The terrain is tough, the missions are dangerous, but there’s still a hilarious mumbly New Zealand-ness to the gnarly world of Tracked.
Joining Couples Therapy, Blow Up and the upcoming New Zealand version of The Traitors, Tracked is the latest brand new format to join Three’s absolutely chocka local reality stable for 2023. Hosted by all-time Bri’ish tough guy Vinnie Jones, teams from around the world must navigate some of New Zealand’s gnarliest terrain without being caught by a duo of elite military trackers. Think Hunted Australia, but instead of teams running into a Melbourne carpark building and popping on a wig, they are going bush and slipping in sheep shite. Get caught? You’re out of the game. Evade capture? You might be on “track” to win $100,000.
This is Outward Bound for the eyes. The first episode sweeps through snowy valleys, roaring rivers and jagged mountains, and basically New Zealand has never looked better. Even if you are slumped on the couch eating confectionary seashells, it’s almost enough to make you want to go to Kathmandu, buy one of those weird gelatinous bladder drink bottles and change your life. Pair the stunning backdrop with the prestige-TV level moody illustrated opening credits, and Tracked is easily the best-looking reality show in ages.
Vinnie Jones is also fantastic as the terrifyingly gruff host. When he says “the fear is real, danger is everywhere, only the toughest will win,” you really believe that this is a life or death situation – not just for the teams, but for you at home noshing on your seashells. When the teams first meet him, one contestant can’t help but holler “Oh my god, I just saw you in a movie last night.” Jones’ reply? “Morning. I’m a man of few words so I will keep this brief.” No niceties, no small talk, this is Tracked and Tracked is about as serious as it gets.
Thankfully, the cast, picked from all around the world, provide a bit of comic relief. Father and daughter Neil and Beth are a particular treat thanks to Neil’s penchant for excrement. “I’ve landed in shit”, the British Iron Man announces against a jaw dropping Southern vista. “Of all the places you fall, you land in animal shit”, his daughter goads. Parkour fanatics Danee and Stephania are also pretty out-of-their-depth and fun/stressful to watch, even when Stephania splits her head open and Danee appears to rub hand sanitiser directly into the wound.
Because that’s the other thing about Tracked – the stakes truly do feel high and the danger does feel very real. Regan from Team Red (not to be confused with Regan who is also on Team Red) reveals he quit his job to be on the show, and the $100,000 prize is the only reason his family let him go for so long. In another scene, US competitor Megan ends up in such a precarious spot on a scree-covered slope that the camera operator has to intervene to seemingly stop her plummeting to her death. Tense!
The “home base” where psychologist Dr Alia Bojilova and management consultant Dave Kassapian communicate with the trackers doesn’t quuuuiiite compare to the glitzy action-packed war room in Hunted Australia, where hundreds of people holding clipboards pace around and frantically swipe at screens. Perhaps in line with humble Kiwi values, this HQ is more like a Hirepool tent with Google Maps on the laptop, which is to say I absolutely adore it. This is laminated map country, this is compass country, this is whiteboard pen country goddamnit.
The “trackers” are the much-hyped antagonists of the series, swathed in black with only their eyes visible. Vinnie Jones tells us that their true identities cannot be revealed for security reasons, before warning “if you’re not intimidated, there’s something wrong with you.” As expert as the trackers are, dropping a lot of cool factoids about fresh footprints and dents in the greenery, they aren’t strictly scary. In fact, due to the extreme lengths to which their faces are concealed, they often sound like Kenny from South Park. Again, go Kiwi.
Verdict: With a high stakes prize, jaw dropping scenery and the constant fear of getting a growling from Vinnie Jones, Tracked is a truly gripping game of televised tag.
Tracked screens on Three on Mondays at 7.30pm and streams on ThreeNow.