The Tester 3 – Episode 1 Recap: Electric Boogaloo

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For awhile there, it was starting to look as though season two of The Tester, Sony’s reality-TV series, was going to be its last. The bombastic and confrontational competition to see which of 12 contestants would earn the right to clutch their Doritos-stained fingers onto the lowest rungs of the game-industry ladder seemed to have run its course. But we (still) live in an era where reality rulez, where TV shows in which cast members smash their heads into brick walls to avoid fistfights, toss drinks in each others’ faces and try to out-crazy each other in pursuit of true romance and off-screen quickies with men who’ll dump them in the next episode. O, beautiful, for spacious skies.

And so, 12 more wannabe game-industry employees have collected in the Tester bunker, there to toy with each other, a ton of PlayStation swag and our collective sanity.

It’s interesting to note that the winners of the first two seasons of The Tester have both ended up in Sony’s PR/marketing departments, not game development. It’s also interesting that other gaming networks have picked up on the reality concept—most notably, IGN (disclosure: I’ve contributed to their pages), which began fronting The Next Game Boss on its .Start channel a few weeks before The Tester 3 season launch. If having a bevy of reality shows devoted to your field equals pop-culture capital–now there’s some twisted calculus—gaming’s on an oil-slicked log roll. Let’s break down the new season’s debut episode:

Synopsis: We meet our 12 contestants, who have to nail job-interview questions in, um, rather unusual and revolting circumstances to avoid being the first to get the badge yanked and suffer the Tester Walk of Shame. Which is way worse than “The Bachelor’s” Walk of Shame, because there’s no limo and no Kleenex involved. As usual, the players all have leet-tastic gamer tags that would make an English teacher slap his forehead with a SixAxis (Skyd1ddy, Akileezmight, etc.) and several of them have what reality-TV producers might breezily refer to as “charming quirks.” Like Suzkaiden, the spunky Dominican girl who totes a giant stuffed Sackboy everywhere she goes. Just like she does at work, I’m sure.

Dopey reality-show trope: So apparently, the reality show The Tester decided to rip off this time is Fear Factor, given that each contestant gets his or her head jammed in a glass box filled with African hissing cockroaches while the judges ask them about their hobbies and the skills they’d bring to the Sony table. Surprisingly, nobody loses it, screams or even seems particularly thrown off by the creepy-crawlies. (Maybe they practiced in advance at home?) You get the sense that contestants like Kajamonster, who overshares the details of an embarrassing moment in a way that ensures nobody on the show (or in the audience, or anywhere in the world) will ever take her seriously again, or fan-fave Egoraptor, who realizes several minutes too late that a narcissistic self-promoter who can “bring the watchers” is not quite what Team Sony’s looking for, would have crashed and burned just as spectacularly sans bugs. And hisses.

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Jaw-dropping quote: You can almost hear the audience scream “Oh, SNAP!’ when ninjanomyx, the tubby and greasy contestant who’s quickly established himself as a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen, has to answer this doozy of a question from model/judge Adrianne Curry: “Do you live with your mom?” Dude, you may still be clutching your badge at the end of this episode, but your man-card has been effectively and irrevocably yanked.

OK, not bad, actually: Through two full seasons of the show, Brent Gocke, Sony’s quality assurance release manager, has managed to keep his dignity intact while others are LARPing and stumbling blindfolded around him. He’s come off as a thoughtful guy who seems like he’d actually be fun to have as your supervisor. The episode’s structure is a job interview, and it plays almost exactly like one—you can see the grimaces, stony silences and half-eye rolls from the judges panel when one of the contestants begins inserting their foot down their esophagus. This season, Gocke and company are making it clear from the get-go what they’re expecting from their winner, who’ll end up at Santa Monica Studios, making sure Kratos’ blades of chaos don’t clip through the wall on their way to decapitating some minor Greek deity (Are there any Kratos hasn’t already killed?). Even if that person has to dress up like a clown and play stupid human games to get there.

Given the straight-up Business 101 approach, it’s a little puzzling that the panel ends up breaking its own rules to give fan-vote candidate Egoraptor—who looks an awful lot like Mike Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, by the way– a reprieve. Seems clear they’re not so keen on angering the legions of fans—and by legions, we may mean 100—who thought he’d be a great addition to the show. Instead, he has to sleep on the couch. Probably buried underneath Ratchet and Clank action figures.

Leader in the Clubhouse: RealityPalez, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Sony’s development teams makes him the Will “Cyrus” Powers of Season 3. Ten-to-one odds he blows his lead and a physical-based challenge before episode five, leading to some major teary-eyed soul searching. Cocky is as cocky does.

On the Precipice: Egoraptor. His don’t-yank-my-badge speech may have swayed the judges once, but past seasons indicate they don’t fall for the same bullshit twice. The cast’s most shameless member could be gone in the next few episodes. Please?

Next week: Guest judge part deux. In a stroke of either cosmic coincidence or pure marketing synergy, cranky uberdeveloper David Jaffe hits the show on the same day his new Twisted Metal hits stores and PS3s. He forces the contestants to build Twisted Metal model cars, then brings his ruthless verbal beatdown on those who don’t measure up–i.e everyone.

If you missed the first episode (or simply didn’t care to watch), catch the first two minutes in the following video teaser:

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.