“The Great American Road Trip,” kicking off Tuesday night (July 7) on NBC, put recreational vehicles in the national spotlight by featuring seven families vying for a $100,000 first prize in a Survivor-like journey in a fleet of RVs along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.
And while nearly identical Fleetwood Bounder motorhomes were the centerpiece of the program, most of the hour was taken up by non-RV related campground activities and games designed to reward one family and remove another from the contest in a format similar to countless other reality TV Shows.
Accordingly, one family reaches the ”End of the Road” each week as the others travel on to tourist attractions and vacation spots along Route 66.
Contestants include a geographically and ethnically diverse group of young families — each with two kids: the Katzenbergs from Connecticut, the Pollards from Alabama, the Ricos from Texas, the Favereys from New York, the Montgomerys from California, the Cootes from Illinois and the DiSalvatores from New York.
Hosted by Reno Collier, the show features seven families who take off from Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, in identical Fleetwood Class A motorhomes provided by El Monte RV, each emblazoned with a family’s name on the side.
”This is not a race,” Collier told the group. ”This has nothing to do with the destination. This is all about the journey.”
After leaving Chicago, they drove pretty much single file — although a couple did ”race” each other at speeds over 70 mph — to a campground in Springfield, Ill., where the kids played football and the adults cooked outdoor meals and introduced themselves to each other — a basically appealing portrayal of their motorhome experience.
That said, other than the fact that a couple drivers had some initial difficulties in adapting to their vehicles — and some squeamish moments for the DiSalvatore family in emptying their holding tanks — the general treatment of the motorhoming aspects of this TV series was rather positive.
A contest at the Illinois State Fairgrounds at which they ran an obstacle course while collecting ”votes” in a presidential contest overseen by ”Abe Lincoln” was won by the Coote family. Their prize: an outdoor dinner on a Mississippi River bridge near Madison, Ill.
In Tuesday night’s ”End of the Road” challenge, three families with the smallest ”vote” total in Springfield faced off near the St. Louis Gateway Arch rolling a large plastic ball with a family member strapped inside through a series of six small arches.
The Katzenberg family lost the challenge and was sent home.
Still, after spending only two nights driving from Chicago to St. Louis in a motorhome in the eight-part series set to run on Thursdays through Aug. 25, father Marc Katzenberg considered it ”a great bonding experience.”