The NFL's Watt brothers on why Ultimate Tag is more sport than game show
If there's one thing you should know about Fox's new competition series Ultimate Tag, it's that the athleticism on display — in the exclusive clip above, for instance — is absolutely real.
"It is much more sport than it is a game show," says J.J. Watt, who co-hosts the show with his younger brothers, and fellow NFL players, Derek and T.J. All three Watts stress the physical demands of Ultimate Tag, which pits amateur contestants against "professional taggers" in amped-up versions of the classic playground game.
"It’s full-body work, you can’t just be in shape. You have to be strong, you have to be able to run, you have to have endurance," T.J. adds. Derek recalls seeing tears, blood, and "blown chunks" during taping.
"You will see some frightened faces, people running for their lives," he continues. "You can just tell, sometimes they forget what the heck the objective is, because they are just trying not to get caught."
Though there luckily wasn't any bleeding or vomiting when EW stopped by a spring 2019 taping (ah, the days when shows were still produced in studios!), the gameplay was fast-paced, intense, and extremely physical. Often, players kept running when the crew would call for a pause in the game, caught up in the heat of the moment. Referees stringently enforced the rules (no hopping over course walls, for instance) and carefully kept time. The Watts weren't exaggerating: this is absolutely an athletic competition.
"These people take true pride in it, and they’re showing unbelievable athletic skill and strength and stamina," J.J. says of the players. "It’s tiring as hell from our perspective." (Remember, these guys play in the NFL.)
Ultimate Tag features five different courses, each with a different spin on the game and different skills required. There's Dome Tag, in which contestants must cling to a cage 30 feet in the air with no harnesses. There's Chase Tag, a relatively straightforward game of tag played on an obstacle course. The one we saw, Revenge Tag, is modeled on Pac-Man, with contestants running through a hexagonal maze course, attempting to hit buttons that allow them to go after the Pro Taggers for 10 seconds. (On the show, tagging entails grabbing a strip of fabric, like in flag football, from a player's vest.) Then there's a final showdown, which combines the different courses into one game.
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The Pro Taggers, meanwhile, are as varied as the courses, with pro-wrestling-esque personas complete with themed costumes and nicknames like Caveman, Iron Giantess, and Horse (whose gimmick is apparently being super angry). At the taping, they were introduced like an all-star team lineup, with "Eye of the Tiger" blaring as the taggers showed off parkour moves and their individual character schticks.
"You’re gonna get to know the taggers over the course of the season," J.J. teases. "You’ll get to know what they’re like as a person, what their skills are, and see them put to the test every week."
That goes for the contestants, too: "You’re gonna cheer for people that you like, you’re gonna cheer against taggers that you don’t like. For us even hosting it, it’s a lot of fun to watch it, and see storylines develop," J.J. says. "And it’s tag, so there’s a lot of on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments, where you’re like, ‘Don’t get caught! Don’t get caught!’" In a world now devoid of sports, Ultimate Tag might be the "it" show of the season.