Fourteen years ago, Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey worked on a show for ABC together. Secret phrases were hidden in each episode of the show, with a million dollar prize set aside for the first to solve. Push, Nevada was an ambitious project. But this article isn’t about Push, Nevada. It’s about the other project they were pitching all those years ago, that’s finally seeing the light of day. It’s about The Runner…and another million dollars in prize money.
The Runner – Rules for the Road
The central conceit of The Runner is simple: one unidentified “Runner” is sent on the run, and five pairs of two “Chasers” are sent after them, facing arbitrary challenges to catch him. Every day the Runner remains uncaught, the bounty for capturing them goes up by $15K. Once a Runner is caught, the Chasers collect the bounty and a new Runner goes on the lam. If a Runner makes it to the end, they keep the bounty, plus a $50K bonus. Vice News reporter Kaj Larsen and YouTube game theorist MatPat (Matthew Patrick) serve as the show’s hosts.
Over the next thirty days, Larsen and Patrick will provide updates on the hunt’s progress three times a day. Every day kicks off with an episode introducing the puzzle to the Runner’s destination for the day, followed by a second puzzle as Chasers near the daily destination. Afternoon and evening episodes at 3PM EST and 10PM EST provide updates on the teams’ progress.
How to Win Money and Influence Friends
The show’s contestants have a chance at winning half a million dollars over the next thirty days…which leaves another half a million dollars available for the viewers at home to claim. Rather than giving it out in one lump sum, fans have quite a few ways to take home a few bucks for playing along.
The main way to win is to solve the puzzles alongside the Chasers. Every day, two America’s Ca$h Task (“ACT”) challenges will be posted on go90.com/therunner. Viewers have one hour to solve the clues. For each ACT challenge, ten viewers to submit the correct answer will be selected at random to receive $500, for a total of $20,000 in prizes every day. Players can also win big by helping the Chase teams, as the five Chasers are also tasked with giving away one $1,000 “Chaser Cash” prize to one of their followers who helped them out every day. There are also “Social MVP” prizes for the most active viewers.
Day One on the Hunt
July 1st was the first day of the hunt for The Runner, and the experience kicked off at noon with the first episode, and first ACT challenge for the day. The keys to their rides for the day were hidden in hundreds of otherwise empty lockboxes. But before hunting for the car keys, Chasers needed to figure out the combination for the locks. Chasers and viewers received the first clue simultaneously, and tackled the process of translating and transliterating numbers spelled out in six different languages.
The number of people attempting to enter solutions to the first ACT challenge crashed the game’s servers, leaving the production crew streamlining the experience to ensure the show’s site offered up the core functionality of live streaming episodes and a working puzzle submission form for the rest of the day.
Luckily, despite the technical difficulties all the teams managed to solve the first ACT challenge and find their cars with a little help from the viewers at home. After reaching their cars, Chasers received cryptic clues pointing to their next location.
While some teams sought out help online, most viewers only learned of this second puzzle when MatPat explained the solution during the show’s 3PM installment. While both players and Chasers patiently waited for the next clue, one team in particular found a highly creative but incorrect answer to their predicament.
— #BrotherNature (@TravisTrigger) July 1, 2016
After tracking down the Runner’s car and boat, Chasers unlocked the second ACT challenge for the day, tightening the noose on the Runner as the day progressed.
Solving this final puzzle for the day led to the Runner’s location. The Runner broke their silence at the final destination before entering the safe zone, extending their chase for another day. Due to earlier technical issues, the final episode of the day at 10PM served as a rehash of the first ACT challenge, with more details to follow in the next update.
Tales of Runners Past
At first blush, The Runner bears a striking resemblance to Lone Shark Games’ previous nationwide manhunts, Wired’s Hunt for Evan Ratliff and the Repo Men hunt. But despite the show’s name, The Runner is focused on the hunters, not the hunted. With Lone Shark’s hunts, fans were provided intimate details about their quarry. The hunts were centered around poring through targets’ digital footprints to figure out how to get a step ahead of the competition.
For The Runner, the five teams of Chasers are at the center of the reality tv narrative, and the teams’ provocative names try and sell the competition hard. Friendzone. Sweet N’ Savage. Bravo Square. Brother Nature. The Brogrammers. Reality shows will often play up on archetypes, but this list in particular seems custom built to evoke visceral reactions against certain teams. It’s no wonder the cipher that is the Runner has already started attracting a vocal fanbase.
While it’s tempting to compare The Runner to other nationwide manhunts, it has considerably more in common with Focus Rally: America. Created by the team behind The Amazing Race, the show was built around adding a real-time element to reality television by placing streaming cameras in the dashboards of the teams’ cars, and asking viewers to solve puzzles to get an edge on the daily challenges. The thinking behind The Runner is the same: give viewers the chance to grow close to the teams as they tackle the show’s daily challenges. The only difference? The finish line for The Runner is a living, breathing human being with money on the line as well. In the weeks to come, I hope to hear more about the Runner’s side of this experience, as their earlier counterparts had some harrowing tales to tell.
A Good Time for Puzzle Shows
With 90 episodes and over 60 puzzles scheduled over the next 30 days, The Runner has the potential to take over your life for the month of July, if you want to dive headfirst into the experience. But it’s not your only option, if you’re looking to scratch that reality show puzzling itch. Escape the Night, one of YouTube Red’s earliest forays into the realm of reality television, features Joey Graceffa and a collection of YouTube stars LARPing their way through a 1920’s era escape room with poor puzzling punished with “death” at the end of each episode, highly reminiscent of Anthony Zuiker’s Whodunnit? series.
While shows like Escape the Night and Whodunnit? feature intricate and well-constructed puzzles, they are still inherently vicarious experiences. Viewers who dive into The Runner have the chance to take a much more active role in the solving process. And the games have only just begun. The show has not provided any formal collaboration platforms beyond links to the teams’ Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat presences, so much of the Day One solving experience was done in public. Once team allegiances solidify, it will be interesting to see if that changes.
To follow along, head over to go90.com/therunner to register and follow along. To get the full experience, I’d also recommend following the competitors on social media. I created a Twitter List to make it easier to follow the major players there. For Instagram and Snapchat, you’re on your own.