NBC’s new Hot Wheels TV show delights kids of all ages
The beauty of Hot Wheels, like many of the toys we treasure, is the way they inspire kids to use their imaginations. Turns out, Hot Wheels does the same for big kids, too.
Mattel’s iconic die-cast vehicles have been inspiring car lovers of all ages since 1968, and now some of those kids are turning their actual cars into life-size Hot Wheels on NBC’s new hour-long show Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge, which debuted on May 30.
Like the iconic toy cars that we grew up loving, the competition is good, clean, family fun. And although it airs at a time—Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern—that’s not exactly family friendly, each episode can be streamed on Peacock the following day.
Hosted by aw-shucks nice guy Rutledge Wood, Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge features two “superfans” who are tasked with turning their dream designs into reality. Each contestant has a touching story to tell about a car that changed their lives, and an identical model serves as the basis for their build.
“Buckle up for the ride of your life,” Wood says in the intro, “where car-loving Hot Wheels fans get the chance of a lifetime … transforming nostalgic cars from their past into life-size Hot Wheels of their dreams.”
The winner of each round gets $25,000 and a spot in the finals. The overall champion (of 16 contestants) gets an additional $50,000, plus the honor of having their custom creation made into a Hot Wheels car that will be sold to the public.
Wood, who auto enthusiasts may know from the American version of Top Gear, is joined by fellow judges Dalal Elsheikh, a Hot Wheels ambassador and designer for Ford Motor Company, and car culture influencer Hertrech “Hert” Eugene Jr. Each week also introduces a new celebrity judge, who in the premiere episode is Terry Crews, host of America’s Got Talent.
The first two superfans to square off are 24-year-old Jadejha Edwards, of Houston, and 58-year-old “Jerzey” Jim Farrell, of Forked River, New Jersey.
Jadejha chooses a 2009 Chevrolet Camaro to match the car her aunt drove when Jadejha went to live with her as a teenager. Now a cybersecurity engineer, Jadejha says her aunt offered her constant encouragement and a safe place to live and dream. “Who I am today,” she says, “started right there in that car.”
Jim, a custom van outfitter, selects a 1969 Dodge Charger like the one that he and his father restored together—and painted bright yellow—decades ago. This one wears black matte paint, just as his previous Charger did prior to its final paint job. “Seeing that car again feels like I’m 18 years old, man,” Jim says.
Given one week to design and build their cars, each contestant receives help from three experts from the “Car Pool,” who are charged with making their dreams a reality. It all begins in the “Chrome Zone,” where hundreds of actual Hot Wheels serve as inspiration. Once the build begins, there are plenty of hurdles to clear along the way. That includes a curveball thrown by the Hot Wheels crew more than halfway through the build: the Inspirationator 5000, the huge centerpiece of the set, selects an actual Hot Wheels car, and the fabricators are required to incorporate one of its design elements into their own cars.
Jadejha wants the Camaro to be green and have a low, wide, futuristic look that reflects her job in cybersecurity—and the sense of indestructability she felt whenever she rode in her aunt’s car. Jim requires two things: the Charger must be yellow, like his first car, and pop a wheelie. That last criterion prompts him to pull the engine from the front and put it in back; he also wants the engine to be a Hemi V-8.
Although we know that each team has seven days to complete the work, the editors of the show manage to manufacture some drama by making it look like the cars are completed just in time. Regardless, both are gorgeous successes and receive plenty of praise from the judges. Jim’s Charger can indeed pop a wheelie (thanks to hydraulics), and that’s enough to steal the show and take the win.
The real winners, however, are those of us who remember the first time we imagined driving one of those spectacular little cars on the track, the street, or some remote two-track. Yes, the show’s jokes are a little lame, and we want to know more about the specifics of each build, but the kids are going to love it all. Even some of us kids who remember playing with their first Hot Wheels cars 55 years ago.