Survivor Meets Saw – “Series 7: The Contenders”

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“I’ve got nothing to live for, but I don’t wanna die.”

Rating: ★★★

Reality TV is something we’re all too familiar with in this day and age. It seems like they’re always commissioning new shows where we act like voyeurs and watch other people live their lives, perform quirky (and often embarrassing) challenges, and compete against each other to win grand prizes. It’s nothing new, and can often feel repetitive and boring, yet the viewership figures for the genre remain high.

Series 7: The Contenders is a black comedy film that presents its audience with a chilling scenario: what if there was a reality TV show where the only real reward was your own life? A show where you were picked randomly and couldn’t refuse to participate? If that hook alone doesn’t make you want to know more, I don’t know what will. The film follows reigning champion from series 5 and 6, Dawn, who is eight months pregnant at the time of the show and the five other contenders. They’ve each been selected to participate through their social security numbers, and cannot decline. The contestants are all from different backgrounds and include a 57 year old nurse, an 18 year old student, a 72 year old retiree, a 39 year old dad of three, and a 33 year old married artist. The way the film reveals these characters to us is clever, and creates very good pacing as all the “episodes” of series 7 are revealed to us during the course of an hour and a half.

The characters don’t feel like characters, and I actually found myself lost in the film, convinced these people were real. You find yourself rooting for people, and trying to rationalise whether or not certain people should die, based on their actions, age, or health.  The film perfectly satirizes the reality TV show genre with its cheesy narration and fly on the wall observations. The camera is intrusive and often made me feel uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be watching what I was. It oozes drama, arguments, twists and turns, and moments that keep you on the edge of your seat.  Props to director Daniel Minahan for perfectly mirroring American reality TV.

As well as simply satirizing the genre, it explores the dark side of the human condition, and makes you question your morals. Just how far will people go to ensure they keep their own life, whether it’s for their own selfish reasons, or for their loved ones? Would they kill someone for their own safety? It’s similar to the idea of “cherishing your life” presented to us in Saw, and the life threatening situations victims are placed in. Whilst Series 7: The Contenders is less gory than Saw, it’s certainly not less thrilling.

Of course, it does have its flaws, hence the 3 star rating. I don’t think this is a “bad rating” and I definitely enjoyed it, but the third act was considerably weaker than the first two and I felt like this is where the film lost momentum. I don’t know if I liked the way the film ended and I think it was worthy of something stronger, but that’s open for debate. More context about “The Contenders” as a television show would have been appreciated too, as I often found certain things to be confusing and didn’t make much sense. The narrator could’ve provided that quite easily without having to detract from the reality TV style, but instead we were thrown in and expected to understand how things work from the beginning. I’ve noticed that a lot of reality TV, especially British ones, will recap and remind us of what we already know about the show for new viewers, so it’s something the film would have benefited from.

Overall this was a strong film and certainly appealed to my love of films with darker themes. I loved the way it felt real and how much I was either drawn to or repulsed by some of the contenders. I just wish the third act and ending had kept me as captivated, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a unique film where it’s very easy to lose yourself and make you feel like you’re curled up on the sofa watching the latest episode of your favourite show.

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