Everybody had the same idea this Rugby World Cup.
Last year, after Carlos Spencer’s home reno show and Matthew Ridge’s architecture series premiered within a week of each other, I made a trend-based prediction: that one day soon, all lifestyle / light entertainment shows on New Zealand television would be hosted by a retired rugby player.
What this prediction didn’t anticipate was that these shows would all be travel shows, and they’d all be set exclusively in France. Ahead of the Rugby World Cup kicking off in Paris last weekend, no fewer than three series featuring former All Blacks in France have been released.
Lost in France (Sky) is hosted by Carlos Spencer and Matua Parkinson, hereafter referred to by the names they use in the show: Los and Mutz. Izzy and Beaver’s French Connection (Bravo) is hosted by Israel Dagg and Steven Donald, hereafter referred to as Izzy and Beaver. Tour de Rugby (NZ Rugby) is hosted by Taika Waititi (not an All Black, true, but the show does feature several former All Blacks), hereafter referred to for consistency as Taika.
How do they compare? Each show has its strengths and weaknesses, perhaps best summarised in a series of arbitrary awards.
Most reckless driving
This award goes to Lost in France, which begins with Los and Mutz careening around the Arc de Triomphe in a classic Citroën 2CV, nearly causing a number of low-speed traffic accidents.
Interestingly, Izzy and Beaver also opt for a comically small car, hiring a modern (and famously Italian) Fiat 500 in Toulouse. But it’s only ever shown being driven responsibly and exclusively by Izzy, in a montage showing Beaver asleep in the passenger seat.
The only mode of transport shown in Tour de Rugby, meanwhile, is a massive celebrity-grade helicopter, or “death trap” as Taika tempts fate by calling it before boarding.
Best use of Jerome Kaino
Taika’s chopper lands him in the south of France, where All Blacks legend Jerome Kaino now lives. In the first episode of Tour de Rugby the pair go to the town of Menton to visit the grave of William Webb Ellis, the inventor of rugby itself. “I don’t know what to say to graves,” Taika admits.
Worst use of Jerome Kaino
Izzy and Beaver are also meant to meet up with Jerome Kaino in Toulouse, but they arrive at the wrong stadium an hour late and then he stops replying to their texts. Instead they take the field to recreate their finest moments in the black jersey. Beaver’s recreation of his World Cup winning penalty from 38 metres out lands about 18 metres short of the posts. “They made a movie about that,” says Izzy.
A crowded field of nominees for this award, but it goes to the dark horse William Webb Ellis for the posthumous nickname Wiremu. “That’s what we [the All Blacks] call him”, Jerome Kaino reveals graveside.
Most meaningful trophy
Despite the William Webb Ellis trophy being in the custody of South Africa at the time of filming, NZ Rugby called in a few favours so Taika can use it as a prop. It’s “definitely heavier than an Oscar,” reports one of the few people in the world to have held both, “and in some ways – don’t tell the Academy – maybe it’s a bit more meaningful to me.”
Taika’s piece to camera loses out to Izzy and Beaver, who fall for the classic travel scam of buying 4kg of cheese from a Toulouse fromager who keeps bringing out progressively weirder varieties for them to try. “Oh no,” gulps Beaver, “sheep cheese is a little outside my comfort zone.”
Biggest departure from comfort zone
This award goes to Mutz for eating the famously French delicacy escargot (snails) and trying the famously French pastime of parkour (running up walls) in the first episode of Lost in France. “Obviously that’s a bit of a conundrum for me there eh, running up a wall.”
Most expressive voiceover
Los and Mutz sound exactly how you’d imagine two former rugby players with no formal broadcast training reading a script to sound. Taika on the other hand is a Hollywood actor – but even he can’t come close to the range and dynamism of Izzy and especially Beaver, whose script reads truly have to be heard to be believed. Imagine somebody who has never watched TV before in their life attempting what they imagine a TV presenter’s voice to sound like based on radio ads they’ve heard in their ute and you might be close.
Best historical knowledge
“In 1628, if you had stepped foot in there,” Beaver says, pointing to a historic French hospital, “you’d be no longer with us.” France is a land steeped in history and there is no one I’d rather learn about it from than Beaver. “Everyone died in that place,” he continues. It has already been established by this point in the episode that “how many people died” is a particular area of historical interest. “Mate that is crazy,” says Izzy.
Most expats caught up with
In the first episode of Lost in France Los and Mutz catch up with a New Zealand dancer performing at one of the most famous cabarets in Paris and a New Zealand artist whose work is exhibited at one of the most famous museums in Paris. The other two shows, starting in the south of France, are limited to the elusive Jerome Kaino.
Most depressing bugger
Izzy and Beaver visit Cité de l’Espace – think French Nasa – and get majorly bummed out by the story of a Chinese Mars rover robot whose solar panels got covered in dust, sending it into an eternal sleep. “I’ll be glad to move on from this depressing bugger,” admits Beaver.
Most Michelin stars
After reverently laying an Altrad All Blacks jersey at the grave of Wiremu Webb Ellis, Taika and Jerome Kaino spend the second half of Tour de Rugby’s first episode at an unnamed fine dining establishment with three Michelin stars, as the episode takes an abrupt and unexpected turn into Chef’s Table territory.
Most snackable episode length
At just 12 minutes, Tour de Rugby’s episodes are a mere amuse-bouche compared to the 45-minute dégustations of Lost in France and French Connection.
Best fashion advice
“You can’t go wrong with a hoodie.” – Carlos Spencer, 2023.