Even in the cutthroat world of summer reality shows, “Treasure Hunters” scores a rare superfecta — borrowing elements from no fewer than four movies and TV shows. Think of it as a “The Da Vinci Code”-“National Treasure”-like quest with mind-teasing clues, leading to an “Amazing Race”-type contest between teams bearing labels (“Geniuses,” “Ex-CIA,” “Miss USA”) plucked out of “Fear Factor.” Frankly, the two-hour premiere is exhausting, but for those who can’t get enough of seeing someone barf or a fat guy almost drown, it might be the perfect summer time-killer.
First, the mathematical set-up: Five teams of three are dispatched to Alaska and five more to Maui, without either knowing that a second competition is in the works. The various groups seek to decipher riddles that lead to physical tests, while a robotic host (Laird Macintosh) tells them, via a prominent product placement for a cellphone, when they’ve gotten it right and where to go next.
Granted, someone needs to be bitchslapped for one truly terrible decision, putting the beauty pageant contestants in Alaska, where they spend the early going covered up in parkas. Idiots! Fortunately, some blond twins in Hawaii immediately strip down to bikinis, providing minor compensation for this oversight.
Another young woman, on a boat, graphically loses her breakfast. Meanwhile, overweight brothers don swimsuits, too, and one announces that he doesn’t know how to swim before plunging into choppy waters. Will he make it to shore? If not, tune in for NBC’s next summer reality delight, “Insurance Hunters.”
“Treasure Hunters” also dives right into the melodramatic urgency of reality competitions, and in the process comes away with some unintentional laughs. One team, for example, says in utter seriousness, “Right now, the CIA’s our biggest concern.” Gee, if only they were members of Congress.
Yet despite a pounding, tension-packed theme by “24” composer Sean Callery, the racing around adds up to a chaotic bore without a hint of originality, as well as the most confusing set of rules for a reality show since the first season of “The Mole.” How do you win? What’s the ultimate prize again? Does anybody really know what time it is, and does anybody really care?
In terms of assets, “Treasure Hunters” — which receives a two-hour premiere before moving to Mondays — does provide a pretty travelogue of its two locales, at least marginal legitimacy by virtue of “Da Vinci Code” producer Brian Grazer’s participation and the prospective fun of mounting a great big scavenger hunt with GE’s money.
As treasures go, though, the real reward comes when the closing credits finally begin to roll. After two hours of silliness, now that’s priceless.