British motoring personality Quentin Wilson has a lock on a corner of the auto world, having co-hosted the fabulously popular shows Top Gear, Fifth Gear, and The Car's the Star. Those shows have represented the best you could get when it comes to cars. Wilson, though, also has a lock on the worst of it: he is the man who created the brand that now simply goes by "Britain's Worst."
There have been 16 shows so far under that umbrella, from Britain's Worst Teenager to Britain's Worst Builder, Boss and Husband. One of the most popular - in fact, it even won an award - was Britain's Worst Driver. Having been exported to at least eleven other countries so far, it has finally come to America on The Travel Channel, in a show called America's Worst Driver (AWD).
Up to now American reality TV has been more about finding the best, even if the categories were somewhat oddball (America's Got Talent, anyone?). Shows dealing with the worst and the dumbest, like World's Dumbest Drivers or World's Dumbest Criminals, weren't competitions people were actually trying to win, and have traditionally been tucked away on distant cable channels and in wee hours. However, simply to keep the world in balance, for every Top Chef and American Idol we were eventually going to need a What Not to Wear and Worst Cooks in America.
The point of America's Worst Driver is to find just that: those people who should have their keys taken away and instead be served with restraining orders to keep at least 50 feet away from any driver's seat.
The format is simple: choose four horrid drivers as submitted by their friends and families from eight major cities (New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco), put them through a series of challenges, declare one of them the worst, then destroy that person's car. In return, they get a bicycle, a bus pass, and a ticket to the grand finale. That season-ending show will pit the eight regional winners against each other to find the nation's most abysmal chauffeur, who will win - irony of ironies - a new car.
The show kicked off recently and last night's episode focused on a group of drivers from the Second City, aka Chicago. In the episode, we had our first exposure to Billy. Simply put: he frightens us. Even scarier: he used to be a delivery truck driver. How's my driving? It's horrible, Billy.
The show has run in Canada for five years and is gearing up for a sixth, but the Canadian version has taken place in closed environments and is centered on learning. During the second season a driver was cut from the show for not being game to improve his driving game.
There's none of that for the American version, however. Our contestants will be doing their things on city streets - overseen by off-duty police officers - and since few viewers are really going to tune in to watch a driver's education class, you can expect some NASCAR style rubbin' paint to feature prominently. AWD goes even further for those increasingly immune to reality TV absurdity, with closed-course challenges that look like sets from one of those wacky Japanese game shows - cars on teeter totters or with giant tanks of water on their roofs or plowing into Styrofoam walls emblazoned with the word "STOP."
For any of you not quite sold on the idea of people being able to win at being the worst at a dangerous activity, there is meant to be a redeeming component: the AAA is the show's official partner and the association's Dr. Bill van Tassel gives driving tips on the Travel Channel site. Or at least, things that pass for driving tips – one is that you should keep both hands on the wheel at 9 and 3, another that when braking you should "pretend like you're squeezing the water out of a sponge underneath your foot." We think we'll need some time to work on that last one.
The Travel Channel also sees this as a way to fulfill its core mission of taking you around the world. Only this time instead of enjoying it through culinary treats with Anthony Bourdain you'll get to do it from the passenger's seat of a demolition derby entrant. We're not sure it's any way to see a city, but if nothing else, every episode promises a bumpy ride.