This week, SpikeTV unleashed the new season of Deadliest Warrior, a show that pits two historical warriors head-to-head in an attempt to test their skills and weapons to declare one deadliest. Last season, I was turned on to the show and immediately was in love with the concept. Even the two hosts, even more likable once you get to know them a little better by following their Twitter streams, have become familiar and part of the fun.
Last year, we got some very interesting, if fairly uneven, matchups. When we investigated battles like Viking vs Samurai, Pirate vs Knight, and Spartan vs Ninja, we learned about how the advent of steel affected strength and effectiveness of weaponry. When we watched Shaolin Monk vs Māori Warrior, we got not only to learn about warriors that were a little lesser known, but also got to see some brutal weaponry.
The Season 2 premiere pitted SWAT against the German counter-terrorism group GSG9. Unfortunately, this episode was a letdown for me. The problem is not the show or the hosts, but rather, the premise. How can you suggest that one warrior is better than the other based on weapons, when clearly, the same weapons are available to both?
Case in point: the GSG9 carried the H&K G36 mid-range weapon and noted its carbon fiber body made it light. They also noted the pump action Remington 870 was a pump acton gun used for its reliability, even in extreme cold. Both of those were strategic decisions. But the show gave the edge to SWAT both times, first for the fraction-of-a-second speed difference and higher caliber bullet (entirely discounting the additional kickback) and second for the few-seconds speed difference, ignoring the reliability. If the GSG9 felt the other guns were better guns, they’d have simply used the same guns as SWAT. So the DW gang ignored all of the worthwhile comparison in favor of examining the weapons under very specific circumstances. The GSG9 may very likely have prevailed, and completely so, given some of the extreme circumstances for which they were prepared where SWAT might have been simply stranded.
Also, as far as I could tell, the GSG9’s training was never factored in. SWAT is an awesome infantry, and I’m sure many of them are very skilled. But the missions the GSG9 face in Germany would never be relegated to SWAT in the US, it would probably be an FBI special task force or even something more like military special forces. Boiling these two forces down to just their weapon choices was a massive over-distillation of the facts: it didn’t test the deadliest warrior at all, it just tested the weapons. I feel the the DW gang just plain old got this one wrong.
But usually, I’m pretty satisfied. Sure, the “edge” awarded is totally unscientific (e.g. “this one is 1/8″ closer, so this weapon has the edge”), but the number of simulations and the tests themselves are generally enthralling enough and the attack methods and damage done is so interesting, it’s easy to overlook the gaps in the process. Anyone who really studies a show like Mythbusters is going to be able to spot 100 issues with the conclusions too, so I’m apt to give DW a pass at some of the smaller leaps. The outcome is less important than the tests anyway, and the tests are almost always great on high speed.
The less modern, non-team comparisons are much more fun. There is really is about the ingenuity of the weapons and the fighting tactics. Knights, for example, had to contend with the weight of their armor but carried heavy swords. Compare that, say, to ninjas who had no armor but a dramatically different set of weapons and training. Pirates we know had scary-deadly weapons, but they were by-and-large notoriously unreliable. That type of comparison makes for a much more interesting head-to-head.
Fortunately, this season’s match ups are much more historical in nature and less modern-day-warrior toe-to-toe. I’m especially looking forward to Vlad The Impaler vs. Sun Tzu and Persian Immortal vs. Celt. These matches will pit warriors who had the benefits of centuries of weapon advancement, but not modern technology or mass availability. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things pan out. If you get a chance, Deadliest Warrior is on Spike and SpikeHD on Tuesdays.
 Max Geiger and Geoff Desmoulin are the hosts, and both are down-to-earth and fan-responsive on Twitter.
Update: Show host @geoffdesmoulin tweets: “Just read it! Its solid BUT ive 2 disagree w/ U. Look up the World SWAT Challenge & U’ll C GSG-9 only won once vs US SWAT!!” and points us to his follow up blog entry here: http://bit.ly/aw90XG