Given how long we’ve been living through the reality series boom, it’s genuinely rare to hit a concept that makes you go, “Oh, gross!” For a genre that’s encompassed bug eating, extreme weight loss fads, and multiple shows that are just straight up about dudes being paid to lie to women they’re ostensibly trying to date, it takes something special at this point to make our brains kick in revulsion. Kudos, then, to CBS’s new fall competition series The Activist, which attempts to turn caring about other people and the planet into just another goddamn game show.
Here’s the premise: Six activists will be set to compete in a series of awareness-raising challenges (including “missions, media stunts, digital campaigns and community events”), where they’ll be judged on such factors as “online engagement, social metrics,” and input from the show’s hosts, Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough. The winner will then be allowed to attend the G20 Summit and advocate for their cause in front of literal world leaders, leading to a surreal situation in which Usher’s opinion of your Twitter poll might determine whether Angela Merkel gets to hear your pitch on climate change.
Oh, right, we forgot to mention: The six activists will be pulled from “around the world, working to bring meaningful change to one of three urgent universal causes: health, education and the environment.” And while the series description doesn’t explicitly acknowledge that it will thus be putting three vitally important issues in direct competition with each other—because god knows CBS can only score one seat at the Big Table at the G20, despite how much it cares—that does seem to be the subtext, all under the stern arbitership of the star of an early-2010s Footloose remake we’re only about 75 percent sure actually exists.
Maybe the worst thing about this whole Running Man-esque pitch, though, is how all involved are painting it in such a positive light. In the press release, CBS exec Jack Sussman crows about how they’ve managed to combine “philanthropy and entertainment”—no trace of irony detectable— while Live Nation’s Michael Rapino asserts, “the show proves that there are no issues we can’t solve when we work together and demand change,” presumably from within the safe and structured bounds of a registered and owned product of National Amusements, owner and operator of ViacomCBS.
The five-week reality series will air on CBS starting on October 22.