The Contender Asia Premiere
...So what do I think about the premiere? Let me break it down for y'all in bite-sized pieces.
The Contender Asia is White Boy's Land! And about half of them aren't even from Asia! Funny, I know. I checked out the profile of the 16 contenders even before the promotional vids were released and saw that the mix was pretty diverse all right, but it's something else to be seeing them move and speak on the show.
But it's all good, really. I think it makes more business sense to include such a broad scope of geographic representation (there's France, Sweden, and even Croatia!). You have to admit, it makes the case for building Muay Thai up as an uber interesting alternative spectator sport more viable. First off, the fighters could very well be part of the lineup for a United Colors of Benetton ad (for the sportswear collection, if there ever was one). And the more "colorful" the cast of characters in a production, the more engrossing the show could be, hence furthering marketability. As a Muay Thai fan, I sure want to see this happen.
Then there's the language issue. As viewers may have noticed, the powerhouse contenders--them Thais, Yodsaenklai and Naruepol--hardly speak as much English as we offspring of this sprawling, Westernized TV society would prefer. Of course, it's not that they can't speak the language (even if this is so, I don't think it should be the foremost concern of any potential fan of the show); it's just that they don't as much as the others. Which would put them in a slight disadvantage in terms of easy adoption by non-Thai-speaking boob tube cultures. Then again, one could easily point out, "That's what the subtitles are for." Touché.
(By the way, please note that the term "white boy" is not used herein as a derogatory term, or even to suggest a marked demarcation between the races. This is used to describe the irony of the situation. And by irony I don't mean sarcasm. I understand a little, even just a teensy weensy bit, about this thing called globalization and the ongoing melting pot phenomenon, and I don't wish to marginalize in any way any group anywhere, as we are all products of the history of the same world. Bow.)
I think the production looks a bit low-budget for something that's from the camp of mega-producer Mark Burnett. By low-budget I mean the feel of the overall quality of the production. (Think getting more bang for your buck.) Although this seems to be the case as well for regional spin-off shows from the US like The Amazing Race, I think the guys behind TCA could have done better.
That being said, I would like to see the cameramen around the ring during the end-of-show fights employ more strategic subterfuge methods to make themselves look scarce. It's a little distracting, really, particularly when the fighters hit the ropes for some clinch action, you tend to go, "Oh the camera guy, he's in the way, he might get thrown off the ring!" And I think the panning of the shots all across the ring could be a little less erratic. Think something along the lines of the UFC or even The Ultimate Fighter. And maybe if they could position the referee to be standing by the side of the fighters in the shots so that you get a sense of only two people fighting in the match, that would also be great. It's not too much to ask, is it? (I know, I notice too much.)
Overall, as much as I predict that the show's explosive fights will inspire prospective audiences outside the expected Muay Thai-practicing fanbase to tune in, I think TCA's initial adoption will be borne to a considerable extent by the strong worldwide branding of its parent production. Even though the US show is a boxing competition, its popularity will well enough carry over to TCA, helping the newbie in its bid to make a dent on the Asian entertainment sports market.
As a sport, boxing has left an indelible imprint on the collective consciousness of sports fans all over the world. I can't begin to try guessing how this imprint looks like, and even more so how this was shaped. Suffice it to say that as like-minded enthusiasts become more enamored by the spectacle of combat sports, we shall perceive a more resounding clamor for alternative, derivative forms of boxing, if only to satiate our vicarious lust for variety and the increasingly exotic. Being the "Art of the Eight Limbs", Muay Thai is all that and more. It's not just a sporting phenomenon that's taking rings all around the world by storm; it's something that we can all connect to. It is survival of the fittest to the core, and we are all fighting the same fight. And that is why I think Muay Thai and TCA are here to stay.