Power Slap: is this the most stomach-churning reality TV show ever?

This series about face-smacking contestants has been described as a ‘horrible idea that needs to be stopped’. But at least no one drinks donkey urine – unlike on other shows …

If you have your ear to the ground, there is a good chance you will be aware of a new TV show called Power Slap. If you haven’t heard of it, allow me to explain it. But strap yourself in, because hoo boy.

Power Slap is a televised “sport” in which two people slap one other as hard as they can, with the aim of incapacitating their opponent to the point of unconsciousness. The players take turns unloading slaps so hard that it is uncomfortable to watch, while the opponent must stand with their arms by their side, since the rules forbid any form of defence (or even flinching).

Power Slap has no British broadcaster, but in the US, where it is shown on TBS, it has caused a firestorm, not least because it is objectively stupid and dangerous, with slap fighters often ending up swollen and disfigured, and neurologists condemning the potential injuries they could sustain through repeated concussive impact to the head. And the people who run the league aren’t exactly lovely either. The show’s premiere was delayed, in fact, due to a video of Power Slap producer Dana White hitting his wife.

A recent New Yorker piece did a good job of corralling the outrage. The boxer Ryan Garcia said: “Power slap is a horrible idea and it needs to be stopped.” Ariel Helwani, a sports journalist who reports on mixed martial arts, took aim at the state from which Power Slap is broadcast, saying: “Shame on Nevada for sanctioning that.” Even JT Tilley, who operates his own slap-fight league, admits that “90% of people can’t stand this sport”.

But Power Slap is not just a sport. It is also a reality show, with the fighters all living together in a nice house, like the contestants on The Apprentice. The difference is that when the fighters leave the house, it is to hit each other as hard as they can.

Does this make Power Slap the most awful reality show in the history of television? Not by a long shot. It sounds awful and exploitative, but is it any more awful and exploitative than Cheaters? That was the show in which members of the public could spy on their partners to see if they were unfaithful, before catching them in the act and – more often than not – having a screaming, knock-down fight with them. There was nothing about Cheaters that didn’t turn the stomach, yet it ran for more than 20 years.

What some people will do to win money: a contestant competes for cash on the gameshow Fear Factor.
Forced to do some of the most awful acts ever for cash … Fear Factor. Photograph: MTV

Is it worse than Fear Factor, a gameshow in which contestants had to commit to some of the most stomach-churning acts imaginable to win some cash? One episode, queasily titled Hee Haw! Hee Haw!, was so hideous that it was only shown on TV once, thanks to a challenge in which guests had to chug donkey semen and urine.

But the most gruesome reality show of all time is probably The Moment of Truth, a 2008 US gameshow so sickening that 15 of its episodes were never aired.

The premise? A subject is strapped to a polygraph and asked 100 questions of increasing intimacy. The more of these questions they agree to answer on air, the more money they win. In one episode, introduced by its own host as a piece of TV that didn’t deserve to see the light of day, a woman admitted to stealing money from work, to wishing she had married someone other than her husband (who was in the audience with his head in his hands), and to having sex with other men since being married. She was eliminated for answering yes to the question “Are you a good person?”. It was unimaginably horrible from start to finish.

Host Mark Walberg with a contestant on the 2008 show The Moment of Truth.
Host Mark Wahlberg with a contestant on the 2008 show The Moment of Truth, in which contestants answered intimate questions for money. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

In fact, Power Slap may not even qualify as the worst reality show of the moment. Netflix is producing Squid Game: The Challenge, in which the fictional lethal knockout game is played for real by members of the public. While the reality version draws a line at killing the participants, there have been reports that multiple contestants have required medical assistance during filming, with others likening it to a war zone. It certainly sounds as if it will be very difficult to watch.

Does Power Slap sound good? No. But the worst ever? Let’s retain some perspective.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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