Spy Games is unlike any other reality TV competition you've seen before. Each week, average civilians go head-to-head in grueling, espionage-inspired challenges of the mind and body, and whoever can't stand the heat is sent home. If you've ever wondered what goes into creating an intense series like this, you're in luck.
We have some exclusive behind-the-scenes info from one of the show's producers (who serves as Vice President, Current Production at Bravo), Matt Reichman. Luckily, he's holding nothing back — from the series' biggest inspiration to the three Bravolebs he thinks could win the competition.
What can viewers expect from Spy Games? How would you describe the series?
Matt Reichman: Spy Games is a unique twist on a competition series. It’s the ultimate fantasy camp for anybody who has ever watched , Carrie Mathison, or on screen and been fascinated. We’re essentially giving ordinary people those experiences, but in a competition setting and really testing whether they could succeed in those same types of high-stakes situations.
Aside from the subject matter, how does Spy Games compare to Bravo's other reality competition series like Top Chef and Project Runway, in terms of format, production, challenges, eliminations, etc.?
MR: I would say Spy Games is a mix between Fear Factor, Big Brother, and Survivor — entirely based on a real CIA training program developed during WWII. There’s a lot to love for fans of competition series that showcase cool, outrageous challenges. It taps into a lot of those elements — mental game play, alliances shifting — that make the competition about more than just the physical challenges.
That being said, Spy Games feels like a different kind of competition series for Bravo. Why does this feel like the right series for the network to launch, and why is now the right time?
MR: This is a fresh take on a competition series for Bravo. But it’s also such a fit because of the personalities on screen and the level of storytelling, the mind games and deception. Some of the best shows we have to offer that dive into the psyche... this is a fun play on that. It’s a game. The winner is not going to be a professional spy, but they get to experience that ultimate spy fantasy. The high-stakes nature of the competition seems out of this world, but it has the fun play along that our shows capture so well. And the authenticity of the entire thing, in that we have real-life intelligence professionals as judges and challenges inspired by a real CIA training program, is also very true to what our viewers are used to seeing.
What are you most excited for viewers to see when Spy Games premieres?
MR: Once the foundation of the series is set in the first couple episodes, there is so much drama and tension that unfolds. It’s exciting to watch ordinary people — who’ve probably always thought they have what it takes — attempt to master these intense challenges and to actually see if they were right about themselves. I think it’s relatable in that there’s something for everyone to pull from – competitors range from stay-at-home moms to law students to psychologists. There’s something really great about being able to see the average person you can relate to be put through this process and see how they come out of it and what they learn about themselves. This show is for any viewer that has ever read a spy novel or seen a spy movie and been inspired.
What sorts of qualities were you looking for in the competitors for this series?
MR: We were looking for all walks of life. The unexpected. Every single competitor thinks they are probably more qualified than they are, but they each have a unique skillset. Put these individual skills together and you’d probably have one great spy. We were looking for people who were uniquely qualified to compete — someone might be a master of deception or good at keeping secrets, another has the physical stamina and endurance, but someone else has a high threshold for pain or is cool under pressure. All of these elements that play into being a spy, but that we found in average people.
Spy Games is inspired by the once-secret World War II government program known as "Station S." How much/in what ways is the series inspired by Station S? What can you tell us about Station S?
MR: The series is directly inspired by Station S. Some of the challenges are modern interpretations of the exact training those who participated in the program went through. We even consulted with people that have trained CIA agents when designing the challenges. Our assessors also weighed in and it helped us ensure that every situation we put our contestants through resembled what an actual spy might go through, but in a competition setting.
Does the series draw inspiration from any other espionage stories from real life, movies, TV, books, etc.? If so, what?
MR: It’s really built around Station S, which has since evolved into the CIA. That’s the real inspiration behind Spy Games. We tried to play with visual motifs that pointed back to that, but we amped it up to really try to give viewers the full effect of being immersed into the spy world.
What can viewers expect from the assessors this season?
MR: Hard-nosed feedback and authenticity. The assessors are real-life intelligence experts and well-established in their respective fields, so their assessments of the competitors are as real as it gets. Their feedback is definitely a reality-check for the contestants throughout the competition.
What went into the decision to have the assessors choose which competitor gets eliminated versus having the contestants vote?
MR: We wanted to give an authoritative voice and rationale to each decision made when it came to who went home and who stayed. The goal of this competition is to beat the game, but the challenges are heavily skill-based and based on a real training program, so we wanted real voices to move the competition forward.
How did you go about designing the challenges for this competition?
MR: We had a great team of producers, some of which came from Survivor and were very inspired by that source material. We wanted challenges that were going to test all the elements — from mental strength, to physical endurance, to the psyche. The assessors also weighed in to ensure that the challenges stayed true to what an actual spy might encounter.
What's the most challenging part of filming a competition series like this?
MR: There were a lot of moving parts. Testing challenges to make sure they would work to tell a complete story, honoring what the contestants were going through physically and mentally and designing challenges that were capturing that journey, all while making it exciting for viewers. We wanted to ensure that the thrill the contestants were feeling translated to the screen.
Which Bravolebs do you think could win the show if they competed?
Check out the preview below to see the competition in action, and watch Spy Games every Monday night at 10/9c on Bravo.
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