I am a member of a generation of children that wasn’t allowed to play dodgeball in school because it was supposedly too dangerous and enabling to bullies. I am also a member of a generation of teenage boys that learned the five D’s of dodgeball watching Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004). My relationship with the sport is somewhat complicated… so I jumped at the chance to watch and review Discovery’s newest reality competition show, Dodgeball Thunderdome, hoping that this show would help to clarify my opinion of the sport. It didn’t.
Okay, okay… maybe I shouldn’t have gone into my viewing of the Dodgeball Thunderdome series premiere looking to further define my opinion of the sport, but I did. Sooner or later, whether they vocalize their question or not, viewers of the show are bound to ask themselves whether dodgeball is entertaining enough to watch on television. After watching the Dodgeball Thunderdome series premiere, I’ll say: maybe.
Discovery’s Dodgeball Thunderdome seeks to elevate the sport, dragging it out of the gymnasium by offering a large cash prize and further complicating the sport with an obstacle course as well as various other twists, like weaponry, that are intended to make the show more entertaining. The show’s host, David Dobrik, and co-hosts, Erin Lim and Andrew Hawkins, get the job done without detracting, or adding, much from the episode, and the courses are simple and well-designed (for a show called Dodgeball Thunderdome) but ultimately overshadowed by the show’s shortcomings.
While we’re led to believe that contestants are competing against one another for a cool twenty-five-thousand-dollar prize and a less-cool trophy, they aren’t. Each episode, contestants compete for a seat in the series finale, where they will take on other weekly winners for a cool twenty-five-thousand-dollar prize and a less-cool trophy… So, if you go into a viewing looking to root for an underdog deserving of a large cash prize, you’re going to be disappointed for more reasons than one.
First, save for Michael Davies, a brain cancer survivor, viewers are given almost no information about contestants that would give them any reason to offer their support and become invested. In fact, viewers are mostly given good reason not to support a contestant. Dariel Nunez, for example, is described only as a “Masshole” i.e. a massive asshole. The show’s first group of contestants can be summed up as follows: a fitness model, a cancer survivor, and a bunch of dudes who peaked in high school, one of whom plays professional dodgeball and refers to himself as a god.
Second, dodgeball isn’t so much of an underdog sport as Discovery would have you think; skill and strategy play their parts, sure, but athleticism, or the lack thereof, takes center stage in a sport that centers on physicality. The Dodgeball Thunderdome course (including the actual Dodgeball Thunderdome) should even the playing field a bit, but it doesn’t. Even with the obstacles and weaponry, the jocks and bullies will continue to win.
The Bottom Line
Discovery’s spin on the sport is an interesting one, but the concept needs to be further refined, and the execution–not the course–needs polish. Lacking any real stakes and serving as a reminder that high school never ends, Dodgeball Thunderdome comes close to hitting the mark but misses nonetheless.