Before “Survivor,” Mark Burnett cut his producing teeth on “Eco-Challenge,” a full-bore adventure series. He makes a glancing return to those roots with “Expedition Impossible,” although the intervening years have transformed this new show into less an extension of his earlier efforts than a transparent knockoff of “The Amazing Race” — impressive as travelogue, perhaps, but reduced to empty stereotypes in terms of the 13 competing trios. The introductory hour suffers by unleashing a dizzying assortment of characters to absorb, but goes down easily enough as undemanding summer filler.
Set in Morocco, the program uses a familiar form of shorthand to present its 39 players by reducing the teams to convenient little labels: New York Firemen, California Girls, Football Players, etc.
Beyond that, there’s a 69-year-old grandfather, a blind guy with impeccable explorer credentials, gay friends and a trio of New York Latinas who dutifully spend most of the premiere squabbling. Thanks to them, there hasn’t been this much hairspray in Morocco since “Sex and the City 2.”
“We’re in the Sahara Desert! There’s sand everywhere, yo!” one member snaps at her prissy pal.
Prize-wise, “Expedition” is one of the cheaper network reality shows in recent memory, promising the winning team $150,000 (or $50,000 each) and new Ford Explorers. Hardly seems worth it, but then again, the prospect of fame, however fleeting, supplanted cash ages ago.
Producing with Lisa Hennessy, Burnett does possess a true knack in creating a sense of jeopardy in the challenges, whether it’s trekking across sand dunes, trying to tame intransigent camels or rappelling down a steep cliff face. Pushed to their physical limits, the contestants spend almost as much time vomiting (usually off camera, mercifully) as they do sniping and griping.
ABC took advantage of its high-rated NBA Finals coverage to repeatedly promote the program’s arrival, which could pay dividends.
Creatively speaking, though, “Expedition” travels such a familiar course it’s merely proof that when it comes to unscripted competitions, even top producers like Burnett continue to be extremely eco-friendly — starting with their conceptual commitment to recycling.