"Pretentious is a word that non-artists use to describe people who actually do something with their fucking lives."
Strip Search is a reality/talent search web show created by Penny Arcade and Bionic Trousers Media (the same folks behind LoadingReadyRun), set to find a new great webcomic creator. Twelve artists compete for the grand prize: $15,000, and a year integrated into the Penny Arcade machine. It was described by the creators in the first episode as being "for all intents and purposes, America's Next Top Web Cartoonist".The show follows a fairly conventional reality show format, with contestants engaging in a group-based 'social' challenge for a prize, then an individual challenge that determines which contestants will have to face an elimination challenge. As a Web Original series instead of a Live-Action TV show, this unfolds in a stretch of three roughly 20-minute episodes per cycle, rather than in a single hour-long episode.All the episodes can be watched at its Web site or on YouTube directly.
Audience Participation: In the elimination challenge, contestants are asked to pull two crumpled-up pieces of paper, each containing a topic, out of the Wastebasket of Broken Dreams ("ideas that were, perhaps, before their time"), and then combine the two topics to create a comic within 90 minutes. Viewers quickly took to pausing the show immediately upon the reveal of the topics, and then going off to make their own comic within the time limit. By elimination #5, so many viewers were trying their hand at it that the show staff made it an official Home Game and started posting the best ones on the official website. (Among the first batch of recognized home-gamers was one person who managed to sew a comic. Out of felt.)
Badass Beard: Every one of the male contestants is sporting some variety of facial hair, but special note goes to Maki's beard. One fan ended up giving it the nickname of the "beardwall."
Beware the Quiet Ones: Katie is the most unassuming of the contestants, but everyone on the show agrees that she's one of the strongest competitors.
Blessed with Suck: The winner of the competitive challenge has to pick who goes up for elimination that night. While in many reality shows, this would be the best thing to happen, the artists dread this, since they all became fast friends, and don't want to send their friends home — episode 18 sees host Graham Stark explicitly call it "the prize that nobody wants".
The Cameo: One social challenge involved the artists trying to replicate cartoons of people. Most of these images were taken from strips by the PA staff (Penny Arcade itself, The Trenches, etc.), but one was Paige from FoxTrot (Bill Amend is One of Us and has done guest strips for webcomics including Penny Arcade).
"Ideas that were, perhaps, before their time" and "X is how much time...you will have in Y minutes" during the elimination rounds.
"Good morning, artists."
Jerry thinks your comic is high-concept.
Caught on Tape: During the convention sketch challenge, one of the attendees is filmed simply picking up a book from an artist's table and walking away with it. At the end of the episode, it was almost flat-out said that this was intentional, to see if the artists would notice.
Chekhov's Gun: In two out of a possible three cases, the Redraw tickets, which have the power to change one of the topics during an elimination round. In both cases, the person who held the Redraw ticket won.
In the third elimination. Jerry claimed afterward that he was 'inventing new swearwords' in the process of trying to decide what to do about the elimination.
Also used occasionally in the Confession Cams, and was featured in the trailer.
Confession Cam: Subverted. A proper Confession Cam was set up, but was apparently only used once, by Amy, after Lexxy was brought back. Mike and Jerry once commented on nobody using it in one of the elimination rounds.
Diabolical Mastermind: How PA business manager Robert Khoo, who conducts the notoriously rigorous hiring process that the show's casting process was based around, who had a large hand in the construction of challenges, and who is a regular judge on the show, is regarded. This preshow comic from Monica about sums up his reputation.
Different In Every Episode: The judges' methods of destroying the losers' comic in eliminations. Methods used so far include shredding it, cutting a smiley face out of it, blending it into a smoothie (and then drinking it), and using it as a napkin for BBQ ribs. Averted twice when they elected to not destroy a strip, and even then they outlined what they had planned (one would have been set on fire, and another would have been scanned into a computer where the file would have been thrown into the Recycle Bin - and then the computer itself would have been thrown in the trash along with the original strip).
Elimination Statement: A three-part one. The first has the artist making comments immediately post-elimination, and then Mike and Jerry visit in order to encourage them and give some feedback. The third one, presented as The Stinger after the credits, has the artist commenting on the second part.
Epic Fail: Episode 17 all around. The contestants were taken to a go-kart track and, though everyone had a blast, they turned out to be terrible at go-karting.
Several of them nearly wound up in a nearby lake. One skidded so hard their on-board camera flew off the kart. Two people wound up stuck under the barrier walls. One went through the barrier.
Let's not get started on how many of them attempted to drift and failed miserably.
The top qualifier, Abby, only did so by accidentally cutting the course. The overall first-place finisher, Erika, was disqualified after accidentally cutting the course to a particularly large degree in the midst of one off-roading excursion.
Even the production crew found itself victimized, as the contestants' onboard microphones turned out to have failed to pick up anything and just about all the in-race audio was rendered unusable.
Lexxy: How does car?
Everyone Meets Everyone: The first episode, of course. But one of the contestants went home that very same day instead of getting to know the rest.
Five-Finger Discount: During the convention sketch challenge, the artists lose lots of merchandise from their tables.
Going Cosmic: The possible subjects for most eliminations were fairly random, such as "Space", "Being Lost", "Mystery", "Dinosaurs", and "Candy". For the final challenge, a different batch of potential subjects were used and the artists pulled "Creation", "Morality", and "Good vs Evil".
Grass Is Greener: Part of the prize for the winner — a year embedded in the Penny Arcade offices — requires relocating to Seattle. Losing did not stop Amy, Monica and Alex from moving to Seattle anyway before the season had even finished airing. And now, Abby will be moving there after hitting the stretch goal for it on her Kickstarter for The Last Halloween.
In fact, many of them have stated that the best prize of the reality show was the bonds they gained with their fellow cartoonists. Special mention goes to Erika who actually started crying post-elimination because of the experience of meeting everyone.
It Makes Sense in Context: A favorite pastime of the trailers. "Next time on Strip Search" will frequently be followed by quotes from the next episode such as "It's gonna be dicks on dicks on dicks" or "Robert Khoo is totally inappropriate."
Lady Swears A Lot: Monica is a tiny adorable anime enthusiast who draws herself with little pink roses in her hair... and has by far the foulest mouth of anyone on the show. And keep in mind that Mike and Jerry make a comic strip heavy on penis jokes.
During the doubles match ping-pong challenge Monica: "Shitting dick nipples!"
Manipulative Editing: Surprisingly minimal for a reality TV show — Graham Stark commented at a PAX Q&A that he kept noticing opportunities to play games with the footage, but passed them up in favor of producing a more true narrative. That said, there are a few occasions where what they show the artist doing seconds before the timer runs out on a challenge doesn't match what the artist claims to have been doing at that point.
The Merch: Invoked to hell and back, by the contestants of all people. The contestant contracts state that any art they create for the show is theirs to keep and sell, and can be placed on sale the instant an episode goes online. As a result, any time viewers respond well to something one of them makes in a challenge, you can rest assured the artist will either already have slapped it on a print or a T-shirt or something and have it ready to go upon the episode's airdate, or will scramble to do so shortly thereafter. This is in fact encouraged, as the show's website will frequently provide updates as to any show-related material the artists have newly made available for sale. Of course, the very first competitive challenge focused on developing merchandising (in this case a Strip Search T-shirt), so this was to be expected.
Mistaken for Racist: Discussed. In the first competition challenge, Alex used the initials of the show in a crest on his t-shirt design, not realizing the problem until the judges pointed out the Unfortunate Implications of a military-esque symbol with the letters 'SS' in the middle. This was brought up again when he went to elimination in the next episode, with the show's creators ribbing him about the inadvertent Nazi reference.
Jerry: Tell me, what is your favourite thing about Hitler? Alex: Efficiency. Mike: Okay, well I didn't expect that.
My Greatest Second Chance: Lexxy had previously been up for a job with Penny Arcade in PA: The Series, but lost out to Erika Sadsad. And then after going down swinging in the third elimination and Mac and Nick were both eliminated the next night, she was brought back again, making it her Greatest Third Chance. Mike and Jerry even say to her upon her original elimination that they need to figure out some sort of excuse to hire her sooner or later.
Nice Guy: Holy shit, people. Strip Search has to be setting some kind of record.
One Steve Limit: Played straight among the contestants; while there could be a mild name conflict between Alex and Alexandra, the latter goes by "Lexxy". The potential for confusion only arises when you include both contestant Erika Moen and PA staffer Erika Sadsad, the latter of whom appears on camera in several episodes and runs the Strip Search website.
Read The Fine Print: The challenge in Episode 27 is to identify malicious clauses in a contract licensing character art for use on lunchboxes, such as section 3d, which allows the licensee to terminate the contract and use that termination to force the artist to buy all the unsold stock at a profit to the licensee.
During the artists' tour of Seattle, the guide joked that "there'll be a quiz on this later." It turns out that the show really did have a quiz about the tour as a challenge. The artists stated in several confessionals that they didn't see the quiz coming, but felt that they should have.
Inverted with Amy, who started out using common reality-TV strategies like trying not to do too wellso she wouldn't be seen as a threat. The pressure of the game eventually got to her, with the return of Lexxy specifically terrifying her. She decided to drop her strategy, with Tavis pointing out to her that game aside, the contestants are making work contacts with each other and the Penny Arcade crew, and gaming the system to win the show could get in the way of that.
Reality TV Show Mansion: Even though many of the challenges happen elsewhere, all of the contestants are required to live in one house, without internet or phones.
Role Association: Erika was immediately recognized by a few of the other artists from her previous work, not to mention by some viewers from her guest comic from one of the few times Penny Arcade has ever needed to use them.
On the show itself, the trope was explicitly invoked by Mike and Jerry during the post-elimination pep talk given to fifth-place finisher Tavis, citing how often runner-ups on other talent-search shows succeed despite losing.
Jerry: Listen, when you get back, to the hotel, to the house, you've gotta bust your balls. Get ready for these Tavis fans. Mike: It's like on American Idol, like, when everyone buys the CD of the guy, you know, who was like third or whatever. Like, there's going to be people coming for you, and you gotta have shit ready for them.
A successful Kickstarter proved Mike and Jerry right.
The fourth placer, Lexxy, got over $83,000 through Kickstarter to launch her projected comic. She also said that she would have been unable to develop it on two months for the final challenge.
The actual runner-up, Abby, had her equivalent Kickstarter funded in just 17 minutes.
Eighth-place finisher Amy got her Kickstarter funded within four hours, and by the end of the day noted that she'd raised more money in one morning than she'd previously ever made in a year. Eighth. In a field of twelve.
All in all, so far seven losing contestants (Monica, Lexxy, Abby, Maki, Amy, Tavis and Erika) have run Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns, and all seven have succeeded. All but one of the "losers'" Kickstarters wound up raising more than the $15,000 that the winner received. The largest as of now is Abby's, having raised over $125,000. So many contestants cashed in so fast and in such large amounts that when the actual winner, Katie, was taking a little too long in relocating to Seattle, viewers began to worry that she might be the one missing out.
At PAX Prime 2013, it was announced that Monica and Ty were handed the keys to The Trenches. Mike, Jerry and Scott Kurtz handed their secondary comic to the contestants who finished sixth and eleventh.
In episode six, the group were all interviewed by AJ, a journalist. She asked inappropriately personal, probing and at times even silly questions. The contestants all struggled to find good answers for them. Only Monica met the hidden test: She refused to answer a question that she thought was too personal. It was explained that having the courage to say no to a journalist is a crucial PR skill to have.
According to the PAX Prime 2013 panel, the artists thought another one was present in a challenge asking them to make a skateboard design featuring a Magic: The Gathering character for Wizards of the Coast. Because they were using someone else's licensed character, a separate contract had to be signed with Wizards of the Coast regarding the usage of the design. The artists thought this was part of the challenge and began combing the contract looking for anything malicious. This was in fact a challenge, but that challenge wouldn't actually come until far later in the competition. The artists had to be assured that the contracts were fine and, actually, could they please just hurry up and sign them because they were on a schedule.
Serial Escalation: The judges' methods of destroying comics tended to get more over-the-top as the season went on. In the first elimination, they simply tore the losing comic in half. By the ninth elimination, the comic was again torn in half... with a chainsaw.
Shocking Elimination: After the incredibly tense third elimination, where the judges could barely stand to let Tavis or Lexxy go, ultimately deciding to keep Tavis, the fourth elimination had two strips from Nick and Mac that they considered to be sub-par. They finally decided to eliminate both of them and reinstate Lexxy.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: Quite a lot of it. After the first couple days when the contestants started settling in, it became open season on any nearby Penny Arcade employee. Dicks were invoked in all manner of fashions. As one commenter put it, Strip Search is "the only reality TV show I can think of where the contestants abuse the judges". That said, it doesn't always work out — Lexxy tried to justify her performance in a challenge to Scott Kurtz (ironically, one focused on not engaging trolls), and it led to her nomination for elimination.
The Strategist: Amy is notable for being the only contestant to approach the show from a strategic standpoint (as one would do for, say, Survivor). She eventually gives up because it's too stressful to keep doing, especially when nobody else is playing the same way.
Team Dad: Tavis has shades of this, particularly showcased in Episode 14 when he counsels Amy. He is also the only competitor on the show who is actually a parent.
Team Mom: Contestants identified Nick as this at the PAX East panel.
Both of the above are exemplified in this print◊ by Nick.
Too Much Information: Erika especially had this problem during the interview challenge. Compare Monica, who was overly defensive during her interview but scored points for being willing to not answer a question.
Troll: The Twitter challenge focused partially on how to deal with them; most artists elected not to respond to an obviously-trolling tweet. PA staff, particularly Khoo, also troll the artists during challenges sometimes, but the artists give as good as they take.
True Companions: To everyone's utter shock and delight, and in brazen violation of everything people know about reality shows, the entire house wound up immediately sprinting full-speed to this trope and never looked back. Case in point, in the elimination challenge, Mike will often ask contestants which other artist they'd like to go to their birthday party (or some other such occasion), and which one they'd like to die. Not a single artist will name any other artist to die, even as a joke answer. They will name themselves, Mike and Jerry, the rightful owners of the house they're living in, anyone but a fellow artist. (They have no problem naming birthday party guests.) This post-show tweet from Amy sums it up.
Turn Off the Camera: In the third elimination, the producer asked the camera to be turned off after Mike went on a profanity-filled rant about how there are people in the house who deserved to go home while both artists at elimination had performed so well.
When the creators see Lexxy's comic in Elimination #3, Mike in particular talks about how he had no idea that she was capable of it.
Because of the slapdash quality of Abby's standup, when the creators actually see a comic from her in Elimination #6, they are amazed at good it is.
Unexpected Gameplay Change: In a rare non-videogame example, invoked by Katie in the finale when she suddenly asked permission to switch from drawing the comics digitally to drawing with pen on paper. The request was granted. It paid off; she won.
We Hardly Knew Ye: Averted. It took until Episode 4 to get rid of anybody, and fans have made sure to try and keep tabs on the entire roster even after their elimination. Although the first knocked out, Alex, has been the subject- and perpetrator- of many a 'first player eliminated' joke.
Wham Episode: After nine elimination challenges which allowed only 90 minutes each to create one stand-alone strip, and came mercilessly day after day, every day, the three remaining artists are told that for the next — and last — challenge they are to take two months to create a new strip, complete with a name, t-shirt, three character bios, and six strips.
After Amy wins the first competitive challenge, everyone, especially the winner, is plenty happy and excited about it, until Graham drops this:
As the winner of today's Strip Search challenge, it is up to you to decide which two other artists go up for elimination.
In the first elimination episode, Mike and Jerry keep the mood light, to the point where it's easy to forget that it's a competition and they're here to send somebody home. Then:
Alex: How do you feel about my stuff looking like yours, Mike? Are you flattered, or insulted? Mike: I'm absolutely flattered. I mean, my stuff looked like a lot of people's over the years, until it looked like it does now. We all have influences, you know? Alex: Yeah. Mike: What's interesting is seeing you copy my mistakes.
From the fourth elimination challenge:
Mike:I'm sorry, but you're also not the strip we're searching for.
Katie, during the finals suddenly says "I have a confession to make" while sniffing her nose. Immediately subverted, as her confession was that she had a runny nose.
X Meets Y: The elimination challenges are literally this; one artist chooses subject X at random out of the "Wastebasket of Broken Dreams", the other does the same to get subject Y, and the challenge is to write a strip involving both.
Your Mom: When Monica went to elimination, in response to Mike's taunts and repetitive questions. It flusters Mike and is repeatedly brought up jokingly through the rest of the episode.
Mike: Seriously, why do you want to be a cartoonist? Monica:(whispered) 'Cause I want to fuck your mom.
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SPOILERS BELOW! For the Finale, each of the three remaining artists had to create a strip. Below are tropes that appear in each of the strips: