Tyra Banks has a reality competition for prospective top models, and Gordon Ramsay has one for prospective jerky chefs, so it makes sense that Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik would make their own about webcomics. Strip Search, which appears three times a week on the Penny Arcade website, has significantly lower production values than I'm used to as a reality TV connoisseur, but still has a lot of punch.
The premise involves 12 artists living in a house in Seattle, working through both drawing challenges (drawing blind) and more business-based tasks (like designing T-shirts). Of all the reality contests, this show includes people who are the most like the real humans I know. Everyone is bright, creative and seems eager to win the final prize: $15,000 and getting embedded at the Penny Arcade headquarters.
Comic artists, it turns out, are pretty mellow people, even with that much money and prestige on the line; there have been no brawls and few tears. In a recent episode, the contestants had to respond to nasty tweets from fake fans, prompting some of the juiciest conflict yet. Artist Lexxy Douglas disagreed with guest judge Scott Kurtz (PvP) on the right way to respond to trolls, and while I have had this argument with my friends time and time again, it was interesting to see it play out among artists, face-to-face.
The best part of Strip Search, however, is watching talented people draw funny pictures. Lest we forget that, Holkins and Krahulik appear during every elimination challenge, cracking wise and throwing curveball questions at the contestants. "Lexxy, if you had to pick one person from the house to attend your birthday party and one person to die, who would it be?" "Alex, are you a Nazi?" These guys are not anything like Chris Harrison, and that's a blessing. Krahulik even freaks out during an elimination, furiously refusing to ax either contestant because he knows that there are worse artists back at the house (he even calls one out, threatening to wake her up and send her home). It's amazing to see the passion these two guys bring to their little show. As each contestant gets eliminated, Krahulik and Holkins hop into the departing SUV/"shame hole" to pump them full of praise. No one leaves angry.
The reality TV landscape has turned so same-same that it's easy to forget that shows (like The Real World) used to be populated with a fair number of artists, weirdoes and strange-brained individuals. So what if the pacing of the show is slow, and booms appear in a few shots? So what if it looks nothing like reality TV as we know it?
This isn't a reality show that will appeal to everyone, but it will resonate with anyone who has spent her lunch hour reading the entire archive of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. I'd love to see a tighter, stronger second season of Strip Search. With luck, it will spawn more low-budget reality contests that showcase actual talent.