It’s summertime, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and the television networks are coasting on fumes. So we can’t exactly fault the summer replacement series “Pirate Master” for failing to live up to the legacy that is creator/producer Mark Burnett’s other tropical-themed, elimination-based, million-dollar reality series. Sure, “Pirate Master” is no “Survivor.” Still, viewed from an it’s-
The show is, in most ways, your typical reality competition. A random assortment of mostly useless, partially naked people are pitted against one another in a contest of greed and ... Nope, that’s pretty much it: greed. The nominal “theme” is, obviously, pirates. Hitching its dinghy to the seagoing juggernaut that is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, “Pirate Master” hopes to milk America’s fascination with all things nautical and tattooed for at least the next eight weeks.
The show features an unnecessarily complicated backstory—some nonsense about a fictional pirate named Captain Henry Steel who buried 14 treasure chests throughout the Caribbean. All our contestants have to do is decode the treasure maps, find the gold, squabble over who gets what cut, run an entire multi-masted schooner and negotiate assorted political allegiances without having to walk the plank. (Sadly, there is no plank.)
The first show featured a rather dull contest between two randomly chosen teams. The groups had to paddle a boat, open a lock with a key (a task that proved surprisingly difficult for the contestants) and then paddle a boat some more. As reality show challenges go, it wasn’t exactly riveting.
More interesting is the show’s social structure. Instead of keeping separate teams, the show has united all contestants under the control of one democratically elected “pirate captain.” Each week, the captain nominates three shirkers to be cast adrift. The crew members vote on which one gets “cast adrift.” The twist: If the crew gets mad enough at their captain, they can mutiny—but only if all crewmembers are unanimous. Given that the captain gets 50 percent of any treasure they dig up, there’s plenty of opportunity for the power to go to his (or her) head. Of course, as our current captain seems ready to demonstrate, all that filthy lucre affords plenty of leeway to bribe key crewmembers.
Sadly, the most entertaining pirate has already been booted off the show. Fabio-wannabe John was the most colorful castmember, if for no other reason than the on-screen bio listed him as a “scientist/exotic dancer.” He located the first treasure, organized an immediate mutiny and held the ship’s only compass for ransom. Unfortunately, everyone on the show thought he was a complete jackass and voted him off unanimously. Here’s hoping someone steps up soon to fill his devious leather boots. Otherwise, “Pirate Master” is looking at a very short sail to Port Cancellation.