Shark Tank

I don’t really know how it happened, but Shark Tank has become one of my favorite ways to unwind after a week of doing whatever it is that I do. Reality shows are almost never my cup of tea, but something about the rigid structure of this one really works. The show’s “sharks” seem to have gotten tougher in this season, and though they couch many of their thoughts in, “You really want to do this? In this economy?” you can also sort of tell they half-enjoy crushing the dreams of the innocent. The show has also found a really nice rhythm, wherein you know roughly what you’re going to get, but you never quite know in what order or in what arrangement. There will be at least one sequence where the sharks haggle over an idea they all really like, probably toward the end but not necessarily so. There will be at least one crazy-cakes idea. And there will be a couple of ideas that seem like good ones at first but are slowly revealed by the sharks’ relentless questioning as terrible ideas.

Let’s take a look at tonight’s episode, segment-by-segment, and see if we can’t sense the comforting familiarity of the show’s formula.

Segment 1: The show often drags out the crazy ideas in the first segment, and this episode is no exception. Here, we have some guy who wants to become rich via selling an energy drink that’s marketed to cougars. (The fact that he says Cougar Town has 7.5 million viewers indicates just how long ago this episode was filmed.) The show does home drop-ins on at least one applicant every week, and this week, we go to watch this guy hang out with his cougar-y girlfriend and live with his parents while he chases his dreams. This might seem like one of the guys we’re supposed to root for, if not for the fact that, well, his energy drink tastes like chalk.

That’s what Barbara says, at least, and not in that, “Mmmmm! This tastes like chalk!” way you could absolutely see her saying. Our intrepid hero suggests the chalky taste might be one of the chemicals in his formula (which also contains “13 superfruits!” something he can’t help but say with an exclamation mark), but the sharks seem to agree with Barbara that the taste of this thing is just awful. If he had any sales, of course, all of this would be moot, but he’s only sold $60,000 over three years. Please, dude. You’re dealing with Mark Cuban. And $60,000 is Mark Cuban’s walkin’-around money.

Anyway, everybody agrees that segmenting the market with a product designed to appeal just to cougars is a terrible idea because it is. Our hero avows that he will live to fight another day, but I kind of wish the sharks had found a way to open up a hole in the floor and drop him down a chute. Fortunately, I highly, highly doubt I will ever see a cougar-specific energy drink in one of my local stores, so this is the last time I have to think about this.

Segment 2: Now we have Gary, who has recyclable shoes. This is clearly meant to be one of the guys where he’s an oddball, but you can also sort of see where his product might be kind of cool. His pitch is weird and stilted—particularly the part where he kicks the sky for no good reason—and he seems to have no clue about anything he’s doing, beyond the fact that he’d like to have a recyclable shoe, but I like the part where Kevin asks him where he’s from, and he says North Carolina, then Kevin tells him it gets cold in February, so he should maybe burn all of his stock. (Presumably, this would have made more sense if the episode had aired in February.)

Anyway, I was surprised to see that Daymond decided that, sure, he’d love to work with this guy, and it all seemed to hinge on the moment where he started crying about how much he wants to pass on his recyclable shoe company to his sons, because he believes the children are the future and what-not. Silly recyclable shoe man! I mostly agreed with the evisceration of this guy’s business plan, but I also think that, sure, a recyclable shoe isn’t a bad idea. Any company manufacturing one just needs to come up with some way to make it so the people who sort recyclables aren’t wondering what the hell shoes are doing in the bin. (Also, can you imagine this guy just getting inundated with millions of people mailing their shoes back to him? I want to see it happen.)

Segment 3: Flashback! Daymond and the guy from EZ VIP are meeting again for drinks, and it turns out that Daymond is going to get Pitbull—who’s a recording artist, I guess? God, I feel old—to endorse EZ VIP. Good for Pitbull!

Segment 4: The Nitroforce, brought to you by Frank and DeRae? DesRae? DuhRae? I didn’t have any idea how to spell her name, and the show never brought it up again after she said it the one time.

Anyway, this was one of my very favorite Shark Tank segments: Somebody has an idea for a product that seems awesome, but then it turns out that it’s actually an awful, awful idea. The Nitroforce looked pretty good to me, but I never exercise, and I mostly just watch TV. The sharks smell blood in the water (I hope you see what I did there), and they close in, eviscerating the business plan with astonishing rapidity, letting us see just how unlikely the success of this device would be. The couple is left only to stammer and wonder what the hell just happened, as they attempt to insist that the Nitroforce will be different from all of the flash-in-the-pan exercise gadgets. Then Barbara talks about kicking her husband’s ass if he ever brought one of those home, and the other sharks all chuckle knowingly. Do you think these guys hang out when they’re not on the show? Almost certainly not, but I like to imagine there’s a strained Shark Tank holiday party every year, and everybody pretends to be fascinated by Barbara’s husband and his stamp collection. (I have no idea what he does, but don’t you think he’d have a stamp collection?)

Segment 5: As you can tell, the “REVOLUTION OF THE KEY!” was the big segment for the episode, with everybody getting in on the excitement—because it is a pretty cool idea to have a lock you can control from your mobile phone that allows you to control access to your house—and everybody finding the whole thing sort of daunting. We’ve been using keys for thousands of years. Do they really need to be revolutionized? Yet the idea is just so enticing that everybody starts to pull out their wallets. Phil—for that is our brave key-volutionizer—has the sort of MBA-ish attitude the sharks like, and that means that they take him at face value, even though he never really answers any of their questions about, like, why anyone’s going to pay three times as much for a lock, just because it’s electronic.

All of that said, I want one, so they’re probably right to throw a bunch of money at him.

Kevin and Mark walk away with the deal, and it’s probably the best segment of the episode, as these bidding wars often are. And all the while, Robert bides his time, waiting for the day he may strike.

I don’t know if I could write about Shark Tank week to week, but I find something oddly hypnotic and satisfying in it all the same. It’s the very definition of something you watch just to have something on, then get drawn into. I’m glad it’s got a fourth season—its first full-season order—and I’m pleased it’s carved out a home for itself on Fridays. Here’s hoping to many more years and many more whack-ass business models next season.