“The Chase” (2021 ABC Version) Review

Set Design- 7
Gameplay- 6
Show Flow- 9
Potential Viewer Ratings- 8
Play-Along Factor- 10
Host- 5

Overall Rating- 7.5

Premise: A team of three contestants attempts to build their bank by each contestant playing two quiz rounds: the Cashbuilder and The Chase rounds. In the Cashbuilder, the contestant has 60 seconds to answer as many questions as possible, with each correct answer worth $25,000. 

After the Cashbuilder, the contestants compete with The Chaser in the head-to-head Chase round. The contestant’s money won in the Cashbuilder is now placed three steps down on an eight-step board. The contestant is given the option to either be placed on that step to play for their original bank (three steps behind the Chaser), placed one step lower for a smaller reward (four steps behind the Chaser), or placed one step higher for a higher reward (two steps behind the Chaser). Each offer is set by the Chaser. The object of this round is for the contestant to move their cash stake ‘Home’ by reaching the bottom of the board before the Chaser catches them by answering a series of multiple choice questions correctly. A correct answer moves the contestant and/or Chaser one step closer while an incorrect answer keeps the contestant and/or Chaser frozen at their space. If a contestant gets caught by the Chaser before they reach ‘Home’, the contestant is eliminated from the game and loses their winnings. If the contestant can reach ‘home’ before they are caught, their winnings are added to the team bank. The contestants who survive the Chase rounds advances to The Final Chase.

In The Final Chase, the remaining contestants have two minutes to answer as many questions as possible to earn as many steps as possible. A team may have up to three steps as a head start, depending on how many contestants are left in the game. Afterward, the Chaser has two minutes to catch the team by answering a different set of questions correctly. If the Chaser answers any questions incorrectly, the team has a chance to send the Chaser back one step by providing the correct answers. If the Chaser can successfully answer enough questions correctly to catch the team, the team walks away with nothing. Otherwise, the team wins their bank and splits the winnings among themselves if more than one person is on the team.

Review

To purposely misquote an adage, bigger isn’t always better. I’ll say it again – BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER. When it comes to primetime productions in the game show universe, there is an understandable need to enhance the set design and supersize the prize stakes to make the show more exciting to a larger audience from The Price Is Right’s Million Dollar Spectacular to any million-dollar game show developed during the big-money game show boom during the early 2000s. However, this method doesn’t mesh well with all game show formats. Unfortunately, the ABC’s revival of The Chase perfectly exemplifies why “bigger isn’t always better”.

Before I delve into my general review of the show, I’m going to take a moment to shine a spotlight on the outrageously overvalued $25,000 Cashbuilder round and how it causes a negative cascading effect which makes the majority of each episode less competitive and compelling to watch.

Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Because The Chase’s format is designed the way it is due to how it’s constructed around the Cashbuilder and its heavy emphasis on the the Chaser’s offers, it determines the pace and the contestant’s crucial positioning of each Chase round, which ultimately makes a huge impact in how competitive each Chase round is and how much of an advantage the team will have versus the Chaser in The Final Chase. In several versions of The Chase, including the GSN version with its $5,000/question Cashbuilder, there is a decent relative distribution of contestants playing each of the lower, middle and higher offers in The Chase rounds. 

In the first four episodes of the 2021 U.S. reboot, I have yet to see a contestant go for the top offer. The entire point of the Cashbuilder is to establish a middling, menial amount of money as base so the Chaser can tempt players with a substantially higher offer to make the game harder or a slightly lower offer to make it easier. Considering the middle and lower offers are worth on average $75,000 and $40,000 respectively, who could blame the contestants for settling for the middling offers and playing an easier game en route to The Final Chase with that generous of a payout? It yields less competitive Chase rounds and they are not nearly as fun to watch compared to contestants on any other version of The Chase claw and scrape their way to through a near head-to-head matchup for a satisfying high-pressure, high-stakes win. 

Establishing the Cashbuilder questions at $25,000 a pop was a huge misstep by the producers of this version. Setting the Cashbuilder between $2,000-$5,000 per question would have sufficed and would subsequently encourage more contestants to play a more satisfyingly competitive game overall (outside of The Final Chase) while maintaining the high stakes element. 

The only saving grace of wildly-inflated Cashbuilder is raising the general difficulty of questions in all three rounds to offset it.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, here’s the rest of the review:

I have a lot of mixed feelings with this version of The Chase. On one hand, I’m glad the show has received a second chance with three of Jeopardy’s greatest champions taking on these civilian teams. Game Show Network did a fantastic job of introducing the British-born game show to Americans and I’m seriously happy to see it continue for a broader audience to see it on network television. With this being said – on the other hand, I think this version took three steps forward and four steps back.

Three Steps Forward…

The presence of Ken “The Professor” Jennings, Brad “The Buzzsaw” Rutter  and James “The High Roller” Holzhauer definitely – and is probably the only thing that makes this show worth watching. I’ve enjoyed watching how each of these three Chasers trash-talk and intimidate their civilian competition, how well they brilliantly describe how they arrive to the correct answer to most of the questions in the Chase rounds and how quickly they blaze through a torrent of questions under pressure in their Final Chases. 

Of the three Chasers, “The High Roller” Holzhauer is my favorite so far. The youthful smugness and hubris he exudes with his intellectual superiority combined with his stone-cold, poker-faced demeanor and his penchant for his sharp-tongued s***-talking makes him the ideal embodiment of the quintessential Chaser. “The High Roller” is the perfect nickname for James Holzhauer as a complementary callback to him playing poker professionally and his famous all-in Daily Double wagers on Jeopardy!. Absolutely no notes. For the “The Professor” Ken Jennings and “The Buzzsaw” Brad Rutter, they both share a friendly but equally fierce competitive presence to The Chase.

Four Steps Backward

Aside from the aforementioned $25,000 Cashbuilder problem, there are several other complaints I have with this version of The Chase, including the on-screen and set graphics, the “Chaser’s Lounge” and host Sara Gaines.

While I do like the overall design of the set, I don’t particularly care how the Chaser’s spaces are the nearly the same color as the yellow neutral spaces on the game board. It’s bad design that’s visually confusing. There’s a reason why the Chaser’s are represented in red in every other version on The Chase. While we’re on the subject of graphics, my only minor gripe for the on-screen graphics is the inexplicable four-digit timer for the one-minute Cashbuilder and two-minute Final Chase. Although the latter was fixed in later episodes, the four-digits used for the Cashbuilder is still a problem – albeit a minor one.

Moving to the Chaser’s Lounge, this behind-the-scenes gimmick could be better used to add exclusively to on-demand episodes. Although it does provide a unique and interesting glimpse on what the other Chasers think about the contestants, the competing Chaser and the episode overall with their color commentary, it comes across as more of a distraction on the broadcasted episodes and unnecessarily disrupts the show’s flow. While I don’t mind the background commentary on lighthearted shows like Don’t, it is unneeded for a more serious and intense quizzer like The Chase.

As host, Sara Gaines is disappointingly average for an intense quiz show like this. Her biggest shortcoming as the host of this show is the relatively sluggish and porous pace at which she reads the questions during the Final Chase end games. I reviewed several Final Chase clips from other hosts like Bradley Walsh (U.K.), Andrew O’Keefe (Australia) and Brooke Burns (GSN) just to see how quickly they read the questions compared to how fast Gaines reads the questions. On average, those three hosts take on average between 2-3 seconds to ask each question while Gaines spends about 4-5 seconds reading each question. Gaines’s lack of urgency when it comes to speed-reading through the Final Chase questions is a significant hindrance in this crucial end game and fails to maximize the contestants’ and Chasers’ chances to answering as many as possible – especially when the latter needs that 10-15-question cushion in the final 30 seconds to fight against the contestants’ potential pushbacks. Although I don’t believe she is a good fit for this type of show, if Gaines were to return next season, she will need to improve that specific skill set.

Overall, although this version of The Chase is watchable, there are several ways in how this series can (and seriously needs to) improve between seasons. I would also love to see better continuity with the show’s music cues and theme (either go all in on the U.S. or the U.K. theme music and cues) and four contestants instead of three go head-to-head-to-head-to-head against the Chaser in season two. With this being said, they’re far from a dealbreaker considering the litany of other issues the show has. These issues are the main reasons why I would more likely binge-watch older episodes of GSN’s The Chase on Netflix and several episodes from the U.K. version than I would with the 2021 edition.

I expect to see ABC take another stab at this U.K. import and renew it for a second season. Now that the question of “Who’s the GOAT of Jeopardy?” was settled in early 2020, I’m genuinely looking forward to watching these three tried and true trivia pros engage in more exhilarating Chases.

WATCH NEW EPISODES Of The Chase Thursday nights at 9:00pm ET on ABC and catch the latest episodes on ABC.com!

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