|May 03, 2005
In 2000, Survivor changed the face of TV, ushering in a wave of "reality" shows that has not slowed down. Now, on any given night, viewers have their choice of numerous reality TV programs, featuring everything from celebrities living in a house to people doing outrageous stunts for cash.
In 2002, the World Poker Tour changed television yet again. The Travel Channel gambled that people would watch poker on TV, thanks to large prize pools and the use of cameras allowing viewers to see what cards the players held. Viewers responded by tuning in, making the World Poker Tour one of the highest rated shows on cable, and paving the way for more poker coverage. As with reality TV, poker is now on pretty much every day.
It was only a matter of time before someone would create a show combining the two worlds. The producers of Fear Factor did it, helping to develop the new show Vegas Virgins along with Lion TV of Britain. Vegas Virgins will make its appearance in Britain in June, and could be on in the U.S. as soon as this fall.
Vegas Virgins, as the title implies, brings people who have never gambled before to Las Vegas for a chance to learn how to play poker, accept some outrageous challenges, and win some cash in the process. Helping them to learn poker will be author and professional poker player Lou Krieger, who is a commentator and coach on the show.
I had the chance to talk to Mr. Krieger recently about his involvement in the show, and about what audiences can expect when they tune in to this reality-TV and poker hybrid.
Vegas Virgins not is your typical poker show. According to Lou, the producers of the show took 10 players (five Americans and five Brits) who had never played in a casino before and flew them to Las Vegas. The producers' goal was to combine poker and reality TV in one unique show.
The show will consist of 10 one-hour episodes. Before they get to the poker games, each contestant will have a task to perform, similar to (but not quite so intense) as the challenges seen on Fear Factor. According to Krieger, some of the challenges included walking a tightrope under a canopy at the Freemont Street Experience and eating a duck embryo. The better a contestant does in the challenge, the more chips he or she will receive for the nightly no-limit holdem poker tournament. The winner of each nightly event has the chance to evict one of the contestants at the end of each episode. The only stipulation is that contestants from the same country cannot be eliminated on consecutive nights, meaning if an American is kicked off one night, a British virgin will have to be selected the following night. (Obviously, this will affect how hard people try in the challenges. If the Americans are immune from getting eliminated one night, they probably arenít going to try so hard to consume those duck embryos.)
At the end of the competition, the winner will move on to play against five other seasoned poker players. (Krieger wonít be one of them. His role is commentator and poker teacher, not competitor.) The winner receives a big check, presented by Lou, and has the chance to win even more money in a no-limit holdem tournament against the other players in the final episode. To help out the "Vegas virgin," in the match against the seasoned poker players, the Virgin will be given an advantage in the number of chips they start with.
Like any other show, Vegas Virgins has to go through a lot of editing before being aired. Each show has not only poker, but all the elements of a reality-TV show: interaction between the contestants, footage of hanging out in the hotel, lifestyle stuff, etc. Poker footage also features shots of what cards contestants hold, with commentary by Lou Krieger. The editors have the task of trying to fit hundreds of hours of footage into 46 minutes. As the show is still being edited, Krieger did not yet know how much will be specifically poker, but guessed this will be about 10 minutes or so of each program.
Krieger is well known for his many books on poker, not quite so much for his commentary work. So what got him interested in working with the show?
"I lucked out," said Krieger. He said that the folks from Lion TV contacted the publisher of the "Dummies" books. (Krieger is the author of Poker for Dummies, just one of his seven titles.) They stated they were doing a poker-meets-reality-TV show, and asked if he would be interested in being the poker expert. "They put me in touch with folks from Lion TV, and one thing led to another and I got the gig," said Krieger.
Lou said he had a great time doing the show. "It's all fascinating to me, and lots of fun. It was long days and more fun than I could have imagined having." He added that everyone involved with the production had a great time, and that he hopes to be back if there is a second season.
One might think that all he'd have to do would be an hour or so of commentary work each day, allowing him plenty of time for poker while in Vegas. Not so. While the show was a lot of fun, it was also a lot of work. While he was in Las Vegas filming the show for three weeks, he got the chance to play poker just three times. Production work started early each day, not wrapping up until midnight or 1am. "Then," he said, "Youíd want to rest because youíve got to do it again the next day."
Vegas Virgins involves not only people who have never visited Las Vegas, but people who have no experience with gambling or poker at all. "If they hadnít played before, they were marvelous actors," said Krieger. "They didnít know how to handle their chips; it was a mystery (to them) the first time we sat down to play a practice game." Perhaps thatís what makes Krieger perfect for the job of coaching, because Poker for Dummies is among the best texts available for the new player.
As for what went into the selection of contestants, Krieger said it involved psychological and background testing, and that the producers ended up picking high-energy people who looked good on television. "If youíre doing reality TV, you want people who are contributors, not those who sit there as if they are dead and do not add to the fun," he said.
Krieger had to start from scratch with the contestants, teaching them the basics of the game -- such as what hands beat what. Poker school took place every morning. Krieger also gave the winning player an extra tip to help them against the seasoned pros: Try to steal a couple of pots, because good players will underestimate the novices, thinking them too fearful to try such moves.
The results, he said, were mixed, which is to be expected when you have a group of people learning something entirely new. He said there were one or two that never really caught on to learning poker, and a couple other players who had potential. With others, because they were eliminated early in the show, the viewers don't see how much they may have progressed in learning the game.
At the time of this writing, the show is still in post-production, with Krieger going to London to do added commentary soon. The timetable for airing dates is still to be determined, but according to Krieger it is likely the show will air on cable in England in June. In North America, CGTV (Casino and Gaming Television, a new cable network going on air in Canada this summer and later this year in the United States) has the rights to the show. They may choose to air it themselves, or share it initially with Bravo, although this is still in negotiation.
It hasn't aired yet. But Krieger has high hopes for the show.
"Iím sure this show will get trashed on RGP (the poker newsgroup rec.gambling.poker) because it's not poker-pure, but it is what it is: a reality TV and poker show that capitalizes on the interest in poker. For me, I had a lot of fun with it."
From the sounds of it, viewers will too.
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|Paul Kammen is an avid low-stakes poker player from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He has played regularly at the Canterbury Card Club since it opened in 2000, playing primarily in low stakes Stud and Holdem games. Since then, he has played at various other casinos in Minnesota and Las Vegas, and also plays regularly at the low-stakes tables on PokerStars. He is the author of two books on poker, How To Beat Low-Limit 7-Card Stud Poker (2003, Cardoza Publishing) and How To Beat Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better (also available at ebookmall.com) and available soon in print.