Down in the depths of Netflix‘s back catalogue lurks the Beast, a mysterious metallic creature who can only be slain by the “Ultimate Beastmaster” – that is, an athlete who must rack up points on a devilishly difficult obstacle course to claim the title.
And in these strange times, what better distraction than an entertaining competitive obstacle course show? Forget grim dramas and serious documentaries; it’s time for some fun. Twenty-nine hours of fun, to be precise.
What is Ultimate Beastmaster?
It’s hard to know where to start with Ultimate Beastmaster, so I’ll begin with Netflix’s synopsis: “In this intense obstacle course series, elite athletes from the US and other countries compete for cash prizes, individual glory and national pride.” Money! Glory!! Pride!!! The stakes could not be higher.
What Netflix has done is build a massive obstacle course inside a huge dragon-shaped structure (“The Beast”) and invited a selection of different nations to send teams of 12 competitors each. Some of the athletes are pro climbers or Olympians or gymnasts, and some of them are architects or teachers or students who just happen to really like obstacle courses. They all earnestly pledge themselves to defeat the Beast.
But the Beast can only be defeated if you run into his mouth, emerge intact from his bum, and then go through a “pyramid” afterwards (the anatomy is never fully explained). So in each episode, a dozen competitors in ultra-tight national-flag-coloured spandex suits take turns to launch themselves into “the belly of the Beast” and see how far through the course they can get. Most end up falling into the “blood of the beast” (the red-lit water below) or the “fuel of the pyramid” (blue-ish water) before they finish each round, but the point is to rack up as many points as possible by getting as far as possible and hitting as many “point thrusters” as possible – before getting entirely wet.
Across three different obstacle courses within the Beast, competitors get progressively knocked out until – at the end of the hour – one of them is crowned Beastmaster. But that’s not the title of the show, is it? This is Ultimate Beastmaster, as we are so often reminded throughout. So at the end of the series, the winners of each episode face each other in a final ultimate battle for the ultimate ‘Ultimate’ title.
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Watching from the sidelines are pairs of TV hosts from each competing country, who provide (ridiculous) commentary and try to ramp up the international rivalry across the season. Netflix produces localised versions of the show for each different competing country, so (for example) the Italian hosts are the stars of the show on Italian Netflix. But the main version is the American one, and that’s what you’ll get if you’re watching in the UK – although confusingly, because season three finally has a team representing Great Britain, you also have the option of watching an edit of that particular season with the British hosts centre stage. (However, I recommend you stick with the Americans all the way through for comedy value.)
How long is Ultimate Beastmaster? Where can I watch it?
You’ll find Ultimate Beastmaster on Netflix, where you can watch all three seasons – adding up to a total of 29 hour-long episodes. To give you a taste of the cheesiness of this all, the seasons are titled ‘No Mercy’, ‘No Surrender’, and ‘Survival of the Fittest’.
The first two seasons came out in 2017, and the third arrived in 2018, but sadly there has been no sign of a fourth season so far.
Why should I watch Ultimate Beastmaster?
In case the above description has left you on the fence about watching Ultimate Beastmaster (for some bizarre reason entirely incomprehensible to me), there are a ton of reasons why you should give this show a try…
The ridiculous obstacles
I just love how the obstacle course is un-ironically personified as a Beast that must be destroyed / conquered / slain / defeated. The competitors have to trash-talk the Beast with 100% earnestness. I’ll have the Beast for breakfast, they say. I’ll show the Beast who’s boss. I’ll make the Beast wish it was never born. The Beast is no match for me.
But even better, the obstacles themselves all have silly names – many of them related to the Beast’s innards. The contestants must climb up “Mother Tongue”; they must compete a series of vertical jumps onto platforms to complete “Spinal Descent”; on “Stomach Churn” they must jump between spinning platforms before scrambling up the “Digestive Track” and making the leap onto the “Dreadmills” without falling into the aforementioned “blood of the beast”.
Not all the obstacles are Beast-themed, however. Many competitors struggle with “Mag Wall”, a horizontal climbing wall which they must scramble along before the magnetic handholds fall off. Or there’s the “Crash Pads”, where competitors have to land on unstable swinging platforms suspended by bungee chords. And to be frank, a lot of these obstacles look like they were built by GCSE Design & Tech students experimenting with MDF and shiny paint.
The impressive competitors
The obstacle names make this all sound kind of silly – except that the obstacle course is really, really hard. A lot of people (literally) fall at the first hurdle. Some of them get seriously hurt and end up dripping literal blood into the so-called blood of the Beast. To be crowned Ultimate Beastmaster, competitors have to have good long-jump skills, arm strength, leg strength, core strength, endurance, speed and aim.
And that’s part of the appeal of this show: these are amazing sportsmen and women, doing really dumb-looking stuff and wiping out in spectacular ways.
We also get to know and love (or hate) the competitors. Most of the aspiring Beastmasters get a little intro clip where we learn how they’ve triumphed over adversity, X-Factor style, or we see how they have become world-class at their particular sport, or we hear from their mum about how they were always climbing trees in the garden as a kid or whatever. Some of them you fall in love with and spend the whole episode rooting for; some of them dab or preen for the cameras, and you can’t wait for them to wipeout in the first round. There’s a lot of emotional investment here for the viewer.
The hosts and commentators
Firstly, the initial season is officially ‘hosted’ by Sylvester Stallone, who puts in a quick cameo before pretty much… disappearing? That’s funny in itself! Thanks for popping in, Sly! Catch you some other time!
But the absence of Sly is no problem, because the show gets much more value out of its pairs of country-specific commentators. First up in season one we get Charissa Thompson (idk either) and none other than Terry Crews, the delightful former athlete and Brooklyn 99 actor. Terry is just endlessly positive and charming and straight-up lovely.
He sadly does not return for season two, but that’s okay because our two new hosts are ex-athlete Tiki Barber and comedian Chris Distefano. They are fundamentally mismatched and form an uneasy partnership, which itself is comedy gold. Distefano makes wry self-deprecating comments and Tiki laughs uneasily.
But over in the other booths, the different nations’ hosts are having a ball and ramping up national rivalries. Italy’s Bianca Balti (day job: model) keeps waving a wand and putting a curse on people (a gimmick that continues for two whole seasons) and Australia’s Dannii Minogue is just here for a laugh.
Lame and unfunny jokes are made. Props are tossed around. And as the evening progresses, the commentators get more and more hyperactive and chaotic – popping in and out of each other’s booths and testing out their skills in each other’s languages. It’s a real multilingual experience.
But my favourite American pairing comes in season three, possibly the best season, when Tiki returns – but with a new co-host, former WWE champion CM Punk. Partly I enjoy how over-earnest Tiki and Punk are together, but mainly I enjoy Punk’s surname. Tiki keeps saying things like “Great story, Punk!” or “We didn’t expect that now, did we Punk!?” and – well maybe you had to be there? Just go and watch it. You won’t regret it.