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Film / Series 7: The Contenders

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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.
  • Berserk Board Barricade: Connie is seen boarding up all of her windows early in the game.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Mostly averted with Lindsay, who is family respectful towards her parents except when they're pressuring her to play the game gets to be too much.
  • Break the Cutie: Lindsay is clearly shaken and terrified after her first (and only) attempt to kill someone.
  • 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: Tony has worked as an asbestos remover (as well as a drug problem) for most of his life, was fired from that, at least some of his kids were fathered by other people, and he ends up the least prepared Contender, as well as the first to die.
  • 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.
  • Cool Aunt: Dawn's niece tells her that she recognizes her from TV and that she loves her. Dawn is a bit disconcerted, hugs her tenderly before leaving.
  • 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.
  • Final Girl: Lindsay has some aspects of this, being the youngest competitor, a virgin, and reluctant to kill anyone It doesn't save her.
  • Going Home Again: Inverted. 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.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Lindsay is arguably the most soft-spoken character and usually has a little purple on.
  • 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.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Conspiracy Theorist Franklin is opposed to the show and suspicious of its methods but still plays the game.
  • Hope Spot: Everyone getting notes saying to meet at the mall and hinting there's a way out of the game, which they want to believe badly It's just a trap by Connie].
  • Humans Are Bastards: 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.
  • Immoral Reality Show: The contestants have to kill each other until only one contender is left.
  • La Résistance: Averted. There's a message from people offering to help them escape, signed The Underground, but it's fake.
  • 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.
    • Lindsey's mother also shows helps prepare her daughter while showing grief and protectiveness at her being selected in the first place, and stands up to her husband when he berates Lindsey for being unable to kill Franklin.
  • 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. Later on, she comes back to him though in what's implied to be a Sex for Solace moment.
  • 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).
  • Pet the Dog: Connie works to help Dawn deliver her baby, even though Dawn had been trying to kill her, and Connie could take advantage of the moment to easily kill Dawn.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • When the people from the show arrive at Franklin's door he slams it in their face and they catch him trying to sneak out the back window.
    • Tony also tries to flee town after a little nerve-wracking.
    • Everyone left is interested in a supposed offer to escape from the show.
  • 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.
    • As Tony tries to flee the town with his baby and in the immediate aftermath, the voiceover outright contradicts events depicted on screen. A number of reviewers admitted that they accepted the voiceover version the first time they watched the film, only to be prompted to rewatch and pay attention by the ending.
  • 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.