What do you get when a terrestrial television channel has an empty prime-time slot, a mysterious gymnast, and acrylic plastic surplus to requirement?
ITV‘s prime-time, acryli-fest gameshow – The Cube. That’s what.
Back for a second series The Cube fulfils the part of ITV‘s remit that clearly states the must utilise the abundance of Poly[methyl methacrylate] stored within the warehouse since Simon Cowell’s Plastic Death Dungeon of Doom was officially decommissioned in late 1997. Oh, you didn’t see that one?
Contestants are tasked with completing games within the confines of The Cube. There are seven games in total, and contestants are issued with nine lives in which to compete with. Should contestants fail a task, they will expend one life, and be made to repeat the game again.
Prize money increases as contestants progress through each of the seven games, the final game offering £250, 000 to anyone skilled enough to complete it. That seems like a nice little earner for a few minutes frolicking in a box. But as with any game show, it’s never that easy.
The draw of The Cube is that each game is incredibly simple, but deceptively difficult. The show inspires the sort of “I can do that” mentality that surrounds all the very best game shows, allowing families to sit at home wincing, debating tactics and commanding contestants to proceed.
The studio audience is infinitely more encouraging than you will be at home. They clap and cheer everything, every success, every failure and every decision. So much so that I question their humanity. I suspect the audience are plastic automatons, constructed from the very same surplus material as the Cube itself.
Despite technical proficiency not being a required attribute, and despite the stunning simplicity of each and every game, it soon becomes apparent that the games are surprisingly difficult to master. The skill-set needed to beat the Cube exceeds that required to govern most countries. Agility, concentration, determination, dexterity, memory, reflexes and nerves of shatter-proof plastic are all required if a contestant hopes to reach that magical amount – £250, 000.
Each games is attributed with the sort of enigmatically simple name that encapsulates everything about the show. Contestants can expect to encounter Construction, Drift, Perimeter, Quickfire and Reversal. Each name conveys exactly what the game is, whilst relaying absolutely no additional information at all, casting everyone down a paradoxically perplexing Perspex spiral.
Expulsion for example, is a game in which contestants are faced with yet another, smaller acrylic box, this one containing five-hundred small plastic balls. Contestants then have twenty seconds to expunge each and every ball from the box using only their hands. That’s just one example. Games vary in difficulty, but all maintain the same glorious lucidity. They’re the sort of rudimentary a prisoner would devise to amuse himself were he to only have access to a pencil, a penny, a matchbox, six matches and some string.
Before each task, the game is demonstrated to viewers and contestants by yet another faceless anonymity – The Body. The Body is not Elle Macpherson, she is essentially the sexy daughter of The Stig. She’s an apparent expert on all games, showcasing unparalleled skills during the demonstration. Clearly inhuman, she’s a spandex clad sex machine with a smooth silver face. She’s a Cylon proficient in ballet. She’s a robotic supermodel who’s had her face dipped in a freshly pressed puddle of Terminator T-1000.
Far less erotic than The Body is the host of The Cube – Phillips Schofield. He plays the spectre of the Cube. The eternal silver keeper. The perennial grey guardian. The kind of decrepit old expert that you encounter in Hollywood films. That clichéd, often bearded character that warns the naïve young travellers potential dangers, only to reappear later and sacrifice himself for the good of the world after the young travellers fail to heed his advice. You know the one right? That one.
Except, rather than offering advice Schofield offers useless statistics and constant personifications of the big plastic box. Funnier still are his hysterical failures at attempting to raise tension before an ad break. His technique is flawless – ask a question, then abruptly cut to a break before the contestant has had adequate time to answer.
Of course the star of the show is not the contestants, and certainly isn’t the presenter. The real star of The Cube is the Cube. An immense structure standing 4 x 4 x 4 meters, it’s an ominous and sinister, giant acrylic coffin. A box that sends people to despair. Competitors go insane, losing their mind before your very eyes. Worse still, losing many of their nine lives in the process as they fail to roll a large acrylic coin into some more acrylic.
Should participants come undone at the hands of the Cube, which they often do, they have two options at their disposal to ease their ascend up the monetary ladder.
The first is Simplify. When chosen, the Cube proceeds to lower the difficulty of this particular game. Often the Cube will increase a target size or reduce the speed of a moving object. Simplify can be utilised at any time, but can only be used once.
The second option is Trial Run. This allows contestants the opportunity to attempt the current game whilst eliminating both risk and reward. The contestant can simply attempt the game without potentially losing a life. The only thing gained by completing a game in Trial Run, is the piece of mind that comes with knowing how difficult the next game is.
Personally I found the production values of the show more entertaining than the games. Emotions are conveyed to the view through painstaking, often hilarious editing techniques. Contestants are constantly and inexplicably cast into slow motion, the bullet-time camera sweeps around the perimeter of the Cube as their distressed, wrinkled faces are exposed in glorious HD. The camera cuts quickly back and forth between the audience and contestant. If you look closely you can see the greying of hairs as families watch on through their parted fingers as their now former loved one pisses away £50, 000 because they’ve forgotten how to stand. Scientists estimate that simply viewing The Cube increases the ageing process of the skin by 16%.
But as good as the show is, there’s a problem. The same problem that plagues each and every game show every commissioned. There simply isn’t enough jeopardy. There’s nothing to lose. Even if you do lose the money you’ve gained, it’s only hypothetical money. Money you never really owned in the first place. There’s nothing tangible on the line. I desire higher risk, but with it, equally higher rewards. While the prize money could exceed £5 million, the risk could be a finger, a foot, or a major internal organ.
While watching The Cube I couldn’t help but long for the lasers of Resident Evil to appear and begin whittling contestants down to a pile of useless limbs. Just show a contestant in a box and make them spend twenty seconds avoiding deathly death lasers of death, and if they succeed, they’ll not only have a renewed opinion on life, but they’ll be £2 million pounds richer. Sounds fair to me.
Being the generous Brits that we are, we’ve decided not to hog all the fun. The format has recently been purchased by Portugal, Saudi Arabia and the US. But what we really want to see is The Cube shipped to Japan, along with this article. With their ethical regulations who knows, we might actually get deathly death lasers of death. Oh, and raptors too, acrylic raptors. Lots of ’em.
Article first published as The Cube Offers Plastic Peril on Technorati.