This was the programme that John Leslie did between Blue Peter and accusations of date rape. It was an action game show which fell right in the midst of the brief trend for such in the 1990s, and had questionable science-fiction trappings. It was shite. But it was funny shite!
I suppose you could say that Scavengers was the game show equivalent of those bad films that are just so unutterably dire that you can't help but watch. In it, two pairs of yuppie male/female couples charge round a very nicely constructed derelict spaceship, the Cyclops, in which the two teams of scavengers have to overcome various challenges to get themselves bits of "salvage" which were usually odds and ends of machinery laying about the place. The challenges and suchlike were more physical and larger scale in nature than their counterparts on The Crystal Maze, however, they didn't have the same shout-at-the-telly factor that that latter programme had. Yet at the same time, they didn't have the campness factor of Gladiators, which was an action game show which was entirely based around sheer physicality (and if you didn't think Glads was camp, may I remind you of the mullets and the skintight Lycra). Scavengers, although it had no right to, took itself far too seriously.
Which is what made it funnier, unintentionally, than a vegetable that's grown into a rude and amusing shape!
The order of battle on Scav went something like this - we'd get a few lines from the yuppie male/female couples who were going head to head, all of whom were dressed in the most ridiculous costumes imaginable. Seriously. They weren't far removed from the title screen to Gauntlet. But this paled into insignificance beside what the cast were wearing. Enter hard-boiled space commander John Leslie, described at the time in a review in the Independent as "not so much a Master of the Universe as its milk monitor." Rocking a ridiculously macho armoured rubberised vest thing, leather trousers, a headset with flip-down microphone, artistic stubble, a stick on scar, and tall boots, this former Blue Peter type looked for all the world like a gay space marine. Behind him was the Android (or should that be gynoid?), a low-rent actress called Anna Galvin almost wearing a pair of colanders and little else, whose job was to keep score and time in a flat voice. Both teams would then be dragged round the ship to a number of challenges, where they'd have a given time to get their hands on the salvage, working as teams. Very often the challenges involved dangling from something, climbing over stuff, or similar. Then at the end, they would both face "The Final Abyss," in which teams would race, with between five and seven minutes, to bolt together a swing to get them, their salvage bags, back on board the Vulture. Bonus points were available here in the form of crates and barrels. Anyone who failed to get back on board by the time's expiry would be marooned in space and, implicity, face a fate worse than death at the hands of a number of unconvincing aliens, all of whom spent most of their time firing dodgy 1990s graphics at folks and thinking, "bloody hell, five years at RADA and I'm the get in the alien costume."
Challenges were all a bit variable as well. Some were impressive at first but a bit meh when you'd got to thinking about it. The very visually arresting "Crusher" was a good idea - retrieve salvage from the bottom of a waste disposal unit before it got squashed - but flawed in the execution for two reasons. Firstly, all contestants were waist deep in the rubbish so you had no idea what was going on. And secondly, they weren't going to actually get crushed. If they did end up with their legs snipped off, ITV would get sued and for that they probably weren't insured. Other challenges seemed to be recyclements of each other with slightly different names and salvage; "Water Chamber" involved the teams, one on the outside and one on the inside of a metal cage built in water, passing empty barrels under the bottom of the cage and then passing the salvage out, which became increasingly tricky as the cage got congested with barrels, and "Water Cage" used exactly the same set except the cages had poles in them and the teams had to slide the salvage off the poles before using the poles to form a way out the top of the cage. Some challenges, though, were genuinely good. "Cage Run" involved the teams working a pulley system to transfer barrels full of sand (and the salvage) across a large gap, however, the barrels had holes in their bottoms and the longer it took the teams to get them across, the more chance the salvage would fall out entirely. "Solar Wall" was genuinely difficult looking and required everyone to get up and over a smooth, sheer, 20-foot wall with rubber-suckered handgrips, however, there weren't enough of these and invariably it required standing on each others' shoulders and other shenanigans.
Oh, but it just gets worse. Before and after every advert break was an intercut attempt at some sort of a plotline, usually involving an annoying person with Predlocks calling himself "Commander Ta'Nargg" and his machinations. Nobody was convinced and it generated nothing but derision at the person who thought that this was at all a worthwhile idea. The less said about this the better.
Needless to say, the programme flopped in the ratings massively and the second series was relegated to being shown on Monday mornings at 9.25am. Still, at least the ratings fail meant that when a contestant named Dawn sunk her team's efforts by getting her foot caught in the ropes on the Final Abyss with just 15 seconds to go before lift off, it was less likely that at work on the Monday morning afterwards that she got too much stick for it. It did have its fans though. Myself for one, but then I was too young to know better. And even now I'm not ashamed to say that I tracked down a handful of episodes on the BitTorrent and downloaded them - and found it perversely enjoyable to boot. Albeit as a more comedic offering than the producers had in mind...
So, in short, why did Scavengers fail? Well, here's my theory:
1. Takes itself too seriously with all that attempt at a plot. "The time - the future. The place - deep space." Nobody cares.
2. John Leslie as a hard boiled space marine. No.
In closing, I think you can agree that Scavengers was one of those things that's so bad it was good. It truly is the William McGonagall of game shows. And if you're interested, here's a brief clip that's on Youtube. Endure.