Welcome to The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best. Sir Richard Branson is the billionaire in charge for this show. As I watched The Benefactor and did columns for that, I think it will be interesting to compare these two shows. Anyway, it is revealed that while the contestants think they are competing for a job for Sir Richard Branson, they are actually competing for the biggest prize in reality TV history: Branson’s job. That’s right, they are going to take over the Virgin empire…they will become the next billionaire. That’s some heavy stuff right there. We are then treated to the intro scene, using Live and Let Die as the theme music. Which is a very good choice, in my opinion.
The adventure starts off in England at Branson’s estate. Branson says that this will be a new adventure and challenge for him as well as the contestants. The contestants arrive in groups to the mansion in separate taxi cabs. Or so they think. The taxi driver is actually Branson, which is revealed as he takes off his mask a la Mission: Impossible to his pretty flight attendants, Georgia and Frankie. Branson says that he wanted to get a real sense of who the contestants are, he asked them questions in the car ride and evaluated them, and based on the cab ride, two of them will be eliminated immediately. (It really seems like this immediate elimination thing has gotten to be a trend in reality shows lately…honestly I don’t like it much.)
We get our first set of confessionals, as we see the contestants watching a limo pull up to the estate. Nicole says she’s kind of nervous, Sara says she’s a CEO of her company, and she thinks this will be a humbling experience. Tim says this is a great chance to see what he can do. Spencer says that he’s young, hungry, greedy, and motivated. Steve says, and I quote. “I will make every one of them my bitch.” I like this guy already.
They are watching the limo, and as the limo door opens, a Donald Trump lookalike steps out, and the contestants laugh. A regular taxi cab then pulls up, and Branson steps out of that. As the contestants are giddily having a drink, Branson drops the bombshell…he was the taxi driver, and based on first impressions, he’s eliminating two people right there. Steve is shocked and nervous, says that they’ve only been there for 30 minutes and two people are leaving already. Branson states that three people gave him bad impressions. He says Aisha didn’t come realizing what the challenge was all about, apparently he didn’t like the fact that she compared herself to J.Lo. Shawn was with two ladies and yet he didn’t help them or the taxi driver pack the bags into the cab, and he was a bit cocky for Branson’s tastes. Finally, Spencer was rude to the taxi driver, and Branson says he wants the person that is taking over his company to be warm to people like taxi drivers.
After a brief dramatic montage complete with dramatic music, Branson eliminates Aisha and Spencer. Spencer looks disgusted, and Aisha starts crying. She tells Branson that she’s a businesswoman and she sacrificed her husband and son to be here. Branson says that now she’ll be able to go back and be with them. Branson privately says that as much as Aisha and Spencer would be good employees, they couldn’t run his company, and that’s what this is about. He tells everyone left that 4 AM the next morning, seven of them will be doing something. Shawn says he’s been given a second chance, and he’s going to give the next challenge his all.
3:30 AM, the flight attendants show up (hot uniforms too, rawr) and the 14 contestants go outside….to see a huge hot air balloon. Sara says that she enjoys being on the ground, so she’s a bit scared of what might happen. Jermaine says that you have to mentally have your game on, and Heather says she was about to simultaneously pee in her pants and throw up. Gabriel says they were all expecting a hot air balloon at some point, but not this early. Sara is afraid of heights, and Jennifer says she’ll throw up if she has to participate. Branson reveals that the people selected will have to cross between two balloons at ten thousand feet. Jeeeebus. Branson divides the group into two, 7 are safe, the other 7 he wants to take a closer look at. Sam is convinced that Branson is dividing the groups up because he wants to see certain qualities brought out from certain people. Shawn is made the leader of the flight group because of his almost-elimination in the taxi cab driver challenge.
Branson makes it known that Shawn will choose the order of people that come across. It will reveal first impressions of people, and that it’s best for them not to be chosen last, and they have to get the entire team from one balloon to the other before they separate. Sara tells the group that she is afraid of heights, and she should go first because the longer she waits, the more time it will take her and the more likely it is she’ll lock up. Branson is convinced that participating in extreme physical challenges will prove that people can be successful in the field.
Shawn decides to cross between balloons first. If it isn’t all that bad, he’ll choose Sara to come across after him. If he thinks it’s scary, he’ll choose Michael. He looks down as he’s about to cross and says “it’s the team vs. Sara vs. me.” They have 15 minutes to get across totally. Branson says “go!” and Shawn starts to go. He gets across, and with a lot more dramatic music, Shawn chooses Michael instead of Sara. Michael says that he wasn’t afraid, but as soon as he looked down he thought “Wow, this is crazy.” He makes it across fast though, and he chooses Erica. Erica, Nicole, and Jessica all make it across fast. Sara is feeling betrayed, being left alone in the balloon as Tim goes next. However, he hits the safety wire twice, and has to go back. It’s Sara’s turn. Her heart is racing and she knows the team is low on time. However, she hits the wire twice unconsciously as well. Tim and Sara are left on the balloon as the other balloon breaks apart and goes back to land. Branson then tells Tim and Sara they’re going to go with him to the top of the balloon and have a tea party, if they don’t make it up to the top, they will be eliminated from the game. If they both make it, he will choose between them. He then proceeds to go out on the ladder first and climb up: he doesn’t want to fail in front of the two younger participants. He feels exhausted after the climb, and is afraid Sara won’t be able to do it. (Now this is a reality show host…he does the challenges himself. Let’s see Probst pull that off!)
On the ground, Shawn is worried that Sir Branson won’t like his decision. He says that his job was to get as many people across as possible, and Sara would have hindered that, but now he is second-guessing his decision. Back in the air, Tim makes it up the climb with no problem. Sara, on the other hand, is taking longer. Upwards of 40 minutes pass before she finally reaches the top of the balloon, exhausted but thrilled at the same time. She’s so excited, she forgets where she is….on top of a balloon, and her leg goes straight through the balloon, and she nearly falls to her death. Holy crap. But this is a reality show, it’s okay! Branson and Tim and Sara clink glasses and have tea on the balloon. Branson says they must be the first people to have tea on a balloon. Tim says he’s not going to spend time worrying about tomorrow, he wants to enjoy the experience. Sara says she doesn’t envy her host’s decision at all.
Sir Richard says that the decision between Tim and Sara will be very difficult. Back on the ground, in a cab, Tim talks about how he argued a case in front of the Supreme Court. Sara laughs and says “Gee Tim, all I do is make people’s butts look better.” As Tim and Sara recount their story to the others, Shawn private confesses that he is rethinking his leadership. He is afraid Sara might feel betrayed, and he feels badly that she took one for the team, and will feel even worse if she ends up going home.
We now get treated to the corny catch-phrase of this particular reality TV show. “The airplane has been fueled, it is time to go, a decision has to be made.” Twelve contestants get on the plane, but Sara and Tim face Branson. Branson says that maybe Shawn was a bit Machiavellian in his nature of putting Tim and Sara last, as they are both strong players that could make it all the way. He says Tim is bright, and Sara is a real entrepeneur. Branson gives the tickets out, one is with him for the plane trip, the other is back home to America. It then goes to inside the plane, Sam says they are anxiously waiting to see who is eliminated. Shawn feels bad because the person leaving is his fault, and it is on his shoulders. Branson walks in, and who is following him? Sara. Candida says that Sara definitely deserves to stay, as she is strong. Tim is left standing on the tarmac, and he says that he wouldn’t change a single thing about the experience. He’d do it again in a heartbeat, and he’s so thrilled to have been a part of it.
Back on the plane, Branson tells them that they will be headed to Hong Kong next, and pops a champagne bottle…..
And the second part of the premiere will be covered in the second part of my column! Stay tuned!