In the world of climbing, first is often worst. The first person to go up has very little info about what lies ahead/above, and a lot of stress can rest on their strong shoulders. In the premiere episode of reality competition show The Climb on HBO, the first of six challenges facing amateur climbers wasn’t the most difficult, but it certainly was no walk in the park.
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For the first test, hosts Chris Sharma and Jason Momoa choose a jagged limestone cliff hanging over the Mediterranean in Mallorca, Spain— free solo, meaning no ropes, no harness, just “you, the rock, and the water.” This was the first climb Sharma ever went with Momoa on, and the revered climber notes that the death-defying ascent over the thrashing waves puts “your life in your own hands.”
From the get go, it’s as crystal clear as the sparkling sea that the contestants vying for the top prize on The Climb are going to earn every penny of the $100,000 prize. We meet the cast of characters — it’s a reality show, so there are big personalities— and a few stick out right away, like Alice, an underachiever from Reno with self-esteem issues, Cat, who may only be 5 feet tall but has the heart of a giant, and the young gun Brad who wants to “give it hell,” and prove he belongs there despite his inexperience.
The first climb, a deep-water solo dubbed “The Golden Shower,” is 45 feet high and takes 10 moves on small edges and rounded holes. The contestants must make it over the Crux, an overhang 30 feet above the water, without being paralyzed with fear that they could fall into the abyss the wrong way. We learn that Tiffany is deeply afraid of the climb because when she was a competitive gymnast back in the day, her spine gave way, and it took time to learn to walk again.
Fear is not your friend in climbing. April, from Scotland and the oldest of the bunch at 53, exudes confidence and persistence, at the same time she accepts that her aging body is starting to betray her.
The goal of each attempt is to “top out,” climber jargon for reaching the pinnacle. The two who make it the least far and take the longest, face an elimination climb. Initially, going last seems like an advantage so they can scope out their competitors’ path, but then the skies darken, and rain makes the textured face slippery, even scarier, and dangerous. Only two climbers end up making it to the summit, Brad and feisty little Cat, the rest disappointingly plunge into the gnarly waves.
Deco, from Brazil, sticks his tongue out at the camera and jumps off early on purpose once he knows he’s made it far enough to make it to the next climb, putting him on the early shitlist with Sharma, Meagan, and his castmates. “I don’t need to climb to the top, I just need to be better than the last two guys.” Nobody likes a quitter, Deco.
Alice and April land in the bottom two positions and must face off on the elimination climb, a 35-foot gravity defying challenge that has tons of slope, a giant overhang, and requires insane amounts of upper body strength. While aging April takes nothing in life for granted and can’t wait to “climb rock,” sad sack Alice questions what she’s even doing in the competition but still laces up her pink shoelaces and pushes forward.
Like any good binge, The Climb ends the episode by, pardon the pun, literally leaving us hanging. To see who moves on to the next thrilling exotic location, you’ll have to watch the next episode.
It’s okay though, because the show is good and you’ll want to see more. You really do get second-hand adrenaline rooting for the contestants to reach the peak and praying they don’t get hurt. Some potential fun storylines also emerge: Is a hug between Maiza and Mario a hint about a future showmance? We learn Tiffany and Alice already know each other from the climbing comp circuit, so maybe a juicy frienemy storyline ahead?
Momoa makes a brief appearance at the beginning of this episode but then he and his luscious locks disappear. Sharma is joined by third host and fellow climbing legend Meagan Martin, aka Superman and Wonder Woman. But here’s hoping there’s more Momoa coming.
Like all great sports stories, focusing just on the competition misses the point. The Climb, like any other athletic endeavor, is an allegory for life. On this show, the lesson so far seems to be, it’s not about the reach of your wingspan, it’s about the size of your heart (and your cojones).
Want more of The Climb? Check out our review of Episode 2!