“We Are the Champions”: A Refreshingly New Category for Sports Television
Issue 7, Volume 111
By Krish Gupta
The narration talents of Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), British people chasing cheese down a hill, and a pepper farmer from the Carolinas looking to torture people: what’s not to like?
This is Netflix’s “We Are the Champions,” a new six-part original miniseries chronicling oddball sports (that is, if we can even call them sports) around the world, such as cheese rolling, chili eating, and frog dancing. Each episode follows a different obscure competition in the most remote parts of the world, making for a unique, diverse, and esoteric collection of traditions. This lighthearted series offers the chance for unusual sports and competitions to enter the spotlight in a category dominated by big names and leagues.
The most striking feature is noticeable from the get-go. The cinematography and special effects are excellent throughout and on-par with other stunningly shot Netflix originals. The show has a distinctly whimsical feel from the beginning of episode one, opening on a slow-motion clip of people of all ages sprinting and rolling down a steep hill in pursuit of a wheel of cheese, with crowds lining the side of the peak and cheering. Then, to top things off, cue the iconic voice of none other than Wilson.
Each episode delves into a new unorthodox sport in a documentary-style format. Every new sport totes interviews that follow contestants and locals in the days leading up to the big event and culminating in the real annual competition. The series focuses just as much on the contest itself as it does on the people involved. The crew carefully documents the personalities naturally and effectively, to the point that viewers Google them to continue to learn their stories after each half-hour episode. Some may be intrigued by Flo from the opening episode, who has always wanted to get a cast, others by “Smokin” Ed Currie: the man, the myth, the legend, who reigns above the world of chilis. What really sets this series apart from other sports documentaries though is not only the strange subjects, but also the tone throughout. The show takes care not to mock any of the traditions, but Wilson’s witty voice, coupled with a playful soundtrack, makes for a series that’s pure fun.
That being said, “We Are the Champions” is not without its pitfalls. The last minute or so of every episode gets cheesy, with Wilson (or Schrute, for some of us) preaching a lesson learned from each episode. The show closes with alarming clips of contestants giggling or striking a strange pose in front of a colored green screen, culminating with Wilson saying “We Are the Champions.” This cringe-inducing ending counteracts the playful vibe of the rest of each episode, so you might be better off switching your TV off a minute early.
After ESPN’s series “The Last Dance” (2020) on Michael Jordan transfixed the world earlier this year, Netflix has successfully capitalized on the world’s starved hunger for sports television. “We Are the Champions” has sought out a broader audience of sports fans and casual viewers alike. Though the series certainly isn’t perfect, it breaks the norms of a typical sports docuseries, contributing to what should be an exciting next few years in documentary television.