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What’s Up with All the Cheating on U.S. Top Gear?

Have you watched Top Gear? There’s two versions—the original is a BBC show featuring three brits as hosts, but the History Channel (of all networks) is broadcasting a U.S. version based on the original with three American hosts. I really enjoy both shows, but there’s something bugging me about the U.S. one, namely: what’s with all the cheating?

Cheating, Next Exit

In case you’re not familiar with the franchise(s), Top Gear is a show about cars. Three men do mostly manly things with, to, and in cars. They race them, they destroy them, and they test them. They praise the good and lament the bad, they marvel at the new technologies and reminisce about the way things used to be.

In the UK version, they frequently look for new and creative ways to destroy caravans (campers to us Yanks), and they test celebrities by having them do laps in a “reasonably priced car” that is far more entertaining than it might sound. Hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are also given brutal or hilarious—sometimes both—challenges by the producers. Endurance tests, or tests with ridiculous limitations, speed tests, that sort of thing.

In the U.S., hosts Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara, and Rutledge Wood also host celebrities in a segment called “Big Star, Small Car.” It’s a little less entertaining for some reason, but it’s still fun. They also undergo similar adventures in the form of producer challenges, though more of those challenges appear to involve modifying their cars in some way. Whatever, it’s a lot of fun.

The BBC version of the show is a very big deal in the UK, and they routinely get to drive around in and test some very expensive cars. So far, the History Channel’s show has less expensive cars, but again, it’s still a ton of fun.

Part of the key to both shows is the interaction of the hosts. All six of these men clearly like each other (or are great actors), and more importantly, they clearly love cars. They tease each other, they play jokes on each other, and they all have great timing when interacting with one another—the editing is also terrific for both series.

But one thing I’ve noticed is that Tanner, Rutledge, and Adam cheat. Frequently and casually. I’m talking about the producer challenges—the set up being that whoever wins the challenge gets to do something cool, fun, or otherwise awesome. In the course of undertaking these challenges, one or more of these three men cheat.

For instance, in “One Tank” (season 3), the three hosts are challenged to drive from Portland, OR, to San Francisco, CA, on only one tank of gas, no filling up. In that episode, Adam Ferrara shows up with a huge truck. It gets terrible mileage, but it has a huge gas tank. It also has an auxiliary tank in the bed. Some might consider that creative thinking, or maybe stretching the letter of the challenge, but that’s just for starters.

In “First Cars,” Adam and Tanner put 40 pounds of cat litter in the trunk of Rutledge’s car when he goes into a store to lower his mileage. In “Police Cars,” the boys are testing next generation police cars and one of the tests includes having to drive an obstacle course while eating donuts. Tanner cheats by throwing his donut out the window rather than eating it.

In another episode, they’re testing older cars by seeing how straight they drive without steering. They had to get up to a certain speed and take their hands off the wheel and drive between a bunch stuff. Rutledge cheats by steering with his knee.

In “Covered Wagons,” the boys are challenged to transport livestock, and Adam shows up without his pig and claims he just let it go on the side of the road because he couldn’t stand the smell. Now, it’s possible the production crew took care of the pig off camera, but since they didn’t even show him doing the deed, I fear that wasn’t the case. That’s not only cheating, he was demonstrating a remarkable degree of callousness about the life of a beast being used as a prop.

I’ve also watched them routinely cheat by starting races before one or the other is ready.

Stop CheatingAnd what makes this all the worse is that they’re cheating about stuff that doesn’t matter. These challenges are nothing more than entertainment, but they find it necessary to cheat. Their actions make it clear that integrity is immaterial and that cheating is no big deal. I despise that message, and I lament the character qualities it reveals.

My assumption is that the cheating is intended to be funny—and perhaps to many people it is. To me, it’s a big turnoff.

This isn’t enough to keep me from watching the show. I really do enjoy both versions of the show, but I wish that Tanner, Adam, and Rutledge would lose the cheating. They’re three funny men, and they are great in front of the camera, and in my opinion, a good dose of integrity goes a long way.

Image and image courtesy of Shutterstock.

10 Responses

  1. You’re a man after my own heart. It’s one reason I subscribed to your blog. I couldn’t agree more! Integrity, honesty and sense of humor are three things that should seldom intersect unless certain components come together. Sadly, in the case of this show and these three gentlemen, these components do not come together and it is simply cheating. I too watch and enjoy this show very much, but I don’t appreciate the cheating nor Roni find it amusing. This truly is cheating and it doesn’t give any credibility to the show, and I fear that it might actually takes something special away from this terrific show!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Armando, and the Subscribe.

    What’s funny (and not in a ha-ha way) is that I couldn’t find anyone else complaining about this via Google. It would be sad if we’re the only two folks on the planet who are bothered but this.

    In the meanwhile, I hope they figure this out and fix this aspect of what is otherwise a really fun show.

  3. As a Brit I of course, love the UK version of the show.
    Clarkson, Hammond and May are clearly the best of friends both on and off screen. Like any group of lads who have a long history together, they enjoy taking the mickey out of each other. There is some cheating but it’s usually in good humour and often backfires on the culprits.

    The challenges are spectacular and usually involve not just driving in the UK but also all across Europe and the world. (They’ve been here in Switzerland several times).

    There is a German version of Top Gear and there was a challenge pitting the presenters of both shows against each other some years ago and it was hilarious. Hammond’s opposite was actually a lady who’s skill on the Nürburgring are legendary. She’s been back on the UK version a few times.
    The fuel challenge which Clarkson did was in a brand new Mercedes and he had to drove from London to Edinburgh and back on one tank. A great challenge and interesting. He only just made it.

    The new series of Top Gear start last week in the UK and the latest episode had them driving super cars around California.

    I have watched the US version once. I had to cringe at the over the top “acting” of trying to make out these guys were friends. It all came across as all a bit false to me and overly dramatic. UK Top Gear is far more subtle and believable.

    Anyway, that’s just my 10 penneth. 🙂


  4. Paul, I hear you on the forced friendship thing for the U.S. show, but it is early in the series. I imagine that the first season or two (series to you) of the UK show has a different feel between the lads than more recent shows.

    But I very much agree with you about the different feel of the cheating. Your point about how it often backfires on the cheater makes it funny. They’re trying to entertain, not “win” with the occasional shortcut. Not so on the U.S. show.

    Still, I am continuing to watch both versions. I’d love to catch the German version, too.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. When the US version started being shown here in Oz, I thought I’d give it a go. 60 seconds into the first episode, I changed channels. Couldn’t stand it. Give me the original UK version any day. And the Australian version was just as bad.

  6. They have to cheat so they can disqualify trutland and Adam because the people that bring the super fancy expensive cars for the winner,will not allow a non trained race driver in them..that’s why Tanner always “wins” he has to per the agreements on place.

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