If you ignore the poor audio quality of Gulder Ultimate Search: The Age of Craftsmanship, the latest instalment of the once most-watched reality show on Nigerian television, long before BBNaija established itself as a cultural staple, what viewers are treated to is a desperate, off-brand, wonky production, from a team that has lost touch with the mores and grievances of Nigerians, the mass, ordinary Nigerians.
The premise of the show is largely the same, albeit the branding being starkly different, almost BBNaija-esque. Unlike in the days of yore, when the competition was built on the backdrop of vivid stories, with the council of elders making decisions, as contestants toil endlessly for the ultimate price- the lost item and the money, this season invites viewers to a drama-filled performance, a boys versus girls type narrative, effectively eroding the intellectuality, at least the type that made the franchise famous, and focusing on a more modern-day reality show arch, filled with drama, whetting the appetite of viewers for a future reunion show, that would be filled with even more drama.
They start their journey in a traffic-jammed, tight street city. By Keke Napep and foot, they make it to the jungle, where Rhythm FM shock jock and self-proclaimed “baby girl for life,” Toke Makinwa greets the tired, weary and stressed contestants in the jungle, very much on brand, with a full face of makeup, and tailbone length hair extensions, announced “My name is Toke Makinwa,” immediately underscoring one of the biggest tone-deafness, in the history of TV shows being tone-deaf.
What is in question here is not whether or not Toke Makinwa has earned her stripes to host a major television show, her more than a decade long career on radio and stints on TV speaks for itself. But is GUS the show for her brand, her new “baby girl” brand? Does she have what it takes to sustain the camaraderie and resilience needed to retain the hope that the contestants look up to their captains for, as Genevieve Nnaji and Chidi Mokeme did in their time as host/captain/mouthpiece of the elders?
In a burgeoning celebrity culture that receives opinions without fire emoji or outright praise as hate or trolling or even violence, for too long guardrails have been pushed aside and every and any person with an accent and a following on Instagram or light skin can be tapped to host just any show. And so when social media lit up months ago, after it was announced that Toke Makinwa would host this show, in disapproval, that dissent didn’t get its due.
The taskmaster, Makinwa’s co-host, Nollywood’s rising star Kunle Remi, initially in the opening sequence, presents himself as the one who truly understands, the untainted Nigerian who truly knows and is conscious of the rudiments of Nigerian life. But no sooner did the show start, did that passive-aggressive innuendoes, that elitist Nigerian speak of condescension, that dominate that elusive class marked by bank loans and gossip, that present themselves as “upper-middle-class Nigerians” (if such a thing exist) as Remi ask the contestant, behind his Ray-Ban sunglasses why they (who had just gone through tooth and nail to make it to the jungle) were rushing for food. To which Toke Makinwa reminds him, and no doubt the audience, sporting diamond studs, that some African children have nothing to eat. Hence, the contestants who have worked hard to make the cut during what was a rigorous screening process must be grateful, almost grovelling, to have been given this opportunity. That’s a tone that everyday working Nigerian, who the show is marketed to, is familiar with. As if, only if they weren’t here, the country will have institutions that work better.
Makinwa says to the contestant that she is “the little voice that reminds you that only the fittest will survive this quest.” But her profile as a cultural symbol of banality from Instagram outweighs this new role that demands physical grit and resilience, the type that all the vanities of Instagram can never provide. And then she added they (the contestants) were dressed rather too “fancy” for the occasion with a straight face.
Remi keeps appearing and disappearing, speaking only in murmurs, leaving viewers unsure if this is just bad audio quality or the show doesn’t have a script. It is hard to believe that this show has any script or even a plan, with the hosts not taking themselves or the job seriously. The recurring failure of this show is that it has offered hosts that can’t see themselves as anything other than celebrities, that fail to see that they too are part of the competition.
But to the big question, will Nigerians watch it? Would the return of GUS be successful? What is clear is that this is a show that Nigerians truly loved. The hosts of the show would not be the determining factor for whether or not it would be a success or otherwise. Nigerians just want a good time, something, anything away from the depressing news cycle, and this might be that thing for the next few weeks.