“Toughest Cowboy”
Thursdays at 11 p.m.

1 out of 5 stars

The toughest thing about “Toughest Cowboy,” Spike’s new rodeo reality competition, is staying awake through an entire episode. The idea to take a sport that maxes out at 24 seconds and turn it into an hour-long program results in a show just as tedious as it sounds. And it doesn’t help that all 24 seconds look exactly the same.

“Toughest Cowboy” follows 12 real cowboys vying for one title. These 12 go on tour from town to town competing in three events: saddle bronc riding, bull riding and bareback bronc riding, each of which lasts eight seconds tops. The difference between these events appears only to be the animal being ridden. And while it may take a different set of skills to ride each animal, that doesn’t make the three events look at all disparate from one another. It’s just more of the same: cowboy moves forward, cowboy moves backward, cowboy’s hat falls off; rinse and repeat.

Another repetitive aspect is the use of the word “tough.” Sure, it’s in the name of the show, but someone really should have handed the judges a thesaurus. The overuse seems to stem from the fact that the producers needed to make the show less predictable, because it would be too obvious if the decisions were based solely on the rides. Encouraging the judges to look at the contestants’ physical and mental toughness (and using those words to describe it as many times as possible) opens up the opportunity to let people through based on how well they deal with failure as well as how much they succeed.

The one redeeming quality of the show is its wonderful ability to cheer up the audience with the misfortune of others. Seeing a cowboy get bucked off an angry bull and fly through the air with massive hang-time is something that, unlike the rest of the show, never gets old. Still, when the cowboys are actually injured by these launches or the ensuing animal attacks, the tone quickly changes from amusing to somber, leaving the audience feeling guilty about their now-fading laughter.

While these painful moments are legitimately grave, the rest of the show takes itself far too seriously without much to back it up. Even though the contestants keep talking about how important the competition is, they all go get drunk on the night between the two days of auditions, drinking plenty of prominently displayed Jägermeister, the main sponsor of the show, and hanging out with some Hooters-esque girls whose asses are the subject of more than one close-up. Surely a hangover is just the thing to make bull riding a breeze.

Yet another flaw is that, like the events they compete in, the cowboys themselves are somewhat indistinguishable from one another. Sure, each one has a slightly different history, but the stories tend to just blur together. The one exception is the Australian contestant who will probably become popular merely because he’s unique and has an accent that’s more pleasing than the rest of the group’s deep-southern twang. He also happens to be one of the most toughest men on the show — at least that’s what the judges kept saying over and over.

Well, with such a repetitive show there’s only so much to say about it without getting repetitive. It stretches what should take 24 seconds into an hour-long show, but the result doesn’t even have 24 seconds of total entertainment in it. Instead, “Toughest Cowboy” is an exercise in strategic napping, trying to wake up just in time to see someone get flown through the air before drifting back to sleep. Now that takes some mental toughness.

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