Film: Series 7: The Contenders

The 2001 film Series 7: The Contenders, written and directed by Daniel Minahan, is a dark and violent satire of American Reality Shows.

The Contenders offers a unique form of entertainment for its loyal viewers: the show's contestants must kill each other until only one "Contender" remains standing. The contestants have no choice as to whether they want to compete; the moment a contestant is notified that they've become a Contender, any other Contender can kill them without legal repercussions. Adding insult to injury is the fact that winning the show once doesn't get a Contender anything but a longer lease on life; a full release from the show only happens when a Contender wins the "contest" three times in a row (as the winner remains a Contender until either death or the third victory). In the show's seventh season (or "series" in British terminology), two-time champion Dawn Lagarto hopes to gain her freedom; to do so, she must outlive five other Contenders — one of which, the terminally-ill Jeffrey Norman, happens to have had a prior romantic relationship with Dawn.


Series 7: The Contenders contains the following tropes:

  • Anti-Climax: What really happened in the cinema? According to the alternate ending on the DVD, Dawn and Jeffrey drop their guns and try to flee the cinema. They end up beaten by fans who aren't happy with the standoff's anti-climax. Dawn dies as a result of her beating, but Jeffrey survives — hence the lack of a bullet wound when he's shown in the hospital during the preview for Series 8.
  • Asshole Victim: Tony is an unemployed blue-collar worker with a coke habit and anger management issues. He even tries to flee the show while holding his baby daughter hostage.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Emergency room nurse Connie seems nice enough — until she expresses her contempt for the people who come into her ER. And that's before she starts killing people.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: No one really wants to appear on The Contenders. Dawn even snaps at her assigned cameraman on a regular basis.
  • Chekhov's Safety Catch/Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lindsay's parents constantly tell her to leave the safety on. Lindsay's fumbling to switch it off during an encounter with Franklin gives him more than enough time to kill her.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Franklin lines the walls of his trailer with tinfoil. After killing Lindsay in the mall, he tries to convince onlookers that the show is rigged — until Connie kills him with a sniper rifle.
  • Country Matters: Dawn's estranged sister receives a C-bomb from Dawn just before she takes her sister's SUV at gunpoint.
  • Crapsack World/Deadly Game: The Contenders is a reality TV show where people are drafted into a game where they must kill the other contestants to "win".
  • Driven to Suicide: Jeffrey tries to kill himself on three separate occasions. He is not successful.
    • The alternate ending proves the third attempt didn't actually happen, though.
  • Going Home Again: The film averts this; Dawn is less than thrilled that Series 7 of The Contenders is taking place in her hometown, since her mom kicked Dawn out of the house at 17 for having an abortion — and the guy who knocked her up is one of her new opponents.
  • Goth: Dawn and Jeffrey were goths in high school.
  • Gun Struggle: Two of these happen — one between Connie and Dawn, and one between Jeff and Connie.
  • Hand Wave: Numerous background details, such as how The Contenders became powerful enough to clear legally-sanctioned murder as a form of television programming, never receive an explanation. This works in part because the film only shows you what the program itself would have aired on TV — in other words, only what the producers want viewers to see.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Jeffrey admits he went through a "gay phase" after high school that ended when he married Doria. Unfortunately, after his failed suicide attempt via overdose, Doria outs him on-camera while he's in the hospital.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: It's debatable which is worse — what the Contenders will to do to survive or the bland acceptance of the show's existence.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The Contenders makes people hunt and kill each other.
  • Le Film Artistique: Dawn and Jeffrey's terrible high school student film qualifies.
  • Lottery of Doom: New contestants are chosen by a (seemingly-)random lottery involving Social Security numbers.
  • Mama Bear: Dawn insists she's only competing to protect her unborn child. On the other hand, she's a really efficient killer...
    • Also invoked when the show takes away her child per the game's rules — she gets pissed enough to kidnap her cameraman and hold an entire cinema full of people hostage.
  • Maternity Crisis: Dawn's water breaks just as she has Connie cornered and at gunpoint. This is followed by a Screaming Birth scene in which Connie must simultaneously deal with a 911 operator and a breach delivery while holding Dawn at gunpoint.
  • Mercy Kill: Connie admits on-camera that, despite her job as The Medic, she's euthanized the occasional patient.
  • Must Not Die a Virgin: Lindsay's boyfriend invokes this in an effort to get her to put out. He fails.
  • Nobody Poops: The film averts this trope; Dawn catches Connie on the toilet.
  • On the Next: An example of this trope closes out the film (and casts a totally different light on the climax).
  • Precision S-Strike: Jeffrey's verbal reaction when he realizes that he survived what happened at the cinema — and that he is the show's reigning champion as it heads into Series 8.
  • Pregnant Badass: Do not piss off eight-months-pregnant Dawn.
  • Previously On: The film opens with the end of Series 6 of The Contenders: Dawn marches into a convenience store and kills her last "opponent" of the season.
  • Reality Television: This film is a pitch-black satire of the entire genre.
  • Revised Ending: The film contains a canonical version of this trope. Series 7 ends with a "dramatic recreation" of the cinema standoff: Jeffrey agrees to let Dawn kill him, but Jeffrey's wife appears and kills Dawn before she can do the deed, at which point a distraught Jeffrey shoots himself. In reality, Dawn and Jeffrey were beaten (Dawn fatally so) by fans enraged at the pair's attempt to drop their guns and flee the cinema — but the Contenders producers couldn't (and wouldn't) air that.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Despite being an American film with an American cast framed as an American reality show titled The Contenders, the film's title employs the British-usage "series" to describe individual seasons of a television program. (The film starts with the end of the show's sixth season and segues into the events of its seventh season.)
  • Shout-Out: Daniel Minahan named the main character, Dawn Lagarto, after a childhood friend of his.
  • Show Within A Movie: This is the central premise of the film.
  • Slashed Throat: Tony threatens to do this to himself.
    • In a flashback, Dawn takes out one of her previous opponents this way.
  • Take a Third Option: Dawn and Jeffrey attempt this when they take the camera crew hostage and attempt to escape the show.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: The narrator (played by Will Arnett) makes a cameo onscreen at the climax. What he says doesn't always match up with what happens on-screen. The "dramatization" scenes also appear dishonest (and potentially faked). In the case of the cinema standoff, the dramatization is absolutely faked, which both the movie's alternate ending and the lack of a gunshot wound on Jeffrey during the Series 8 preview confirms.
    • The show says it picks contestants via a random lottery. That claim becomes suspicious when Dawn's third go-round takes place in her hometown and her old boyfriend becomes one of the other Contenders.
  • Win Your Freedom: A contestant must win the show three times in a row to earn their permanent freedom from the show. Dawn is offered her freedom at the end.