Taskmaster NZ season two wrapped last night. Stewart Sowman-Lund reflects on the show that kept him sane(ish) during lockdown.
Making a grown man untie hundreds of shoelaces, cobwebbed around an empty room, sounds like some sort of cruel Jigsaw-style torture. And yet, watching comedian David Correos do exactly that during last night’s Taskmaster NZ finale was the complete opposite. Hands on his face, eyes closed, the comic let out a wail: “What the heck!”. He said he took solace in the fact that all the other contestants would have to go through this as well, before we cut back to David’s face in the studio and realised no one else had been asked to complete this task.
It’s a moment that – along with the whole season – will surely be remembered long into the future as a stand-out in New Zealand comedy.
For 10 weeks, we’ve grown to love this group of five comedians as they were each made to complete a series of absurd and meaningless tasks for the pleasure of the Taskmaster, Jeremy Wells. Each week we’ve been waiting with anticipation to see what photo of a young Paul Williams will crop up on Guy Montgomery’s shirt. We’ve been waiting nervously to see what inedible item will inevitably end up in David Correos’ mouth. We’ve been made uncomfortable by Urzila Carlson’s overly-aggressive flirting. We were in awe of Laura Daniel’s outfits and musical ability, and we felt kinship with Matt Heath’s lack of self awareness.
Not only was this season of Taskmaster NZ truly hilarious, but it stopped me from entirely losing my mind during these past four locked-down weeks in Auckland. Being stuck indoors with nothing but my own decaying mind for company, the chaos of Taskmaster somehow made the real world seem less surreal. By the end of week two of lockdown, the thought of sitting down on a Wednesday night to watch David Correos eat sunblock and scream into the void had become oddly comforting. It was my light at the end of the never-ending lockdown tunnel.
As I made clear last year, I loved season one. But season two has managed to get a combination of contestants that will surely go down in the annals of Taskmaster history as one of the best casts the show has ever seen. From the very first episode, when Guy Montgomery brought in actual, living MP Chlöe Swarbrick for his prize of “the best green thing”, to last night’s finale where we witnessed the most haunting puberty-themed puppet show ever made, this season felt weirder and bolder and bigger than the first. I now hope Harold the Giraffe has to teach kids about both puberty and the Great Northern Steeplechase in the same lesson.
David Correos deserves his own mention for… just about everything he did. There was the aforementioned sunblock eating. There was his terrifying, murderous diss rap. There was his ability to eat tens of dry Weetbix in a very short space of time, his desperation to get naked at almost every opportunity, and his despairing fits of rage whenever he realised he’d been outsmarted by a task. He also ate a lot of canned tomatoes, uncooked and with his bare hands.
Something the UK version of Taskmaster nails almost every season is the intricate generational balance. Think Bob Mortimer and Sally Phillips vs. Aisling Bea and Nish Kumar. Or Lee Mack and Mike Wozniak vs. Jamali Maddix and Charlotte Ritchie. This season’s pairing of Urzila Carlson and Matt Heath against the millennial trio of Laura, David and Guy was an absolutely joy. The haplessness and lack of care with which Urzila and Matt attempted their tasks made their performances all the better. In a post-finale Q&A last night, Matt said he made a conscious effort not to watch any episodes of the show before filming his tasks. I think that decision paid off – every season needs at least one contestant that has absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
The tasks themselves felt bolder this season, too. A season highlight saw contestants challenged to float Brussels sprouts for as long as possible, drawn out over the entire course of what was a genuinely tense episode. In cruel dramatic irony, you could spot Guy’s almost victorious sprout in the background of tasks throughout the season. Then there was an historic Taskmaster first: Laura Daniel being secretly encouraged to sabotage her teammates in a group task. Not to mention the burner phone that contestants had to carry around for weeks, waiting for the call that would summon them to an Abraham Lincoln Zoom chat.
So what to do now that Taskmaster NZ has wrapped up for another year? Thankfully, TVNZ has all 11 seasons of the UK version ready for me to rewatch. I’ll never get bored of hearing Bob Mortimer’s song for Rosalind, or seeing Mel Giedroyc slip wax seals into her pocket. A trailer for season 12 was released this week. There’s also the Taskmaster podcast and an official board game (not so fun in a bubble of two, I’m afraid).
But beyond that, I think we could all do with incorporating a bit more Taskmaster fun into our everyday lives. I’ve started treating my morning routine as a task, now: “Make a bowl of cereal, best cereal wins.” Or: “you have two minutes to get ready for your weekly Zoom meeting. Best outfit wins.”
I’m yet to win any points, but I’ll keep trying.
Taskmaster NZ is streaming now on TVNZ OnDemand