In ABC’s new competition series Splash, 10 celebrities train to master high dives with the help of Olympic diving legend Greg Louganis. But first, the promos have promised us, they will belly flop and smack the water like concrete. The progress of the competitors from week to week will be judged by London Olympic U.S. Gold medalist David Boudia and Australian Olympic athlete and USA Dive Team director Steve Foley, and the eventual winner (chosen in part by the audience) will donate their prize to charity.
Shaking your head? Blame the Netherlands. For it is the Dutch, who also gave us Big Brother and The Voice, whose big hit last summer, Celebrity Splash, caught the attention, on this side of the Atlantic, of both ABC and Fox. While ABC has seen fit to turn the concept into a full-blown series, Fox jumped on the idea first in January with a one-off special called Stars In Danger: The High Dive, which pulled in about the same caliber of celebrities that Splash has — people who should need no introduction, but largely do.
Like Stars in Danger, there’s one recognizable former professional athlete (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and one current one (Ndamukong Suh) as well as a reality star (Kendra Wilkinson) and a former cast member of Baywatch (Nicole Eggert). Splash rounds things out (literally) with comedian Louie Anderson and Chuy Bravo (Chelsea Handler‘s sidekick on Chelsea Lately), as well as former Nickelodeon star Drake Bell, extreme skier Rory Bushfield, Keshia Knight Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable from The Cosby Show) and Miss Alabama 2012, Katherine Webb.
There is a spectrum of body shapes on the show, from the 100-pound Wilkinson to the 400-pound Anderson, and from the under five-foot Bravo to the over seven-foot Abdul-Jabbar. Anderson is one of the most compelling competitors, stating upfront his desire to attempt a healthier lifestyle, which this competition has helped him begin (on Day One, he couldn’t even get out of the pool). Abdul-Jabbar has a similarly inspiring story — not only is he exceptionally tall for the “short-person’s” game of diving, but he’s also 65 years old. Like Anderson, he crusades in the name of fitness.
Most of the competitors don’t have quite that level of interest. Still, seeing Bushfield be the first one to go off of the 10-meter platform (that’s three stories up) does start reminding one of the thrills of the Olympics. Splash also achieves something similar to Dancing with the Stars: the latter show proved dancing is not for sissies, and Splash proves that doing a back flip off of your backyard diving board does not qualify for you for the Olympics. The judges are fair with their scores, giving them on a sliding scale (at least in the first episode) based on the competitor and their abilities (enthusiasm counts!) and explaining how they could improve moving forward. Foley and Boudia’s personalities work well together as they critique and teach the divers and the audience a little more about what makes for a great dive, with Boudia being particularly likable.
As for the promised pain and belly flops, we don’t see many — like in Dancing with the Stars, there are flashbacks to the six weeks of training, but the main event is in an elaborate studio where the divers are now far more polished. Five celebrities are on display in the inaugural episode, each completing one dive until the two with the lowest scores go against each other in a dive-off. But overall, for so much build-up, there’s very little payoff. The dives are, of course, brief, and while diving is one of the most popular Olympic sports, during that coverage there is a steady stream of competitors, whereas here the wait in between routines can feel interminable.
Splash isn’t the complete disaster it looked to be from the promos (mostly because it didn’t commit fully to the theme Fox focused on with Stars in Danger). It shares enough in common with Dancing with the Stars to probably garner a certain amount of interest, but its first episode left much to be desired in terms of energy. Still, as more celebrities are eliminated and more dives are presumably performed, things may get a little more interesting. While the show has managed to avoid a full-out belly flop, that’s still a long, long way from being a perfect 10.