The contestants in Rise and Fall are either Rulers or Grafters, with beef expected between the two groups and individuals potentially able to change their status. Sound familiar? Here is the first post-Traitors reality gameshow, created by the same production company as the BBC series fronted by Claudia Winkleman.
She has been subbed for the Radio 1 DJ Greg James, and the verdant Scottish Highlands for the City of London. James – velvet jacket, elaborate quiff, standing in a roof garden atop “an iconic London tower” – tells us this game is all about power and money. It’s The Apprentice Traitors!
Fears that Rise and Fall will be a corporate horrorfest grow as, down in the lobby, we meet a stream of – how to put this nicely? – ambitious and self-confident people with an entrepreneurial mindset and an eye for aggressive waistcoats and powerful blouses. But among the influencers, PR consultants and smalltime CEOs are ordinary people with proper jobs: a delivery driver, a builder, two nurses and a postal worker. Rise and Fall, you see, is to explore the divide between bosses and workers, between the privileged and the put-upon.
It works like this. Grafters add to a prize fund by carrying out tasks, at the direction of the Rulers, who decide how much work is done and whether to bestow rewards on their underlings at the end of the day. Eventually, up to £100,000 will be won, but, although they did little to create this wealth, only those who end the game as Rulers have a chance to snatch it. Rulers live in a luxury penthouse full of soft pillows and delicious snacks; Grafters have to slum it in a windowless basement with exposed-concrete walls (it would cost them £2,500 a month each plus bills if it were a real London flatshare, but here it is intended to be a punishment).
As the Rulers bicker over their strategy and which of them is the best leader, and the Grafters chat on dormitory-style single beds squashed together in one small room, another big reality influence adds itself to the already convoluted mix. Evidently, they are being encouraged to interact in gossip-worthy ways; at some point, there is going to be a vote to promote, demote or eliminate. It’s The Apprentice Traitors Big Brother!
Although two Grafters try their best to get a Big Brother vibe going by cuddling up on a bed inexplicably within hours of arriving, the real action is upstairs, where the Rulers engage in one of those popularity contests where forceful personalities push themselves to the front at the risk of ultimately being shot down. Such a dynamic needs a willing villain and, oh wow, episode one of Rise and Fall has a corker in the shape of 34-year-old bar and club owner Ramona.
In their boardroom, the Rulers are meant to make a joint decision about whether or not to push the Grafters to earn more money by performing another, more difficult, round of that day’s task. If the workers are extended beyond their competence and fail, the money earned so far is lost. But each of the Rulers has a button in front of them; if any one of them presses theirs, the discussion ends and the work goes ahead.
In the middle of a heated debate, Ramona hammers her button and, when the ensuing argument inevitably leads to someone holding up a manicured hand and demanding that they be allowed to speak uninterrupted, Ramona comes out with an arrogant diva clapback for the ages: “Darling, I’ll talk when I want.”
Then, in the Traitors-ish bit when the Rulers have to say who is the worst, Ramona announces that everyone else is weak and talking rubbish. It’s a bold strategy – and we love/hate her for it.
What, though, of the task the Grafters perform? Here is where any pretence of Rise or Fall being a metaphor for inequality and class tensions falls down. They have to “work as electricians”, which turns out to mean a silly, random game where each of them press two oversized metal prongs against contacts placed above their heads to form a circuit, while receiving electric shocks, for a set amount of time. Break the circuit and the money is forfeited. This is on a darkened set with miniature pylons creating an industrial vibe. It’s The Big Crystal Apprentice Traitor Maze!
Although there is some fascination in one Grafter who shows an instinct for genuflecting gratitude – and the show might warm up when some of the Rulers are ex-Grafters – so far there are no revealing interactions between the proles and the blinged-up bosses, nothing to compete with the psychological subtlety and strain of The Traitors’ extended bluffs. Beneath that shiny veneer of newness is an old-fashioned, backstabbing bunfight between unlikable people – entertaining, yes, but business as usual.
• Rise and Fall aired on Channel 4 and is available on All4