Earwolf Challenge Update: Week Two

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The Earwolf Challenge, the reality competition podcast, held its second round of eliminations this week, with the total number of remaining podcasts battling for a contract with the Earwolf network dropping from nine to eight. This week was a content challenge, which seems like a much fairer element on which to judge the podcasts than theme music and intros last week. It’s possible to have a good podcast with a sloppy theme song, but a good podcast can’t exist without strong content; so this was a more practical way to evaluate the meat of the various shows.

For the challenge, the podcasters were asked to submit a two-minute clip that accurately reflects each of their respective shows at its best and were given the option of drawing from their archives of past material or creating something brand new. It’s a daunting task to sum up a show accurately and be entertaining in such a short amount of time. While some of the podcasts rose to the challenge and submitted well-crafted and funny segments, others struggled.

Guest judges Paul F. Tompkins (host of The Paul F. Tompkast and frequent Comedy Bang Bang guest) and Jesse Thorn (host of The Sound of Young America and more on his podcasting network Maximum Fun) joined host Matt Besser to listen to the nine submissions. It’s great to see the giants of the podcasting world take time out of their busy schedules to judge this competition and really give it their all. Tompkins and Thorn, two of the most experienced and esteemed podcast hosts in the game, really became invested and took their judging duties seriously, offering up constructive criticism that was more specific and detailed than what we heard from the guest judges last week.

The judges picked out the three podcasts they felt had the weakest submissions: Television Zombies, The Complete Guide to Everything, and Ham Radio with Brett Hamill. I was glad that none of these three shows were amongst those in the Bottom Three last week, meaning that everyone in this competition is really on an even keel. Each show has its own strengths and weaknesses, which should keep the elimination rounds interesting since it doesn’t look like it’ll just be the same podcasts facing destruction each week.

Television Zombies stands out most to me, as it doesn’t really seem to be a comedy show. The hosts tackle topics with an occasional humorous slant; but the show is a discussion of science fiction, rather than a comedy program. I haven’t listened to a full episode yet, but I’ve found myself questioning why a show where the main emphasis isn’t on comedy is in this competition at all. Nevertheless, Television Zombies was deemed safe this week, as was Ham Radio. Ham Radio host Brett Hamill, however, was told by the judges that his show barely cheated death this week and was given a stern lecture about the way he handles criticism. These issues notwithstanding, Hamill’s show seems to be one of the competition’s frontrunners, and I was surprised to hear it included in the Bottom Three this week. Hamill’s content submission wasn’t up to par with his show’s best moments, but it was stronger and funnier than many of the other shows’ two-minute clips.

As you might have guessed, The Complete Guide to Everything was the podcast to get the boot this week. Complete Guide, in which two friends discuss a different topic each show in an effort to show up Wikipedia’s expertise, was faulted by the judges for not laying out its premise in its clip before starting in with tangential riffing. With Complete Guide out, the field is narrowed down to eight. The Earwolf Challenge will be back next week, when two more beloved podcast celebrities drop by to thin the herd once more.