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In the Future, All Things Should Be Like ‘The Masked Singer’

There’s only one way to reverse the ratings decline of live events

A collage of Masked Singer costumes Getty Images/Fox/Ringer illustration

Just as God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, Fox has created something miraculous—albeit potentially apocalyptic—with The Masked Singer. The reality competition series, based on a buzzy Korean program that once featured Ryan Reynolds, wrapped up its inaugural stateside season last week. If you didn’t know anything about The Masked Singer format or its contestants, this next part is going to sound really weird: In the season finale, the Monster defeated the Bee and the Peacock, which, when the contestants were finally unmasked, meant that T-Pain vanquished Gladys Knight and Donny Osmond, respectively, to win an anonymous singing competition.

The Masked Singer is at once simple—masked celebrities sing; try to guess who they are before they’re eliminated!—and complicated. Is this what people really want out of their nightly entertainment? If the strong freshman ratings are any indication, then yes. But what, exactly, appeals about The Masked Singer? Is it the thrill of internet sleuthing to figure out the identities of the singers before they’re unmasked? There’s definitely something enticing about theorizing for yourself and seeing what other viewers have to say, but the clues were so basic that people had pretty much figured out all the identities by Week 2. Is there a fun dynamic on the “celebrity” judges panel? Not really: Jenny McCarthy is an anti-vaxxer, Ken Jeong is annoying in large doses, and Robin Thicke somehow became the voice of reason, which is probably not a good sign. (The only defense I’ll give the judges is that they, unlike the viewing audience at home, didn’t have the internet as a resource—though that doesn’t excuse McCarthy’s truly absurd guess of Barack Obama.)

I think the show’s appeal might be even simpler than that: Collectively, we love a good gimmick. And The Masked Singer has a great one. The costumes were molded in Satan’s hellfire, to be sure, but they were impressively designed and certainly achieved their goal. (I’m assuming “perpetual nightmares” was part of Fox’s M.O. when it created Terry Bradshaw’s Deer costume). And the voice modulators the contestants used when they weren’t singing were also quirky and slightly disturbing, adding to the surreality of the whole endeavor.

But even though The Masked Singer was renewed for a second season, it probably won’t return to us for a little while. So in its stead, I had a great (read: horrific) idea: What if more entertainment was like The Masked Singer? Would television be improved if more programming included garish costumes and people had the same voice modulators that serial killers use in movies? Perhaps not, but it’d definitely be an unforgettable viewing experience—and if we’re being honest with each other, I’m hoping that putting these thoughts out into the world will finally get the nightmares to stop. So here are five things that should be Masked Singer’d in the future, with the overwhelming point being that all things should be Masked Singer’d.

Monster dribbling a basketball in the 3-point contest TNT/Fox/Ringer illustration

NBA All-Star Weekend

I’m a realist: I know the actual NBA All-Star Game would be a serious safety hazard if 10 athletes were on the court in giant, puffy costumes. It would be considerably awkward to read headlines like “LeBron James Tears ACL as Robot Buffalo in Masked All-Star Game” in the morning, regardless of the fact that such a cataclysmic event would sustain The Ringer for weeks. But there are other elements of All-Star Weekend that could use the Masked Singer flourish—namely, the 3-point contest and the slam dunk contest.

Picture this: You know the NBA’s best 3-point shooters are probably going to compete—there’s your clue!—but they’re going to be in huge costumes that mask their figure, and, to an extent, their height. The best way to identify a masked contestant is trying to figure out the shooting form: Is that Steph Curry’s smooth motion underneath the Zebra, or are there echoes of Devin Booker’s release? Of course, after every round, the eliminated contestants would be unmasked, ending with the champion. Imagine the look on everyone’s faces if this format had been applied to February’s 3-point contest. Who among us would’ve correctly guessed that Joe Harris—as a giant kombucha bottle, in the spirit of Brooklyn—was the one who beat both Currys in a shooting contest? This would’ve been as shocking as T-Pain defeating Gladys Knight in a singing contest.

The same idea applies to the dunk contest, with the added wrinkle that the dunks themselves would need to feature some type of hint about the athlete’s identity. If that sounds unreasonable, well, NBA players have been adopting absurd slam dunk gimmicks for years—John Collins was a goddamn Wright brother this year. Everyone would be all in, and we’d lose our minds if Aaron Gordon won a dunk contest dressed as a Monstar.

The Bachelor offering a rose to Monster ABC/Fox/Ringer illustration

Reality Dating Shows

A masked dating show would simultaneously work as a throwback and something entirely new. You know those old dating shows where someone would pick among several prospective partners without looking at them—only getting to know them via questions that hint at their personality? Well, imagine that concept, but now all your potential boos are wearing Masked Singer costumes (and using voice modulators, of course).

Would someone be able to identify true love, if the love of their life is a giant, bedazzled tiger in a chair who sounds like they’ve been vaping helium for a week? Maybe not, but this is entertainment, after all. We’re not watching The Bachelor because the series has an earnest interest in letting people find their soulmates. And maybe all the masked artifice would allow the person behind the costume to let their personality genuinely shine through.

This setup would be most effective if the contestants were just random people and not celebrities, which means viewers wouldn’t get the chance to unpack clues before an unmasking. But while that element would be sorely missed, it would be replaced with the excitement of seeing a random person unmasked after falling in love with their personality: What’s the Flamingo gonna look like when he finally takes off his beak? Find out next week on The Masked Dater.

Monster singing at the Super Bowl with Maroon 5 CBS/Fox/Ringer illustration

Super Bowl Halftime Show Performance

This would be the closest to the Masked Singer ethos and the easiest to adapt—Left Shark was basically a Masked Singer outfit before Masked Singer existed. But here’s how it’d work: Instead of the NFL announcing who’d be performing the halftime show for next year’s Super Bowl, what if the league showed only a masked contestant, with clues being periodically released ahead of the big game? (Let’s also assume that the clues would be a lot trickier to unpack than the ones on The Masked Singer, allowing for more intrigue.)

This would require the contestant to perform a variety of songs—many of which probably aren’t their own—if the idea is for them to be unmasked at the end of their halftime show performance. And you know what? I’d be down for that. It’d be fun to subvert what people expect out of an artist or a band, the same way people who didn’t know much about T-Pain and never watched his Tiny Desk Concert, would’ve been shocked to hear him crush some Sam Smith in a Monster costume.

It probably wouldn’t have made Maroon 5’s show this year that much more memorable—especially if Adam Levine still insisted on showing off his abs despite being dressed as, like, a bald eagle. But future halftime shows would be elevated by the gimmick and provide people one more reason to be excited for the annual Super Bowl festivities. If the game itself has the potential to be a punter’s duel, the NFL might as well make the halftime show interesting, no matter who’s behind the mask.

Bear Grylls and Monster rappelling NBC/Fox/Ringer illustration

Running Wild With Bear Grylls

Like The Masked Singer, it’s hard to explain why watching a British survivalist with a penchant for drinking urine is compelling television: It just is. Bear Grylls is an artist of the natural world, and Running Wild is his Sistine Chapel. The show is Bear and a celebrity going through some grueling wilderness obstacle; chaos ensues. (Unless you’re Jake Gyllenhaal, in which case you seem disconcertingly enthusiastic about every challenge.)

But let’s add a new element to Running Wild: Bear Grylls will have no idea which celebrity he’s taking out for an adventure and will have to guess by the end of the episode with the help of some clues before a dramatic unmasking at the finish line. Naturally, this would require a costume better suited for movement—we can’t have a situation like Gladys Knight’s Bee outfit, where the “mouth hole” had to be adjusted after the first performance.

But so long as we get a Masked Singer–esque costume that can brave the elements, Running Wild: Masked Singer Edition would be appropriately bonkers. Bear Grylls would be like, “Well, Mr. Giraffe, it’s been five minutes and we haven’t found any sustenance, might as well pull together our resources and drink our own piss.” And the Giraffe, through a squeaky voice modulator, would say, “I have been known to drink yellow substances,” implying they’ve appeared in a sports-drink commercial. I’m adamant that this would be the biggest hit on television since Game of Thrones.

Monster presenting an Oscar ABC/Fox/Ringer illustration

The Oscars

Steven Spielberg, don’t read this. For everyone else, here’s the long-term solution the Oscars were looking for to spice up the telecast—one that will require fundamental changes to all of cinema. (Don’t worry, it’ll be worth it.)

If a studio wants their movie to be considered for the Oscars in the future, there’s a caveat: All the big actors in the project need to wear costumes and use voice modulators. I know, it’s going to be a tough transition at first—is The Favourite still The Favourite if the Queen is in a giant Rabbit costume?—but it’s all for the greater good. When the Oscar nominations in the acting categories are announced, the viewing audience will be put to the task of finding out who’s under the mask. The ceremony will also be slightly different: After the Best Supporting Actress winner is announced, for instance, the other four nominees will be unmasked, and then after that the masked winner will get a chance to grab their Oscar and reveal their identity to the crowd.

Not all films would need to make these changes; I’m not a monster. (Though T-Pain literally was.) The choice is in the studio’s hands—do you want a movie to slog through the psychological toil of awards season? Then you must be prepared to make a prestige film with nightmarish outfits, regardless of context. Picture how interesting this would’ve made previous ceremonies. Nobody would bat an eye at Daniel Day-Lewis picking up an Oscar, but if he won Best Actor after wearing a giant Beaver costume with an Abe Lincoln top hat, well, we’d be talking about his Method acting—in addition to copying Lincoln’s mannerisms, he really chewed through wood with his teeth for months—for the rest of our lives. More than anything, the Oscar ratings would finally move in the right direction. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Or you know, all the presenters and the Oscars host could wear masks and leave little clues about themselves. But that doesn’t sound nearly as fun, and plus, it’d add to the ceremony’s already exhaustive runtime. If the Academy wants to remain relevant—and certain movies want to be taken seriously—it’ll have to cater to the trends of today. Forget Best Popular Film; nobody cares who these people are until they put on the mask. It’s The Masked Singer’s chaotic world now. We’re all just living in it.