There are only two outcomes in Discovery Channel’s new reality series “Lone Target.” Former Navy SEAL Joel Lambert is either found by the elite military and law enforcement units who try to track him or he isn’t. There’s nothing really high stakes about it. This isn’t Bear Grylls or “Survivorman” Les Stroud risking serious injury as they climb unstable rock formations in search of food. It’s an elite and rather boring, game of hide-and-seek. It’s not that Lambert doesn’t have skills or that the people tracking him are bad at their jobs. The problem is that hide-and-seek is more fun to play than to watch.
Armed with a basic survival kit and a canteen of water, Lambert is dropped into different locations where he has 48 hours to escape the teams hunting him. In the first episode, he must outrun the South African International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF). The location is a game reserve and the IAPF are in the business of tracking and capturing poachers. The question is: Whose tracking skills are better? The answer mostly involves watching the capture team pointing at the ground at tracks or “spoors” that lead in one direction or another toward Lambert.
When it’s Lambert’s turn to be the focus of the story, he tells us his game plan or rather whispers it, so as not to be heard by his hunters. In fact, he spends the entire episode whispering. His tactics include leaving as little of a trail as possible as well as backtracking on his route and then changing direction to confuse the IAPF. He spots a few dangerous animals and tells us they are dangerous. He shows us how to spot water in the dry ground. At one point, he sets a fire in order to distract the trackers and gain a time and distance advantage but they quickly pick up his “spoor” at the fire site. It turns out that evasive maneuvers in the African wild are about as interesting to watch as listening to Lambert whisper for an hour.
There’s a lot of running and shaky camera work as the IAPF, Lambert or both take off through tall grass. The camera work is meant to make you feel like you’re part of the action and this is probably the most successful thing about “Lone Target.” Lambert talks directly to the camera and when he says “we,” as in: “We need to run now!,” it feels like he’s talking to you as the viewer when he’s actually talking to the cameraman. The effect gives the action an immediacy that all the standing around and pointing at “spoors” lacks but it’s nothing that you couldn’t get from playing a video game (and at least there you could win stuff or solve puzzles as you run away from your enemies).
Other locations, where tracking doesn’t mean looking at hard to see marks in the dirt, may improve the suspense that “Lone Target” is trying to create. But the show is fundamentally about escaping rather than surviving which is only exciting to watch if it means more than winning bragging rights.
“Lone Target” is on Wednesday at 10 p.m. EDT on Discovery.