I was skeptical when Sony rolled out its goofy reality show The Tester last year, tossing 11 people into a house together to compete in games both serious and silly for the chance to land a job as a quality assurance tester with PlayStation. But a funny thing happened on the way to crowning Will "Cyrus" Powers as the season-one champ: The show, available as a free download on the PlayStation Network, actually evolved into a reasonable facsimile of how a major game company might look for successful employees. Even more surprising? It was actually more entertaining than eye-rolling.
Entertaining enough, apparently, to merit a second eight-episode season that will wrap up in (hopefully) dramatic fashion on Tuesday, as the final three gamers compete for honor and a year's worth of employment. Oh, and a cameo in an episode of The Tester, season three.
The formula is familiar. Some of the challenges in season two -- a guess-the-image-as-pieces-are-added contest and an obstacle course where one contestant with a bullhorn guides blindfolded teammates dressed in fat suits -- look an awful lot like things we saw in season one.
The show's broken into two arcs. In the first half, it wallows in all the reality-show clichés we've come to know and love/loathe (manufactured drama, wacky high jinks, alliances and subterfuge, sobbing breakdowns, etc.). In the second half, it starts to feel like an actual job interview, albeit one mixed in with some seriously bizarre ARG elements.
And let's not forget those cartoon contestant stereotypes. Early episodes of season two gave us the frat boy (Max1m, whose turned-up polo shirt collar was, thankfully, turned out quickly by the judges) the cute bimbo (War Princess, who has, perhaps predictably, become one of this season's signature personalities) and big oafs (Big Fazeek, Samurai). More jaw-dropping: the way some of these walking clichés have self-combusted in front of the panel of judges that dispenses justice -- and game-industry tips -- at end of every episode.
"I'm just not very good at tests -- I freeze up," sobbed a contestant who got whacked in this season's first episode, all but assuring her early exit. Maybe she should just have made it easier and worn an "And Why Am I On This Show Again?" T-shirt.
Watching a Sony quality-assurance manager ("celebrity" judge Adrienne Curry) and a series of guests from Sony teams grill those who've screwed up has been like standing in the corner of the corner office, watching errant employees plead for their jobs. It's not exactly a big surprise that, just like in season one, none of the mouthy and clownish contestants are around to see this week's final round.
In the show's first season, Sony made the mistake of suggesting that landing a gig as a QA tester was some kind of grand entrée into the gaming industry. The truth hovers more sensibly over season two: Being a game tester is a difficult, thankless but essential job that's a lot more about detail orientation, brain-numbing repetition and rock-solid communication skills than it is about how many trophies you've scored in LittleBigPlanet.
In other words, good testers aren't beer-guzzlin' Neanderthals, guys who think that owning a lot of games equals mad office skillz or dudes who promote themselves onto the show by posting videos of themselves strutting around in speedos.
Not that it'll stop any of that crowd from clamoring to be part of season three. Or me from watching them.