Josh Duhamel Talks the Surprises of ‘Buddy Games’

Josh Duhamel hosts and executive produces CBS’ Buddy Games. New episodes of the reality competition show air Thursdays at 8 PM ET/PT and will be available to stream live as well as on demand on Paramount+.

BUDDY GAMES unites six teams of four deep-rooted friends, who met at various stages of their lives, at a stunning lakeside location for a nostalgic adult summer camp adventure. “Ride or dies” get the chance to play “buddy games” where they will relive their glory days and compete in an assortment of absurd physical and mental challenges in the outdoors while bunking together in the same lake house. Friendships will be rekindled, and rivalries reignited, when these friends are challenged to prove which bonds are strong enough to withstand the competition. The last buddy team standing will be crowned champion and take home a cash prize plus the coveted Buddy Games trophy, and of course bragging rights.

During our most recent interview, I also asked him about seeing each of the teams play the game differently, creating the challenges, ensuring the series stays interesting throughout, and more. Keep reading for what he shared!

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

We started off with six teams, four friends each, so is there a team or a player that you were most surprised by while you were watching them play or just their growth in general throughout the season? I know that’s hard because every person probably went on their own individual journey, but is there anyone that stuck out to you?
Josh Duhamel: Yeah, I mean, there were so many surprises and that was one of the beauties of watching this play out in real-time. My wife too — she came to set every day and was like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to see what happens today.” You just truly didn’t know because teams you thought were gonna be one thing weren’t and then they turned out to be, you know — well, I’ll start with Chicago’s Finest. They are the biggest, strongest, most athletic ones out there and they were terrible in the beginning. I was like, “Oh my God, how could these guys suck so bad,” but they hung on and they hung on, and then they start surprising you. Then you have teams like Philly Forever, who just kept making stupid decisions about who did what and I was like, “Why would you have Anthony swimming when he doesn’t know how to swim?” But they were able to hang on, they kept fighting and just clawing their way back.

I had teams that I thought were gonna do really well that fell off and a good example [of that] is Derby Squad. They probably have the most cohesive, competitive group there; a group of women from California, who actually compete in roller derby together and they were really, really good, funny, and great for TV. But the beauty of this show is that when one of the girls fell off — they had something happen where Rachel, nobody knew that she was afraid of heights, but she wanted to do it because she didn’t want another girl [to have to do it], so she was gonna try to go do this, jump off this giant thing into the water and she got up there and froze. To watch them sort of realize that their team was gonna lose somebody — because it was one of the Loser’s Last Stands where if you lose that, you lose a player.

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

They suddenly lost one of their players — you’ll see this in episode five, I think, it’s so good — but they knew they were gonna lose and they just stood there and cheered her on just to try to get her to overcome this. What happened after they did lose that event, Rachel decided because she wasn’t able to come through for them, she opted out and after that, the team just wasn’t the same. They’d lost one of their own and they just kind of lost that spark they had the whole time, and that’s what I think people are gonna really vibe to in the show is that, wow, this isn’t just about your physical acuity, it’s about that bond that sort of makes you better as a group. There’s so many stories like that throughout that just played out so beautifully in this show.

Yeah. You know, it’s funny because when I watch Survivor, I think of myself in that situation and I’m like, “Would I be able to handle this?” It’s the same with this show, you’re like, “Would my friends and I be able to handle this situation?” But you’ll never know until you’re actually in it and doing the challenges.
Yeah, like you said and everybody that I talked to kind of says the same thing in that they think about them and their group competing in this because there is a relatability there that you don’t have to be a ninja, you don’t have to be a cage fighter, a marathoner, or a survivalist. You can just be somebody who still has that competitive fire, and you and your friends in a good group that you think as a group can compete. I think that that’s why people are gonna go, “God, we could do this, we could actually do this. We could probably win.” Then you actually have to do it and it was excruciating some of these events, but beautiful to see. It was like this big adult summer camp to see them all come together the way they did and still really want to win, and some of the drama is just crazy. You just don’t know it until you’re there. You don’t see it playing out until you’re actually in it.

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

How did you approach the challenges? Did you take them straight from your version of buddy games, did you come up with new ones, or did you just try to elevate everything to be even more crazy?
Well, CBS does this stuff better than anyone, whether it’s The Challenge: USA, Survivor, or Big Brother, they have teams of people that do this but they wanted this to have its own twist, they want it to have its own identity. So along with them, they allowed me and Bob “The Bobfather” to really kind of shape the tone and the vibe of these. They had to be funny, they had to be competitive, they had to be visual, and it’s a combination of understanding which parts of each game were strengths on your team and who was good at what and who sucked at what, and that’s where that lifelong sort of understanding of each other and what you were good at and what you weren’t so good at really served these teams well.

Lastly, I really liked that at the end of episode one, they revealed that while your team can stay, one of the friends has to go home. I thought that was an interesting twist. Are there any other twists that fans should expect as they’re watching the series?
Yeah, again, CBS does this better than anyone and they understand how to tell a story in real-time better than anyone, and we have meetings every day about how we’re gonna adjust games, how we’re gonna do certain things, and Emer, our showrunner, is just a boss. She’d sit us all down and be like, “Okay, so we’ve got this, this, and this happening. How do we twist this in a way that people won’t see it coming,” and you’ll see by the end that the teams that were able to really work the system, if you will, suddenly had to face the music and compete, and they didn’t have the security of avoiding a sabotage or avoiding certain things just to sort of keep skirting by. They had to suddenly, you know, now it’s time, we really have to face this thing head on and it’s beautiful. I mean, CBS had the ability to change on the fly to keep things interesting and surprising throughout.