The ''Treasure Hunters'' finale: Luck is key
The first and most likely only season of Treasure Hunters ended not with a bang but a wimp-out. For six and a half hours, Team Genius lay around in that Disney-ish underground chamber, alternately napping and complaining that they had no idea how to find the five-letter combination that would open the cryptex. Finally, long after the other two teams of finalists had joined them in the room, Muttonchop Man (okay, I'll admit I know his name is Francis) roused himself, tried FSKEY, as in Francis Scott Key, and found the key inside the cryptex that opened the door to the pile of gold coins.
(By the way, I'm subbing this week for your usual correspondent, Michael Slezak, who's currently on his own treasure hunt at the horse track in Saratoga.)
Like so many of the puzzles along the way, this final one managed to be both difficult and uninteresting. Numerous clues pointed to ''The Star-Spangled Banner,'' but there were no clever hints narrowing the choices to the right one. So unless you had found some reason to root for the Geniuses instead of the Air Force or the Southie Boys, the finale provided no payoff. Of course, one last payoff went to a well-known phone manufacturer, when Laird Macintosh's victory announcement was preceded with a ringtone and an off-camera, probably overdubbed voice telling the Geniuses, ''You've got a [Well-Known Phone Manufacturer Name Here] message.''
''You've journeyed through more than 200 years of American history,'' Macintosh's videophone head said, ''and you've used this knowledge to solve the riddle behind the treasure.'' Or maybe the boys had learned who wrote ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' in elementary school, like the rest of us.
This was all over 20 minutes into the show, leaving viewers briefly contemplating the mystery of how the producers were going to pad out the rest of the hour. The answer: a live Survivor-type reunion show, interspersed with prerecorded segments from a quickie treasure hunt through Washington, D.C., in which the competitors were the winners of those history quizzes sponsored throughout the season by a large financial company. (These trivia mavens, by the way, made the Geniuses seem positively charismatic and telegenic by comparison.)
The post-victory segments did provide some interesting insights into the people on the show: When he's not on the phone, Laird Macintosh sounds nearly human. Francis' hair could possibly look worse; since his team's win, he has kept the muttonchops but has buzz-cut the rest of his head. And the contestants sure do love using the name of the sneaky Fogal family as a verb. Asked if his team ever got ''fogaled,'' Wild Ben Hanlon replied, ''We were too busy fogaling ourselves.'' To liven things up, the producers should have encouraged the teams to use this F-word during suspenseful moments throughout the race: ''This is fogaling incredible!'' ''Fogal you!'' ''Back off, motherfogaler!''
The finale also contained some socially or emotionally uplifting moments: The Geniuses talked about funding their parents' and grandparents' retirement. (Guys, one third of $3 million, after taxes, ain't what it used to be.) The $100,000 prize in the mini-hunt was won by the guy with the most moving backstory, a recently unemployed dad with a six-month-old girl. And Team Miss USA agreed with Laird Macintosh that they had indeed provided a worthwhile service: proving to America that pageant girls are not only beautiful but also strong, intelligent, and resourceful. If we here at TV Watch have helped in any small way to further that cause, it's all been worthwhile.
What do you think? Did your favorite team win? Do you know who Uncle Moneybucks is, and do you think Francis did bathe in those gold coins? And should NBC bring the show back next summer, or is that fogaling ridiculous?