By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page Y02
Previews Monday at 9:30 p.m. and Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC; regular slot Sundays at 8 p.m. starting March 13
The tagline you'll never see: "I coulda been a contender. Instead, I'm a bore."
The basics: Sixteen boxers beat each other's brains out each week, with the last man standing pocketing a cool million dollars. Mark Burnett, creator of "The Apprentice" and "Survivor," is behind this one (don't you ever rest, man?) with faux boxer Sylvester Stallone and real-life former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard awkwardly serving as hosts.
Just like "Survivor," two teams of contestants face a weekly competition. In the first episode, it's a silly log-hauling challenge through the hills of Hollywood. The winning team pits one of its boxers against the fighter of its choice from the losing team.
In a ploy to lure non-boxing fans, the series also tells the life stories of the 16 contestants, most of whom, naturally, have overcome major obstacles.
The lowdown: Before it even debuted, two ominous notes clouded the future of "The Contender." In February, 23-year-old contestant Najai Turpin committed suicide outside a Philadelphia gym where he trained. NBC quickly announced that the show would go on and that an episode would be dedicated to Turpin. And last fall, Fox beat NBC to the punch with its own boxing show "The Next Great Champ," a show that was down for the count after just four episodes.
Reality check: Despite heartwarming stories and some "Survivor"-like intrigue, you've really gotta love boxing to wrap your arms around "The Contender." For an hour, you're treated to seeing the dudes working out, spewing cliches like they're going out of style and leering angrily at one another before two face off in a gritty boxing bout. In short, this is one Mark Burnett reality series that won't knock you out.