This travel game takes Connect Four to the next level

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Connection of four western US states with a straight line are easy to map: many of them are already represented in a square grid, making it easy, for example, to draw a vertical line from Kansas to Dakota or a horizontal line from Kansas to Nevada. But accomplishing the same task on the ground using rental cars, last-minute flights and a $5,000 budget is much more difficult, and that’s not even considering that your opponents can steal the state from you. Welcome to Jetlag: The Gamewhich could be the world’s largest Connect Four game ever made.

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The first season of this game show, developed by Wendover Productions, aired last month on YouTube and Nebula, and the second season will be released internationally on Nebula on June 29th. The show begins as a race in Colorado and doesn’t fade in its energy over the next three days of travel as two teams of two travel to state capitals to complete tasks to claim the state as their own before racing on to the next one. To avoid spoilers in this interview, we won’t dive into the twists and turns that take place throughout the series (or Season 2), but they are fun and often use logistical or geographic skills that I’ve never seen in a game show. .

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Wendover Productions founder Sam Denby has been working with Jet lag co-creators Ben Doyle and Adam Chase on making a game show for streaming. Denby met with WIRED to discuss developing a carbon offset travel series, filming the entire show with an iPhone 13 Pro and flipping Great race technique on the head. His answers have been edited for more length and clarity.


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WIRED: What was your inspiration or cultural touchstone for Jet lag?

Denby: The most important cultural touchstone is basically obvious, Amazing race. I’ve always liked this show, but I always thought it could be better. It’s kind of like a traditional game show in a travel context. Travel is like a background for competition. I thought you could turn that around and turn the trip into a competition. You can be a better traveler than anyone else, especially if you add in all those uncertainties and real world circumstances. Also, we realized that you can’t just show up in a random place with a film crew, but you can with the help of YouTube or a vlog. Due to our low-budget nature, we may be better able to perceive the spontaneity of real world travel than the more budgetary broadcast equivalents.

Jet Lag co-creators Ben Doyle and Adam Chase are in Milan, Italy putting together a go-kart as part of the second season challenge.Photo: Sam Denby

Could you explain to readers how you filmed your set and how it differs from other reality/game show crews?

After filming three seasons, our camera is the simplest we’ve ever had. We filmed the first season on iPhones, GoPros and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema, which was scary to carry all over the country, especially in Vegas in 110-degree heat. We even brought a mini-drone with us, which never saw the light of day. We learned that we need to optimize production so that it doesn’t interfere with content. So we’ve simplified to iPhone 13 Pros, Rode lav microphones and some 360° cameras. We’re always on the move, so we needed super-reliable cameras that were easy to use, charge, and transfer data. Right now, we are fully manufacturing the iPhone 13 Pro. They are so easy to find, so if we break a device halfway through, the possibility of just getting a direct replacement within an hour or two is huge.

What will change in season 2?

In season 2, the format of the game is completely different, and this is a completely different location. Basically, it’s a round-the-world race. We started in Denver, and the first team to get back to Denver after crossing all the lines of longitude and covering more than the Tropic of Cancer (about 22,500 miles) wins. There is a commercial circumnavigation record; it’s something that people regularly do. Usually the people who do it help a little, or it’s loud enough that the airlines try to make it happen.

We didn’t want to do any of that. We wanted to make a real version, dealing with check-in queues and screening queues, and what really inspired us to do it now is the additional complexity that Covid brings, like having to think about opening borders, Covid tests, entry forms, massive security lines and understaffed airports.

How did you manage safety while filming a state-changing game show during the global pandemic, especially given the varying levels of state safety and Covid management?

This format is partly dictated by the fact that it is quite good in the context of Covid, because it was developed during Covid. In many of the other productions we do, we have to spend months of prep work to arrange interviews, site visits and field trips. We would have to start fixing dates months in advance, it’s really hard when you never know when the next wave of Covid will be. Here, all we do in advance is just design the game, we don’t spend money on production. We could have decided two hours before that we won’t do it now because the Covid numbers are too high or because this person in the cast tested positive and not lose value. We’ve only ever filmed when rates are relatively low and in the post-vaccination era, and then we move on to the usual vaccination precautions, pre-departure and arrival testing, and wearing masks.

Could you tell me more about how you offset your carbon footprint from flights with financing the replacement of Burmese cooking stoves? What were your main takeaways on carbon offsets after the release of the video during Jet lagbroadcast called “The problem of offsetting carbon emissions”.

The big takeaway from this video was that the carbon offset market is essentially a scam because it incentivizes fraudulent offsets by incentivizing the cheapest offsets. What’s even worse is that carbon offsets can actually be effective! This is not an impossible proposition. The system just doesn’t work that way. So we have defined the certifier [the Gold Standard] it really takes into account all the different aspects that make for effective carbon offsets and is best suited to building a system that ensures they actually meet those various guidelines. The worst cases we saw were among the big certifiers that tripled or quadrupled their offsets, so we offset 10 times more carbon than we thought because then we were pretty sure that even if this program turned out to be big . scam, there is still some benefit.

We don’t want to inspire others to go and do something similar with their friends. Many people asked us to sell the packaged game to play with friends in the same way, or to sell Jet lag season 1 cards. We will never sell products that encourage others to travel by plane. I think it’s very likely that in the future we will, for example, create urban versions of this that we can sell as merchandise that is still fun and travel oriented, but doesn’t significantly increase carbon emissions.

Jetlag season 1 team (Sam Denby, Ben Doyle, Adam Chase and Brian McManus) after capturing the state capital.Photo: Sam Denby

Every Episode Jet lag goes live on Nebula a week early, which is like a YouTube expansion pack full of educational or STEM video creators. What role did Nebula and this community play in the launch Jet lag channel?

This channel was created after Nebula became a successful streaming site. It was originally designed as a channel optimized for the Nebula ecosystem. Full transparency, because it is a very expensive channel for the production of each video. We spend an amount that requires it to be a certain level of success in order to just break even. But Nebula has always been a power multiplier for creators. We only have a quarter of a million views and it has already paid off financially with so many views and sponsorship from Nebula. Without Nebula and the fact that Nebula let us pilot it, it would have to be much bigger and more successful, and that would be a risk we probably couldn’t take. They gave us a check to turn this crazy format into a Nebula original and we found out that the format was good.

Without spoiling the show, what was the most emotional moment you had as a member?

No spoilers? Maybe not the one most, but I think it’s easy for the viewer to overlook how tiring it is. It’s a brutally tiring sight for a film. Imagine a bad day of travel when you end up waiting between connecting flights and flying in and out of airports all day. Yes, that’s what 14 hours a day on consecutive days. Of course we run outside, but any time outside we are on the clock and then back to the sterile environment of airports. It’s really nice to put a lot of work into some small amount of time, fun but exhausting work, and then be done with it and be able to go home and take a nap.

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