How Josh Duhamel Turned His Real-Life ‘Buddy Games’ Into a CBS Reality Show

It’s no secret that Josh Duhamel and his childhood friends have competed in a slew of backyard Olympics they dubbed the “Buddy Games” since the mid-90s. Duhamel treasured the concept so much that he first brought it to screens in a 2019 comedy. And now the “Transformers” actor is vowing to “tell the reality” of the games through a CBS reality show.

“One of the things that I hold most dear is my group of buddies — we stay in touch all day, every day, in some form or fashion… and we look forward to seeing each other,” Duhamel told TheWrap ahead of the show’s premiere. “What we wanted to bring to this was to give what we do to the world and bring it to the masses and formalize it in some way, and allow people around the world to watch something that they will see in these groups on TV and hopefully want to be a part of it.”

While Duhamel’s first “Buddy Games” venture was not unlike his  previous scripted ventures, the newest iteration, which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m., plunged him into the world of unscripted as he took on hosting responsibilities for the first time in his career.

“I’d never hosted anything — I didn’t really know what to do other than I just wanted it to feel real, and I wanted to be as connected and down in the trenches with these people as much as I could,” Duhamel said, adding that he’s still “a big kid in a lot of ways.”

“I didn’t want to ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself so I did dummy tests on all these games beforehand” he added.

Duhamel also admitted that he wanted to emulate the trouble-making qualities of his friend, Bob, who can typically be found pranking people and stirring the pot, Duhamel said.

“I knew that I wanted to not only be their supportive camp counselor, but also a bit of an antagonist and prod these people a little bit to see how they responded,” Duhamel said. “There needed to be a lot of smack talking, there needed to be sabotaging each other and trying to get a leg up on other teams —there needed to be some dirty play, because that’s just fun.”

As the CBS team brought in friend groups from across the country to compete on the show, Duhamel had one ask for the network during the casting process: that the friends be “ride or die” since childhood.

“That was my one thing that I wanted to really watch closely in these casting sessions [was] how well do these people really know each other?” Duhamel said. “Because this isn’t a show that’s just about how athletic you are, it’s really about how to strategize [with] each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The six groups of four friends cast on the show’s first season reflected a wide variety of walks of life, including police officers, pageant queens and derby teammates. The plot, of course, thickened when the 24 contestants began living in the same house over the course of the games — a choice Duhamel said he didn’t agree with at first.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s gonna be awkward — there’s going to be trysts and in-fighting and people are gonna be backstabbing each other. But the truth is, they really treated it like a big adult summer camp,” Duhamel said. “Yes, there were some differences amongst the groups, and yes, some of the groups played each other against each other and made alliances. But for the most part, it was a lot more civil than I expected it to be. All of the drama really happened within the groups themselves, not so much with other groups, and that was, what I thought was kind of beautiful about it — it’s truly a social experiment.”

While Duhamel admitted there are some elements of his real-life “Buddy Games” audiences “wouldn’t even believe,” Duhamel made sure the show replicated the sabotage that is ever-present within his group of friends.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we have a game where we allow these people to f—k with each other a little bit,” Duhamel said. “[If one team wins] a certain competition, they can sabotage another team, and it’ll create drama … resentment and all those things within the groups. And it really worked — those sabotages ultimately are the demise of a lot of these teams.”

With Duhamel’s friends wishing they could compete on the show, the host and EP noted he is committed to the show for the long haul and has explored a “Junior” version of the series in which kids would compete in the games.

“It’s so different than anything scripted in that… everyday is a new day,” Duhamel said, adding that seeing unexpected outcomes play out was fun to watch. “It’s a month of on-set shooting, and it’s one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had… I hope that we have big success, and I get to keep doing it for the next 20 years.”

“Buddy Games” premieres Thursday, Sept. 14 at 9 p.m. on CBS and will be available to stream live and on-demand on Paramount+.

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