If you're looking for some mindless entertainment – and we mean that as the highest of compliments – we offer a sampler of six reality competitions (both celebrity and civilian divisions) that deserve your attention, or at least as much as you can muster while experiencing a rare moment of mental repose. So put your brain in the fridge, sit back and enjoy a laugh watching this symphony of slapstick.
6. "Ultimate Tag"
(Fox, Wednesdays, 9 EDT/PDT)
What it is: The simplest of kids' games gets a deluxe makeover as six athletic contestants try to avoid being tagged – having their flag-football-style ribbon pulled – by a team of chasers with names like Banshee and Rocket and credentials in martial arts, acrobatics and parkour. The competition features a series of creative games (Revenge Tag, Dome Tag, etc.) on a bright, buzzy obstacle course.
Face-plant factor: Not as high as you'd think. Host and NFL star J.J. Watt says the show turns "a childhood game … into a hypercompetitive bloodsport," but that's an exaggeration. While competitors fly face-first into a padded wall as they try to hit the scoring button in Dodge Tag, they're generally able to avoid social-media-worthy pratfalls. Oh, well.
Escapist value: OK. After an episode or two, you realize that tag isn't all that compelling as a spectator sport, and that there are only so many ways to dress it up. The NFL isn't sweating.
(CW, Aug. 2, Sundays at 9 EDT/PDT; YouTube)
What it is: This English import brings a bit of refinement – at least by American standards – to this half-baked reality half-dozen. Host Greg Davies, aka the Taskmaster, puts five comedians through their paces with stunts that include donning a hazmat suit to scarf down watermelon and trying to put on an animal onesie while inside a tent. Davies, who sits on a red-and-gold throne, explains the simple concept: "In this show, I make some accomplished but needy comedians do stupid things for me. Why? Because I can."
Face-plant factor: A healthy dose of degradation, both subtle and elegant. Who better to offer a contest built on domination and humiliation than our friends from across the pond. Physically, the pain is moderate (one competitor vomits watermelon, losing points along the way. It helps to know your metric system as the watermelons are measured in grams.) Psychologically, the damage might be more severe, but these are comedians, so that may be a pre-existing condition.
Escapist value: Middling. Spending an hour watching a bunch of comedians most Americans don't know qualifies as a kind of escape. And the drawing-room set and English accents may stir memories of "Downton Abbey," provided you've been drinking.
4. Game On!
(CBS, Wednesdays, 9 EDT/PDT; CBS All Access)
What it is: Tennis champ Venus Williams and NFL star Rob Gronkowski captain teams in a variety of kooky contests, including human darts, human foosball and human bowling. Sense a theme?
Face-plant factor: Grade H, as in High Humiliation. Comedian Bobby Lee gets thrown to the ground by a sumo wrestler and then gets sandwich-squished by two sumo champs. Each week, the losing team has to "Take the L" (for Loss), which results in Williams letting a python crawl on her, comedian Ian Karmel submitting to a Ronda Rousey armbar Pin and Williams' team climbing into frigid ice baths.
Escapist value: Some, especially if you like gentle celebrity embarrassment. However, one "Take the L," recorded before the pandemic, uncomfortably brings us back to the reality of COVID-19. The punishment for one loss forces Gronkowski and his teammates to shake hands with all 399 members of the studio audience. Super-spreader possibilities, indeed.
(ABC, Thursdays, 9 EDT/PDT)
What it is: It's ham on wry as executive producer and narrator Ryan Reynolds and host Adam Scott go heavy meta in this fun and witty competition. Teams of four family members can win $100,000 succeeding at physical and mental challenges usually predicated on the staples of parental warning: Don't Play Ball in the House, Don't Beat Yourself Up, Don't Play with Matches.
Face-plant factor: Moderate. Contestants are run over by a giant rubber balls and tires, punched by mechanical boxing gloves and zapped with an electrical charge (Don't Be Shocked), but it's pretty mild compared to some of the other shows. On the other hand, there's entertaining psychic pain, as Scott faces some humiliating taunts from Reynolds: "Top-notch hosting," he opines, after Scott utters a completely obvious line.
Escapist value: Good. The families, from a variety of backgrounds, are engaging. And the combination of Scott's visual takes – from surprised to confused to abused – and Reynolds' cutting narration, delivered in a placid, matter-of-fact style that makes it seem more dismissive, offers plenty of tongue-in-cheek entertainment.
2. "Holey Moley II: The Sequel"
(ABC, Thursdays, 8 EDT/PDT)
What it is: Imagine if a 10-year-old had a network-size budget to design a dream miniature golf course, and you'll get the idea behind this crazy layout, which features dragons breathing literal fire (with golfers in flame-proof suits) and goes beyond jumping the shark by letting contestants jump on a shark, or at least a prop version. Episode winners get an ugly plaid jacket and the chance to win $250,000 in the season finale.
Face-plant factor: The highest! Golf courses have water hazards; this masochistic mini-golf layout is one giant physical hazard. Besides getting burned at the dragon hole, golfers get knocked into the water by unforgiving windmills and smash into a pole while on a zipline. It isn't pretty – but it is funny.
Escapist value: Great. It's a trip back to simpler, bygone days, whether they're your own or those of some family you watched in a sitcom. Doctor's warning: Try watching on mute if the play-by-play from Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore causes your ears to bleed.
(Netflix, now streaming)
What it is: A turbo-charged, big-budget version of that game in which kids jump from couch to chair to table to avoid touching the floor and falling into an imaginary sea of lava. But this show also features pyramids and Apollo capsules as landing spots for competitors trying to escape from a large room while sidestepping 80,000 gallons of roiling, reddish-orange "lava."
Face-plant factor: High. Jumps and leaps leave plenty of opportunity for ugly falls, as when one mom has an unfortunate “meeting of the minds” with an Easter Island statue head. Producers say no one’s been hurt – but they won't say what happens to those who disappear into the secret-formula lava.
Escapist value: Magma-nificent. Trying to figure out your own escape route, rooting for competitors and then laughing at their fiery demise may be just the bubbling tonic for these troubled times. Just don't fall into it.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ranking crazy reality TV games such as 'Holey Moley,' 'Floor Is Lava'