Series 7 – The Contender: Real People in Real Danger (2001)

Posted: March 27, 2012 in Comedy, Thriller

The world of reality television has taken a dramatic turn. In the seventh season of its broadcast, The Contender is a show that randomly selects 6 people to be forced to kill the other players and be the last one standing. With no option to opt out or run away, the cameras catch every move, action and comment. Season 7’s contenders include the reigning champion from the previous season, Dawn Largato, emergency room nurse Connie Trabucco, medically poor Jeffrey Norman, unemployed Anthony Reilly, retired Franklin Jones and 18-year old student Lindsay Berns. After saying their goodbyes to their loved ones, each person reconciles what they need to do to survive and tries to search for the courage to do whatever necessary. Mostly focused around Dawn, who happens to be pregnant, she is the most determined to see herself through another round of this reality show.

Starring: Brooke Smith (Dawn), Michael Kaycheck (Tony), Marylousie Burke (Connie), Richard Venture (Franklin), Donna Hanover (Sheila), Merritt Wever (Lindsay), Angelina Philips (Doria), Glenn Fitzgerald (Jeff), Nada Despotovich (Michelle), Stephen Michael Rinaldi (Craig), Alex Yershov (Nathan), Danton Stone (Bob), Will Arnett (Narrator)

Though most of the cast is fairly unknown, Brooke Smith’s career started to take off after this film. Smith plays a woman who had been hardened by her previous experience on the show and is more determined to survive with the oncoming of his child. While she is mostly angry and manipulative throughout the first half of the film, an experience with an old friend causes her to begin to show more mercy moving forward. Playing the man with testicular cancer, Glenn Fitzgerald shows how being at the end of one’s life can destroy one’s spirit but also change when something unexpected appears. Marylouise Burke appears as a sweet older woman initially but succumbs to the pressure of the game as time moves on. Michael Kaycheck may represent a father trying to protect his family, but he also shows the extreme lengths someone will go to to save their own life. Richard Venture simply represents a lonely old-timer who prefers life as a shut-in. Merritt Weaver portrays a more naive personality, guided by her overbearing parents and scared by the parameters of the game.


In an attempt to represent the extremes reality shows could go to, Daniel Minahan plays into the sensationalized elements of violence represented in many of the various reality programs of the past 20 years. The difference in this show is that people are chosen against their will and given the freedom to take out their opponents be any means necessary. While Dawn was the previous victor, she has been thrown back into the fray as the one with experience. The show is designed to eventually lead to the death of every player by forcing its previous winners to continue playing. Though her pregnancy and the fact she is returning to play the game in her home time are major challenges for her goals, meeting up with Jeffrey proves to be a greater challenge because it forces her to come to terms with the possibility of killing a former love. While each of the other characters experience extreme conflict, none are as challenging as reconciling being forced to kill someone you love.


The film is rather deplorable in its topic but does so purposely to show how ridiculous television producers can be with sensationalized programming. Real World and Jersey Shore build their appeal on the fighting and conflict between the people, not on the creation of an actual, realistic experience. In essence, Series 7 represents more of a realistic set of interactions and experiences through its forced morality and conclusive actions. To make a point more strongly, Minahan purposely shows Dawn specifically in her murders from the previous season and Connie in her transformation from pro-life nurse to religious-guided murderer. The film also choses to present the story in the style of the reality program from start to finish to keep everything within the guise of the show.

While the film presents an interesting concept, the gimmick grows old fairly quickly and the plot is rather predictable. Alongside the concept of The Hunger Games, it is at least an interesting taste of the slippery slope of reality television.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5


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