Treasure Hunters: Bjerke
July 18, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Treasure Hunters”: The series’ real mysteries

Look, I’m not even going to try to feign an interest in — or an understanding of — the Genworth Financial at-home challenge NBC keeps promoting every week during Treasure Hunters. Maybe it’s too hard. Or too easy. Or too random. Maybe I’m just distracted by the bad Photoshopping used to foist the Genworth logo onto road signs and other placards that pop up on the Treasure Hunters route.

Then again, perhaps I’m too busy trying to solve the show’s internal hidden mysteries — no, not those ”left by our forefathers,” as the opening credits lamely promise every week. (Like I’m so sure George Washington and Benjamin Franklin spent their power lunches at the Philadelphia Hard Rock laying the groundwork for a reality TV series a couple hundred years later.) Instead, I’m talking about the mysteries of the production itself, the ones that leave me raging against the machine at the center of my living room every Monday night. These include (but are certainly not limited to) the following:

1. Why the startling inconsistencies in the rules of the game? You know what I’m talking about. Two weeks ago, the Grad Students lost one member to injury (don’t ask which one, I could never keep ’em straight) and got booted from the hunt. This week, Keith tears a muscle, and yet the Brown Family gets to keep on truckin’. Huh?

Yes, yes, I’m fully aware that if the Brown Family had completed the swamp-box-quilt challenge, they’d have had the option (like the other six remaining teams) of dropping a player and continuing as a duo, but they never even made it to the first box. I don’t care that Tonny and the sibling whose name I never remembered got a six-hour penalty after Keith quit. They should have, at the very least, proven they could make it through the marshes, just like out-of-shape, flat-footed Genius Sam (and his almost disloyal teammates Frodo and Gollum) and the Southie Boys, each of whom had to carry 40 pounds of Kayte Fogal’s shrill complaining on their backs. Frankly, if the Browns really believed ”the hunt is the hunt, the game is the game” (their inane sports talk, not mine), they would have insisted on completing the course as intended.

2. How come the teams always know how to solve what appear to be completely random clues? I know some of you brought this up last week, and I wanted to as well, but I had promised to write a completely positive column. (You can see I got that outta my system.) It’s worth rewinding to last week’s Brooklyn subway tunnel, where teams yelled, ”I got it!” after digging the book, flag, and glasses out of the piles of random artifacts. How would they know what ”it” to get unless they’d been told by the show’s producers, or via phone by competing teams? What’s more, since the cameras are constantly trained on the players, why not show the moments of realization when they solve various puzzles, and then treat us to post-challenge ”confessional” interviews in which they explain their thought processes? As it is now, Treasure Hunters feels to me like sitting in the back of a second-semester French class and watching the students pass an oral exam one at a time, while I can barely pronounce ”bon jour.”

In the show’s defense, at least this week’s ”FREEDOM” clue, with ”RED” spelled out in a different color, offered a small slice of satisfaction, at least when I thought all the clues were stuffed into red pockets on the quilts. Who knew that the red glasses from Brooklyn were the answer, or that any of the teams were still carrying them?

3. On a similar note, and not to beat multiple horses (dead or otherwise), but why present so many challenges that, once solved by a single team, are plain as day to the competition? Once the kick-ass blond chick from Air Force ripped the finial off the flag stand at Fort Pulaski, even the Wild Hanlons would’ve known the remaining six banners contained similar maps. And even if they hadn’t, one of their do-gooder foes probably would’ve helped ’em, which raises the question…

4. Why has the show been cast with folks who think competition is a dirty word? Exhibit A: Southie Matthew whining, after another team entered the quilt-filled safe house, ”I don’t think Air Force even said hi. They were, like, so military.” If by ”military,” he means ”focused and competitive,” then I’m hoping next week’s episode is the reality TV equivalent of boot camp. Which brings me to my final query:

5. Why didn’t Pa Fogal clock his daughter with that shovel? Heck no, I’m not advocating serious violence. I’m just in awe that the man of the cloth (whose ”I don’t know what hurts more, my ears or my feet” was kinda priceless) managed to resist rattling bratty Kayte’s cage with a gentle, therapeutic blow to the head. Or perhaps the kneecaps. Anything. To make. Her stop. Whining. Then again, maybe the terrible twentysomething is merely a weapon the Fogals are using to irritate and sidetrack their fellow players. Now there’s the kind of vicious play I could learn to love and respect.

Until that proves to be the case, though, I’m rooting for Air Force, the one team that never whines, cries, threatens to quit, or considers dumping a member. (Yeah, Geniuses, what would you have done if asthmatic Sam hadn’t been gasping into the mirror?) And if not them, well, then I guess Ex-CIA, just because they’ve failed to make much of an impression at all, which, in the world of Treasure Hunters‘ endless puzzles, is the encrypted equivalent of downright likable.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Were you sad to see the always trailing Browns get booted? And was I the only one who howled when Francis explained his exhaustion by noting, ”We’ve skipped at least three or four dimensions of time-space continuum at this point”? Real genius, eh?

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