Providing a glimpse into the efforts of six strong women to shatter the glass ceiling in the male dominated world of rodeo, Rodeo Girls is the newest reality program on the A&E Network. While the ladies cover two generations, the essence of competition knows no age. Race footage and the reaction shots of the other women captures the adrenaline rush of barrel racing.
Not without its drama, the program blends elements from MTV’s The Real World and the Bravo franchise The Real Housewives. The aspect which blends itself into qualities from The Real World include that viewers feel an affinity towards certain characters while obtaining the feeling that they are right there as the action unfolds.
For viewers of The Real Housewives, the jealousy and tensions that emanate over wealth, privilege and beauty also rear its head on Rodeo Girls. After a rodeo event, the ladies are seen carousing in a local bar and the claws come out, as several ladies vent frustrations about LaPier behind her back. Of note, the ladies in question do apologize in the second episode, setting a positive example for the rookies.
Like any other program, various archetypes are featured. Rookie Jessica Holmberg, who broke the record at Trails End Arena in Olympia, Washington, is the blonde girl next door whose heart was broken. Fellow rookie Megan Etcheberry is the brunette, a perfect foil for Jessica. Having both endured personal tragedies in their lives, their perseverance cannot be questioned.
Rodeo veteran Barb West is the mother figure of the group, brining Jessica under her wing. She is joined by Sadie Sullivan, a no-nonsense wrangler who is a friend and support mechanism for West. Marvel Murphy is like an iron woman, willing to compete in spite of injury for the love of the competition. Darcy LaPier is portrayed (although sometimes unfairly) as the antagonist. While all of these women are older than the rookies, they possess a wisdom and maturity which forms a strong inner beauty to complement their outer beauty.
Early in the first episode, LaPier emerges from a private jet in a tight black dress, and proceeds to change into her cowgirl clothing in the backseat of a limousine. A later scene shows LaPier with the acquisition of an accomplished horse named Dash. It becomes evident very early in said episode that her wealth can serve to occasionally isolate her from the others.
As the prized horse is easily recognized by Marvel Murphy, a talented yet gutsy competitor with rodeo in her blood, the claws come out. She quickly states that a real cowgirl develops the horse rather than buying it. A comment from West also states that LaPier’s wealth gets old quickly.
By the culmination of the first episode, LaPier’s horse does not provide the desired results. All five ladies competed in Barrel Racing (in which the horse circles three barrels in a clover-leaf pattern, with a five-second penalty if the horse knocks one over), an event specifically for women to compete in at the rodeo.
LaPier would finish second among the five with a time of 18.39, while Marvel Murphy (with a broken ankle) logged an inspiring time of 18.15. Like Brett Favre playing football with a separated shoulder or Michael Jordan competing in basketball with the flu, Murphy is a tough as nails racer, embodying the spirit of empowerment.
Also one of the show’s executive producers, LaPier is an object of admiration yet jealousy. A swimsuit model in the 1990’s, she has been married to Hawaiian Tropic mogul Ron Rice, action film star Jean-Claude van Damme and Herbalife founder Mark Hughes. After the tragic death of Hughes, LaPier relocated to Oregon and purchased a ranch as part of the healing process.
With her beauty and considerable wealth, LaPier bears a strong resemblance to Sofia Vergara, making her a sex symbol on the program. Her projection on-screen places her in a villain role a la Joan Collins from the 1980’s blockbuster hit Dynasty. Of note, she is also a mother of three and her motherly empathy comes across. After she was “Marved” (receiving a phone call from Marvel in trouble), she displays genuine concern. With Murphy and the two rookies come unannounced to her door, she prepares them a meal. Despite past disputes, her effort to provide them with a meal shows remarkable forgiveness and maturity.
While Murphy is quick to declare that it is an all-male environment, the appearance of her younger cousin Ty certainly adds a male support role. Although Ty is critical of women not being focused enough to succeed, he is portrayed as the quintessential knuckle dragger. He is joined by the mandatory love interest, Anthony.
As life on the road relies heavily on the support of friends, the need for warmth and intimacy lingers. In the first episode, relationships statuses are discussed early on. he lassos his rope around LaPier and talks her into a date. The evening afterwards, he is seen flirting with Jessica.
Like all other programs in the Reality TV genre, there is also the obligatory showing of skin. Within the last five minutes of the second episode, the ladies enter a bikini barrel racing competition. While Murphy refuses to participate, the remaining women all choose to participate. Of note, Sadie Sullivan (one of West’s wranglers) even dons a bikini as a show of support. While Sullivan could be described as a ballsy woman, she comes across as very soft and likeable in her bikini.
While all of these women look striking in their swimsuit attire, it is somewhat sad that even in a sport like rodeo, there is a need to employ sex appeal. Sports such as football, floor hockey, basketball and even fishing have employed scantily-clad women in an effort to gain fans and potential viewers. Although it is unlikely that any of the macho men in rodeo would be daring enough to ride a bull in a Speedo, the courage needed to don a bikini and endure scrapes from falling exemplify how amazing these rodeo girls truly are.
So far, the program has met with mixed results. Pre-show complaints stated that the show is not an accurate portrayal while criticizing that some women are not real professional rodeo girls. To be fair, the rookies have yet to earn their professional status, while the program is also meant to provide entertainment. Infighting aside, there is a certain adrenaline rush that comes from watching these daring women race around the barrels.
For anyone to accuse the rest of these women to not be real professionals is at their own risk. Barb West is a 2009 Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo Champion while Murphy is a three-time Nevada State High School All-Around champion cowgirl. In addition, she earned a scholarship to Texas Tech University.
With Hollywood moguls Bob and Harvey Weinstein serving as executive producers, the show has a fighting chance to round up many potential viewers. Whether it has the opportunity to become a pop culture phenomenon in the same lines as other A&E reality offerings, such as Duck Dynasty and Storage Wars, is too early to tell, but its glance into such a unique world is one that is certainly worth watching.