Strong is the new skinny: fitness wave flexes its muscles on reality TV

American Grit and Strong aim to prove Im not here to get thin is the new Im not here to make friends or so the producers would like viewers to believe

A recent analyse showed that many young people would rather exercise than go out for a beverage. This aligns perfectly with a trend that weve been assuring in reality television where tough guy depicts like Naked and Afraid and American Ninja Warrior are some of the only programmes to break out in the genre in recent years. Now the networks are doubling down on these exercise-centric demonstrates. This week NBC premieres Strong on Wednesday 13 April, at 9pm EST, and Fox premieres American Grit on Thursday 14 April, at 9pm EST.

While both are riffs on similar reality tropes theyre trying to capitalize on something greater that is running through the culture from Instagram fitness inspiration to the rise of athleisure, CrossFit and bodycon. Its as if the network suits ultimately bothered to stray into their local cold-pressed juice bar and realize what is happening around them.

Strong is reminiscent of NBCs long-running hit The Biggest Loser, where overweight contestants compete in physical rivalries. But on Strong, each of the 10 plus-sized women are teamed up with a handsome male fitness professional. Their arms are bulging and the sleeves of their shirts call out from the strain. The demonstrates host Gabrielle Reece likes to say: Strong is the new skinny. These women arent here simply to look good in a bikini, but to have the physical and psychological toughness of someone who does a lot more in yoga gasps than pick up the kids from school and shop at the farmers market. At least thats what the producers would like us to believe.

The 10 teams of two compete together and separately in physical challenges, like when they and their trainers have to simultaneously climb both sides of a wall employing merely removable peg they both have to share. The winning duo get $500,000 at the end and all the women get a brand new body to show off at the end of the episode. They say theyre not here to get thin, but the prominence of the big disclose tells us that a smaller dress sizing is the real prize.

Strong is the new skinny, Gabrielle Reece likes to say. Photograph: Chris Haston/ NBC

American Grit, hosted and executive produced by WWE star and professional lug John Cena, feels like it belongs more on Fox News than Fox proper thanks to a strong undercurrent of conservative jingoism. In this competitor four military heroes each supervise a squad of four who compete in obstacle courses and expeditions informed by real military training exercises.

The one intriguing aspect of American Grit is that the final elimination every week consists of a Tough Mudder-esque course followed by a test of endurance and the loser has to decide that its time to quit.( Except in one episode where a competitor swoonings from exertion .) Its as much about building that muscle between everyones ears as it is building the ones in their body. The winning squad eventually will divide$ 1m.

NBC, whose only makes these days seem to be reality fare like The Voice and new ratings bonanza Little Big cheese, is making a smart bet with Strong. Its watched its American Ninja Warrior franchise, which started on the little-watched, NBC-owned cable channel G4, become a make. When it was drafted into the big league in 2012 it clocked an average of 5m viewers but the 2016 season had increased to 6.5 m viewers, which is a very healthy number in the warmer months.

With its reliance on Lycra and space-age body readings, Strong looks like a Lululemon boutique, but American Grit looks like something out of a lumberjack endurance challenge( there is even a lumberjack on the prove ). While Fox doesnt have the ratings track record of another fitness-inspired prove, this seems like a sure bet.

With Cena and a sense of permeating patriotic boosterism, American Grit seems like it should be a home-run with a more conservative segment of the population. Based on the number of challengers on Ninja Warrior that have jobs like youth pastor and run the course with Bible verses painted on their body, there is a strange overlap in the Venn Diagram between toughness and conservative Americans. Perhaps “its one” of the apostles who fabricated the burpee?

Chris Krueger: One of the most unlikable and riling people on television. Photograph: Fox

Both demonstrates are rather enjoyable though Strong is slick where American Grit is, well, gritty. They excel when indicating a group of trainers scrambling up a rotating climbing wall or a group of civilians trying to carry a 100 -pound log for three miles through the forest. Its virtually enough to attain you wake up sore in the morning simply by watching it on TV with a pouch of kale chips on your lap.

Its the competition that carries these competitor reality demonstrates and where they all slip is in the reality aspect. Both Strong and American Grit decide to have all of the challengers live together to maximize the drama of the interactions between contenders. Both also rely on casting the kind of type-A, Im-not-here-to-make-friends personalities that are typically flock to programs of this ilk. You would expect this of the trainers on Strong, who have cockiness and testosterone to spare( and often overshadow the women they are developing ), but the casting of American Grit seems like its drawn exclusively from the most detestable humen imaginable.

Chris, one of the challengers, is perhaps one of the most unlikable and riling people I have ever seen on television and Ive watched every season of every Real Homemakers. He may look like an Abercrombie model, but all through his endurance challenge he displays a calculated cockiness, trying to litter talk his challengers and play mind games. The prove also cast Maria Kang, the No Excuses Mom who had a cheesecake picture of her posing with her three children run viral. Her assert was that there is no excuse not to be fit, but as soon as she sprains her ankle on a challenge, she whines about how much she doesnt want to be on the prove any more.

The beauty of both Ninja Warrior and Naked and Afraid is that it is men and women facing insurmountable obstacles. While Strong and American Grit get this part right, they feel the need to rely on the old standbys of petty bickers and rigging the format of the prove to accentuate conflict. In this new world where people would rather timber than play beer pong it seems like viewers are going to be more attracted to the physical fireworks than the emotional ones. Its not about trading in tossing wine glass for tossing those plastic shakers full of protein shakes. Its about watching the skills of people who have done countless box jumpings so we dont “re going to have to”.

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