $15,000 and a spot in the Penny Arcade offices for a year. However, unlike most elimination shows, Strip Search is all about giving challenges that will make the contestants more well rounded as independent artists, and not just about knocking them down one by one arbitrarily. For the most part these challenges are practical, and shine light on the contestants' flaws in a way they might be able to improve them.
While I didn't expect it to be, my absolute favorite part of this show is the eliminations. Not for the challenges themselves, but for how well Mike and Jerry handle them. Aside from some playful banter, they have genuinely interesting conversations with the artists, and give me the feeling that they are trying to make it as stress free of an environment as possible.
Now, the best part about all this? The loser. They don't just send him packing, but instead, Mike and Jerry actually sit with them and tell them how awesome they are. To me, their goal it to see all of these artists succeed, and to make sure none of them are discouraged by this.
This kind of care towards the artists involved bleeds throughout the entire show. All of them are shown in the intro, even after they are eliminated. They also retain all rights to the work they create on the show. This proves to me that this show is about the artists, not about the winner. It isn't an elaborate shell for advertisements, or even something to gain viewers. The artists are put on center stage, and their work is often linked to, either in annotations or on the site itself.
Speaking of the website, it's obvious how much care was put in to making sure this is just as excellent of an experience for the viewers as the artists. Comments on the episodes are hidden by default, and there are special spoiler pages for each episode. Even though the show is sponsored, not once did I feel like I was being sold something. I'm only a few episodes in to the current lineup of about 18 episodes, and I'm making a point to follow each artist online as they are eliminated. This whole thing seems like a win-win for everybody. The artists not only get to learn from the experience, but they get free publicity for their work. Meanwhile, the audience gets a fantastically nerve-wracking show, and a whole collection of new artists to follow online.
Once again, Penny Arcade has given me hope that the world can be a much more positive place. Strip Search builds up its contestants instead of tearing them down. It treats webcomics as art, and serves to make that art more well known. Even if there is only one true winner, this is a game that everybody can win from.