Everyone’s got that one reality tv show they’re just a little bit embarrassed to admit they like to watch...
Mine used to be Holiday Wars. You know, the Food Network show where teams of bakers and food artists compete by creating intricate holiday scenes out of fondant and other baking voo-doo magic? It’s a lot of creativity and skill combined with mystery challenges and a little bit of drama and competition. I was secretly hooked last year.
So when I found out there’s a similar reality show, but instead of baking, it revolves around concrete?? I immediately added it to my “must watch” list.
Concrete Combat - a concrete-based competitive reality show - is my new guilty pleasure. And with the punny tagline of “Who will cement their name in history, and who will crack under pressure?” how can you NOT want to watch it?
Duos of professional contractors compete head to head in a surprise, timed concrete-related construction or repair challenge. It’s win or go home, with the prevailing team in each episode moving on. According to a press release, the bracket-style tournament will culminate in the top teams competing for the championship at the World of Concrete in Las Vegas in 2022.
The catch? It’s sponsored by Sakrete. I discovered that each episode is essentially one giant infomercial for Sakrete products. But honestly, what a unique and entertaining-but-educational marketing format. With that kind of creativity, I think they’ve earned the right to promote themselves and their products.
So far, there are only a handful of episodes on Sakrete’s Youtube channel, but if the rest of the episodes are similar to the first two, you can expect some sort of concrete-related construction or repair challenge where each team takes a different approach. One team will use a traditional method with more time-tested, cheaper Sakrete products, while the other team will use a more innovative method with newer, more expensive Sakrete products.
For example, in episode one, teams were tasked with building a concrete block retaining wall. One team constructed the wall with traditional masonry mortar joint technique, while the other team went with dry-stacked blocks coated with Sakrete’s surface bonding cement with fibers. From my engineering point of view, both walls lost since neither was grouted or reinforced. However, I’d never seen a dry-stacked retaining wall, so it was interesting to learn about the surface bonding cement product and watch it get applied - and see how it held up to the sledge hammer demo test, compared to the traditional wall.
The second episode involved concrete sidewalk resurfacing, and more unique challenges are sure to come. The teams’ finished products are judged by a panel consisting of Mike Day of the “Mike Day Concrete” Youtube channel, Dirk Tharpe of Sakrete, and a special guest judge with expertise related to the specific episode challenge.
But today we’re turning the judging tables! For this review, I’ll be grading Concrete Combat in four categories: entertainment, education, format, and overall. Ratings will be based on the 5-star system…but to keep with the theme, I’ll be using concrete cylinders in lieu of stars.
Reality shows are known for their drama: mishaps in planning or execution leading to friction between team members and light trash talking between teams. Concrete Combat comes close. I think by nature, skilled contractors are generally more focused on getting their own job done than bickering or judging work. But I think we might see a little more bantering between teams as the show progresses.
Either way, I just like concrete, so getting to see repairs like this, with or without the repartee, is pretty interesting and entertaining for me. However, those outside of AEC circles may understandably have a hard time getting into it.
As an engineer, I am always on the lookout for new products or the best solution to specify for a given condition. Getting to see professional contractors in action with two similar products while a panel of judges discussed pros and cons of each was a really engaging way for me to acquire information. My one big criticism is that the product discussions have not been quantitative enough for me as an engineer. You say one product is cheaper but more labor intensive, but the other product is more expensive but a time saver? Well how much is one versus the other? How many hours would the more expensive product save? Give me numbers.
Overall, I found the episodes educational in that they exposed me to new products and I got to see live applications, but I could have benefitted from more informative, quantitative discussions from the panel of judges.
Again, props to Sakrete for taking such an innovative approach to marketing. They really went all out to commit to the “reality show” format, even recruiting small-time actor/director/narrator Brittany Goodwin to moderate and really set the competition reality show atmosphere. The one aspect of Concrete Combat that I think could improve is the judging format. My number-driven engineering brain wants more than just judging based on “heart” (I’m looking at you, Dirk Tharpe). In each episode, they specifically state the categories on which they are judging (cost, time, aesthetics, strength, etc). Having judges assign point values to the categories would not only avoid seemingly arbitrary selections of winners, but help the audience truly understand the pros and cons of these products.
Fun show for the average AEC nerd. Although I wish there were more quantitative discussions and tangible judging approaches (Sakrete, feel free to borrow my concrete cylinder rating scheme), I’ve enjoyed seeing comparative products in action in this entertaining format. Looking forward to new episodes and seeing what other concrete challenges they come up with.
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