With reality shows like The Apprentice, Making the Band and Shark Tank, the notion of “impress me publicly” has reached next-level status from the original “toss several strangers in the room and see what happens” premise. In what seems like the most dramatic job interview ever, shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, America’s Next Top Model, RuPaul’s Drag Race and So You Think You Can Dance unapologetically exploit your (claimed) talent for judges and millions of eyes to see. Do you want fame? Well, fame costs, and you must pay in ratings.
Known for his rapping, acting and penchant for super-syllabic commentary, T.I. (governmentally known as Clifford Harris) has combined the main ingredients from each of these shows and more in BET’s newest iteration. Set in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, The Grand Hustle is a one-hour series following men and women vying for the top spot to win a position on T.I.’s executive team and a six-figure salary.
Viewers are introduced to contestants George, Nykyta, Yonathan, Jillian, Terron, Ivan, Javi, Cierra, Grace, Brandon, Jonathan, Krystal, Troy, Christopher, Akeylah, Jonathan T. and Vanessa — each hungry for the win. The series hits every character type with various backstories. Whether it’s the man fighting for his pregnant finacée and future family or the woman who escaped the hood with the goal of never looking back, each contestant has their eye on the prize equipped with a customized tunnel vision.
From the “Hustle-HER” and the “Not Donald Trump Black Republican to the “ATL plug” and the “Nice Girl, But Don’t Push Her,” there’s a potpourri of personalities in the Atlanta mansion — but, only one will become the “Grand Hustler.”
Shadow and Act had the privilege of previewing the first three episodes of the series: “Welcome to the Mansion/Trading Up,” “A.K.O.O. Pop-Up Sale” and “Hustle Gang Launch Party.” While there are no immediate “fetch me a cheesecake from Junior’s” gimmicks (would the Atlanta version be fetching steak from Bones?) in the first part of the series, T.I. has his contestants starting from scratch with Business 101: make something out of nothing.
Because it wouldn’t be a reality show without it, the phrase “I’m not here to make friends” is easily uttered within the first 15 minutes of the pilot. Egos and personality clash as the contestants become teams who have to learn to work together. Yes, mastering the art of collaboration in business is essential, but they’re still in a competition. It’s a healthy balance.
Each episode focuses on a particular challenge, while T.I. scopes their moves back at the mansion alongside his business partners and associates. The first three challenges involve leveling-up a trade using a simple bottle of water, selling clothes from T.I.’s A.K.O.O. clothing label and throwing a listening party for GFM Bryce, Rara, Translee, Brandon Rossi, Yung Booke and Tokyo Jetz of T.I.’s Hustle Gang music label. If they fall, they better snap back faster than you can say “Rubberband Man.” The contestants scramble to impress their (hopefully) future boss; shenanigans indeed ensue, and it all culminates into a final determination at the end of the episode. That’s right, an elimination: which one doesn’t deserve to be a part of his Hustle Empire?
Overall, there’s somebody for everyone to root for, and there’s also somebody for everyone to hate. Classic reality fodder, but with T.I.’s Southern circumlocutory drawl.
The Grand Hustle premieres July 19 on BET at 10 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CT.