Originally posted Monday, January 20, 2020 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
To be a spy sounds glamorous, dangerous and mysterious all at once. Whatever the reality is, Bravo is giving folks a chance to at least pretend to be spies in a competition setting and calling it “Spy Games,” of course.
Bravo shot the first season for six weeks last year in metro Atlanta, though the city is never referenced. The very first challenge on the episode aired January 20 is at a popular MIdtown restaurant STK where models are having a party with supposed movers and shakers in the business.
The 10 newbie “spies’ have to penetrate the party and gather a phone number from an attendee with a cover story, then slip out.
Three spy experts with pedigree such as the Secret Service, CIA and FBI judged the contestants on their prowess. The show is loosely based on an actual World War 2 spy training program.
The two at the bottom drew way too much attention to themselves in what was supposed to be a covert mission. (Mitch Abrams was brash and drank too much while Nika Nour challenged someone to a “planking” contest in the middle of the bar floor.)
Mitch was eliminated in part because he came across as smug and arrogant and had no problem calling NIka less emotionally stable than him, a gender trope that didn’t sit well with the judges or Nika.
Colin Hutzler, a New York stock trader and former teacher, has the look of a James Bond-ian spy and said he grew up obsessed with Bond and Jack Bauer of “24.” He was the first one who slipped in and out of the STK party, his presence barely acknowledged. He immediately looks like a front runner.
“I am fairly private and reserved,” Hutzler said in an interview. “I also love wearing suits. So it works out well. I get to live out a fantasy without the risks of becoming a full spy.”
Ironically, unlike “Project Runway” or “Top Chef,” this is not the type of show that will cause potential employers to call because they certainly don’t want attention-seeking folks who are willing to show up on a reality show potentially seen by millions.
Hutzler understood that from the get go: “I am not expecting any government agencies to come knocking on my door at the end of this.”
The casting also featured a woman who grew up in foster care, ex military, a law student, a tech person with Asperger’s and a video game executive.
The biggest oddball is George Jackson, a marketing consultant who comes across as socially awkward and a tad creepy, hovering behind doors literally spying on other people’s conversations.
Hutzler tried to be kind in his assessment of George. “He has certain traits you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a spy,” he said. “In this setting, if you’re able to fly under the radar, it’s a plus. He was just weird enough for people to like him and that’s a plus.” How high was his toleration of George? “It fluctuated.”
In the first episode, Nika surreptitiously swipes Charnel Wright’s dossier, which is a folder where they jot notes down about the other players. That action, which seems like a great move on Nika’s part, plays out over the next three episodes in unexpected ways. Hutzler said it was to his advantage only because it caused other players to get distracted from whatever the current mission was.
Like most reality shows of this ilk, said judge and counter-terrorism expert Erroll Southers, success comes with the ability to adapt to curveball situations and have the mental stamina to move on if things do go wrong.
“Just keep on moving,” Southers said. “The best spies are those that can course correct along the way.” The reality, he added, “is we all make mistakes. Just don’t make the big ones.”
Good spies, he said, have to keep parts of yourself close to the vest while minimizing lying because it takes mental energy to remember all the lies.
And you have to be trained, he said, to be a great observer. “I know if someone has touched my desk,” he said. “Colleagues would play games by moving something on my desk a fraction of an inch and see if I notice. I usually do.”
And when he was deep undercover, he couldn’t jot notes down. He had to basically have a photographic memory when he was debriefed.
Southers isn’t sure if any of the 10 would ultimately cut it to be a real spy and said fewer than 1 in 50 could actually do an effective job.
“Spy Games,” 10 p.m. Mondays, Bravo
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.