Fixing the Olympics, reality-show style

More guts. More glory. More gore. More nudity. What's not to like?

Axel Schmidt/AP Photo

The Olympics is the world’s biggest reality show, as noted here and elsewhere. And from the standpoint of global viewership, at least, it’s a pretty good show. But it’s still not all it could be.

The basic problem with the Olympics as reality show is that it’s based on the exploits of…Olympians. These are enormously gifted individuals like Clara Hughes, Michael Phelps, and Usain Bolt, whose outsize talents shame those of us who watch from home, inhaling chips and bemoaning our bellies.

That’s poor casting. Sure, these athletes make great eye candy. They take our eyes off everyone else. But we can’t relate to them. They’re larger than life.

To make a great reality show, you need, not Olympians, but O.L.Y.M.P.I.A.N.S., or Ordinary Losers You May Predictably Idolize And Naturally Support.

Characters like Susan Boyles and Richard Hatch are the ticket. Competitors who start out just like us: ordinary janes and joes. Choose them by lottery, and send ‘em to the Games for the trip of a lifetime. (Return trip not guaranteed.)

Next, we need to get rid of the countries. Who can reasonably cheer for Canada, let alone the U.S. or Russia, over undermanned Ghana, medal-less Malta, unlocatable Kiribati? On Survivor, they divide into tribes, and that’s what the Olympics should do: mix up all the O.L.Y.M.P.I.A.N.S. from everywhere and assign them to teams.

Those teams should have names we can remember and symbols we find attractive. Here’s a perfect opportunity to bring the sponsors in. Forget Team Canada, Team Argentina and the rest. Our ordinary heroes will strive for glory for Team Coca-Cola, Team Apple, and so on. Less patriotism, more product placement.

As for the competition: it’s time to liven up the action. How can the 100-metre dash be the prestige event, when it takes less than ten seconds to run the thing? That’s not drama. We need characters. We need a storyline. We need fear. We need blood.

Ordinary archery, for example is as dull as a brick, even when a blind guy does it. Archery for survival, Hunger Games style—now that’s dramatic. Out with Greco-Roman wrestling, in with WWE wrestling. Why not Mixed Martial Arts? A true sportsman ought to be willing to sustain a broken fibula. The ancient Greeks would surely agree. (Pankration, anyone?)

Target shooting should be combined with the equestrian events, with live ammo, team against team. Imagine a salesman from Pakistan, riding bareback, picking a Finnish architect off his horse at top speed, and taking gold for Team [Your Company Here]. Sublime!

In fact, we need to take more inspiration from the original Olympics: Bring back the chariot race as the keynote event. Anyone who’s seen Ben-Hur knows the dramatic possibilities.

And finally, one last improvement: Olympic fashion. It’s become a trend of late to treat athletes as ersatz fashionistas, with decidedly mixed results. Team Spain, we feel your pain.

The ideal competitor’s costume would draw not on some fashion designer’s wild whims, but on the beauty of the human form.

In a perfect marriage of the Survivor aesthetic and Hellenic heritage, O.L.Y.M.P.I.A.N.S. would compete naked, in all their glory.

O.L.Y.M.P.I.A.N.S. Ordinary Losers You May Predictably Idolize And Naturally Support.

Rank amateurs, competing naked, representing corporate sponsors in a global blood-sport showdown.

Now there’s a reality show we’d all watch.

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