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The Second Season of ‘The Chase’ Is Faster, Funnier, and Maybe Even Smarter

The game show takes a crack at a do-or-die TV question: How do you fix a broken game?

ABC/Ringer illustration

The problem with the first season of The Chase was that it was, well, slow.

There are plenty of slow game shows, of course. Family Feud might be raucous, but it’s not much for hitting the gas; compared to its Sony sibling Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune feels downright languid. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, with just 15 much-deliberated-upon questions to the million-dollar prize, might as well be a ride down a lazy river.

But The Chase is just that: a chase. Or at any rate that’s what it’s meant to be. The format has three contestants go egghead to egghead with a noted trivia mind, first one-on-one, and then, if they manage to hold them off, as a group. In last winter’s inaugural season, the resident trivia nerds, dubbed the Chasers, were the trio of contenders from last year’s Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament: Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter.

Yet the much-ballyhooed American reinvention (technically a re-reinvention, after a short-lived edition on Game Show Network from 2013 to 2015) of a long-standing British favo(u)rite didn’t feel very much like a sprint. The first season often felt bloated and stilted, with host Sara Haines moving placidly through long questions—an effect that was both boring for viewers and disastrous for contestants, who rack up money and fend off the Chaser based on how many questions they’re able to answer correctly within specific time limits. The show was fine, but it was not the sharp, snappy game that has made The Chase both popular with trivia obsessives everywhere and a consistent ratings smash in the U.K., where this season—its 14th—drew a record audience of more than 5 million viewers.

The producers seem to have adjusted. Executive producer Vin Rubino contended in May that the slow pace was at least partly intended to hook a mainstream audience, and the offseason was dotted with hints that the second season would be better. “The pace is faster, and the game mechanics have been tweaked to encourage more contestants to gamble for the bigger prize,” said Holzhauer, who competed on the Game Show Network version before his 2019 Jeopardy! star turn.

The new season debuted Sunday and it is indeed faster: Haines now seems to be in as much of a hurry as her contestants, to the show’s great benefit. And rewards for an early round of questions known as the Cash Builder have dropped from $25,000 per correct answer to $10,000, in theory incentivizing players to make riskier choices to bump up the pool of money. Season 2 also involves a bit of additional firepower brought in from the Chase brain trust: Jennings, Holzhauer, and Rutter are now joined by a fourth Chaser named Mark Labbett, a British quiz show staple nicknamed “the Beast.” Labbett is so well known for his routine beatdowns of the quizzing public that he’s something of a minor celebrity; in addition to the British and Australian versions of The Chase, he also served as one of the in-house experts on the Game Show Network edition—on which he duked it out with Holzhauer in what he said in 2019 was “the worst beating I’ve ever had.” (His nickname, for the record, might have a tiny bit to do with the fact that he is 6-foot-6.)

Together, the changes make for a more competitive game—which is the point, in a more explicit way than other game shows. At its core, The Chase offers trivia whizzes the chance to call their own bluffs: Sure, you think you could clean up on a show like Jeopardy! as you shout the answers from your couch, but what would happen if you actually went up against one of the show’s best players?

It is, therefore, an inherently adversarial game. While most quiz shows feature contestants playing against their fellow contestants (Jeopardy!) or themselves (Millionaire), The Chase is a direct confrontation with a pro. Victories are rare: Most players leave with diddly squat, and the Chaser is generally portrayed as a spiteful demigod, sparring from on high with those who dare to encroach on the stage. Sunday featured Jennings as the first Chaser up; “I think you should have stayed home today,” he deadpanned to a perfectly lovely stay-at-home parent who put up a middling performance.

While the Chasers will alternate throughout this summer’s weekly installments, it’s worth mentioning that Jennings is also funny—a good reminder, as the conclusion of the Jeopardy! host sweepstakes looms, about just how strong the 74-time champ’s candidacy for that show is. In Sunday’s episode, he repeatedly had Haines and players alike in hysterics. “This is great for horny moms watching,” Jennings fired back when Haines (who doubles as the players’ ally) and a contestant shared an aside about the joys of Outlander and Bridgerton.

Should Jennings get the Jeopardy! nod, his days on The Chase are likely numbered; Labbett’s addition read to some as preparation for that possibility. But in the meantime, The Chase goes on—finally with the speed and stakes that its name implies.