The San Joaquin Valley is finally getting an opportunity to share the entertainment spotlight in a big way. Or at least that is the hope. ABC’s new reality competition series, “The Ultimate Surfer,” has premiered and it is shot on location at the Surf Ranch located just outside of Lemoore, California.
The premise of the show is simple: a handful of the world's best junior-level surfers are brought to the ranch to compete for $100,000. They get to show off their skills, riding the pipeline, and carving through the water with unimaginable grace and agility.
The show — hosted by former NFL quarterback Jesse Palmer — features known surfers like Koa Smith, Tia Blanco, and surfer/model hyphenate Anastasia Ashley. Even world-renowned surfer Kelly Slater — the surf ranch’s owner — makes a video appearance in the pilot episode to explain the goal of the competition for the contestants and audience.
It seems like a weird premise to have a surfing competition more than a hundred miles from the ocean in the middle of rural ag country, but it’s actually an ingenious location. The backing studio doesn’t have to acquire the same permitting as they would need for shooting on location at a public beach because they are using private property.
The ranch also offers something wholly unique that the untamable ocean — in all its infinite majesty — cannot provide: a consistently uniform man-made wave ride after ride after ride. That is revolutionary as the location is the first of its kind.
While various theme parks and resorts have wave pools like the kind seen at water parks or simulators, those waves aren’t even close to the same level of consistency. The pool at the ranch is longer than seven football fields, offering a perfect wave every time.
That’s impressive… what isn’t so impressive is how the writers fill the runtime of the 43-minute episodes. Most of the content is centered around the contestants’ interpersonal interactions outside of the water. There are some team-building activities and some cool shots of them occasionally surfing but much of the screen time is dedicated to unnecessarily manufacturing drama.
It’s as if the producers decided to recreate Big Brother and dropped it onto the surf ranch because it was a new and different locale. That is disappointing given the fact that the sport made its official debut this summer in the Tokyo Olympics; it was actually one of the highlighted sports for the Olympic Games.
It’s a shame “The Ultimate Surfer” didn’t take a page from that book or other successful athletic competition shows. Spending two-thirds of an episode watching the cast vapidly interacting in various social settings or attempting to do morning yoga isn’t as fun as watching something truly athletic like “American Gladiators” or — heaven forbid — Michael Jordan’s attempt at a golf career.
This is a show that has potential if produced well but it feels as if this might stick around far longer than its novelty will allow and audiences will get bored by the lack of actual competition. This new show ends up as a gnarly wipeout, bro!