In the television world, reality competition series like Project Runway and Survivor struggle with their finales; after all, since the only thing viewers theoretically care about is finding out who won, the resulting episodes can feel bloated and draggy as producers aim to fill screen time.
Thus, it’s to Internet Icon Season 2′s credit that Saturday’s 50-minute live finale was both tightly paced and highly entertaining, with a few fun surprises before the results of audience voting announced a winner.
Internet Icon, running on the YouTube-funded YOMYOMF network, is to YouTube what Top Chef is to restaurants — both shows pit talented artists against each other in a series of challenges designed to test their skills and versatility.
Except while Chef-testants deal with new cuisines or garden parties, Icon‘s 10 individuals or teams battled to create videos ranging in style from “how to” instructionals to movie trailers — in less than a day (usually, in fact, just six hours).
The finale, streamed live from YouTube Space LA in Playa Vista, featured the three final videos made for the competition, as well as a chat with previously eliminated contestants and a musical performance featuring finalists from Internet Icon Season 1 (including the lyrics “Internet Icon Blues/Season 1 is better than Season 2″).
The grand prize? A $10,000 cash prize, a meeting with a “Hollywood director,” and a one-year development deal with YOMYOMF. The winner? We’ll get to that.
Icon is openly conscious of the traditional TV series which originated its format, though when I sat down with executive producer Andy Fickman a few minutes before the live stream began, he pointed to the basic ideas behind these shows as an age-old concept. “The notion of competition is global and historical — it’s putting it on camera that’s new,” he said.
And one advantage Internet Icon has over, say, the singing competitions that came before it? It actually helps new talent get discovered. (Yes, that is a burn directed at every American Idol winner who isn’t Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.)
According to Fickman, even beyond increased exposure, views, and subscribers, many of the Season 1 contestants have found success thanks to their participation — winning team the Riedell Brothers have gotten commercial work since Season 1, for example, and second runner-up The Fu performed in Europe thanks to their hit song/video “Coming Home” (created in six hours for one of their Icon challenges).
“We’re able to be a springboard for all 10 contestants,” Fickman said.
There were two primary takeaways from the Internet Icon finale — one explicit, one less so. Throughout the show, constant mention was made of the idea of authenticity:
The Shields Brothers, the fourth-eliminated team, Finalist Bad Weather Films offered one lesson learned from the event: “We were characters, we were never ourselves.”
As judge Ryan Higa said during a sit-down interview prior to the show, YouTube success is “heavily based on personality. If you’re likable, people will like you.”
And that likability was key to contestants in the competition, even the most talented in terms of video creation. While according to Fickman, the show’s emphasis on talent that could connect authentically with its audience helped create “an open playing field,” the increasing importance of production value seemed underlaid everything.
Everyone I spoke to pointed to a higher quality of production across the board in Season 2, as best exemplified by the ultimate finalists: While vlogger Will Pacarro, who lacked the technical skills of other candidates, was able to make it to the second-to-last episode (eliminated due to the quality of his movie trailer, he was later voted Fan Favorite), all three finalists produced videos on par with the kind of professional content that’s made with much larger teams and longer timeframes.
Matthias’ music video was MTV-worthy. Judge Christine Lakin said, quite rightly, that The Klooms’ final video would fit right in on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. And Bad Weather Films’ comedy dance sketch was near-flawless, to the point where the judges declared it the most successful answer to the final challenge: “Make a video best exemplifying your channel.”
There’s a symbolism to the fact that the YouTube Space LA studio used to host the Internet Icon live-stream was the exact same studio that had been transformed, five months ago, into the dorms of Video Game High School Season 2 (or, as Janko likes to call it, “the future of YouTube.)
And Matthias, who was ultimately named the winner of the competition, clearly represented that commitment to quality with his ability to create polished, high-quality videos no matter the challenge.
I talked with Matthias almost immediately after the finale, and despite being a bit dazed from the surprise of winning, he seemed ready to hit the ground running — plenty of projects to pitch and other things already in the works.
During our interview, I asked Matthias’s wife, who was standing nearby, what it was like to be married to an Internet Icon.
“Busy,” she replied.