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Talk about reality shows and competitions, and you'd probably think about participants trapped on islands, in buildings, or any number of modern-day locations sans modern-day conveniences.
But Disney+'s The Quest is something different altogether. The reality show, a reboot of the 2014 reality competition of the same name, sees the magical world of Everealm being threatened by the evil sorceress Tavor. When its king is killed, his three heirs come to the fore — Prince Emmett (Braeden De La Garza), Princess Adaline (Racquel Jean-Louis), and Prince Cederic (Elliott Ross).
Although they squabble, they must protect the kingdom from Tavora — and they can only do that by summoning eight heroes from our world to help. Enter the Paladins — virtuous teenagers from our world who have the potential to be the One True Hero to save Everrealm.
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The show relies on a tightly scripted storyline, with several cut scenes, as the story of Tavora's evil plot to take over Everrealm unfolds. Predictably, there are some betrayals among the heroes (not the participants though), and overall it feels like the participants are really just spectators who happen to complete quests, even as the story steamrolls ahead.
Another thing you'll notice about The Quest is the complete lack of side interviews. This can be chalked up to the fact that the participants are teenagers aged 13 to 16, so perhaps sparing such young ones from the typical maliciousness of such gossip was the intention. Nevertheless, it can feel rather awkward that the participants (or anyone else, for that matter) acknowledge that they are in a reality show.
But kudos to the consistent effort to preserve the suspension of disbelief. Not a single person ever seems to break character — even when the contestants have to run through challenges. Never mind that fearsome creatures that could presumably fell them with a single blow are manning those challenges. The monsters still wait patiently as the participants navigate obstacles and tests of physicality, cringing in pain as the heroes prevail. Even the actors stay fast to their characters as they administrate the challenges.
The participants, being teenagers, are clearly not trained actors. But that's where the charm comes in. In the heavily scripted fantasy world of The Quest, their raw performances and emotions are oddly appealing — even genuine, in a way. While the show doesn't follow them as much as it could, the moments we do spend with the contestants are perhaps the most heartfelt scenes in the show.
The Quest is a brave attempt at melding a fantasy series with reality television. While there are can be some missteps in this first season, it may yet find its footing if a second season comes around. Ultimately, it feels like a theme park ride through a fantasy world — with the participants serving as our avatars in the experience.
But if the show is a theme park ride, what does that make its actors? "I think, kind of being immersed in a fantasy world, was a really cool thing," said Elliott Ross, who plays Prince Cederic. The actor is a fantasy fan, and cited the Lord of the Rings films as his favourite series (and Aragorn his favourite character). "It was a dream come true to be on that set."
Minor spoilers ahead
"I loved the character arc of a boy that's becoming a man," Ross said of his character. His moment in the spotlight came in the seventh episode, when Prince Cederic gets captured (and the Paladins have to save him). "It was great fun. I trained every morning, learning combat," said the actor. "I was allowed to be in the front seat a little bit and have some interaction with [the Paladins]."
Outside of his role as a prince, Ross is a personal trainer. "Being in good physical shape helps with, well, everything." It serves as a stress reliever for him, and running his own business as a personal trainer has been empowering. "It makes me feel capable and in control — and that translates into my acting."
Ross' character, Prince Cederic, is one of the three heirs to the throne. So who does he think should rule Everrealm? "Obviously I think it should be Prince Cederic," he laughed. "There's a noble quality and a ruthless loyalty to the kingdom. That makes him the strongest choice for leader."
So what happens to Everrealm in the end? You'll have to catch The Quest to find out.
The Quest is available on Disney+.