Ratchet TV: Losers

Shamir on Netflix’s new docu-series about the winners with bad luck.

Ratchet TV is a column in which our resident TV expert Shamir Bailey guides us on what’s worth watching. In this installment, Shamir argues that the titular “losers” in Netflix’s new docuseries are actually... winners? Stay tuned to find out why!
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse Music

Surya Bonaly is a retired French Olympic figure skater. Having originally pursued gymnastics at an early age, she used the techniques and athleticism she learned from gymnastics on the ice. Over the span of her 13-year career she made a name for herself as the only Olympic figure skater to land a backflip on only one blade. She was also known for constantly challenging the sport and what it meant for her as a competing black woman and the lack of representation she felt within the community.

Pat Ryan was a professional curler. He’s a three-time recipient of the Brier Canadian curling championships, which is basically curling’s Super Bowl. He perfected the game so much that during his third return to Brier, the crowd heckled him and his team because it became boring to watch his bulletproof technique. This caused the game to implement a new rule that actively banned his technique.

Both Bonaly and Ryan are known for transcending the boundaries of their respective sports, but somehow they’re both in a Netflix docuseries coolly titled Losers.

I figured from the title that the series would feature tales of woe and humiliation, but it’s quite the opposite. The stories are humbling and extraordinary, tied together in a wonderful visual package with colorful animation and gut-wrenching interviews. What the series ultimately is trying to convey is that while winning is a definitive concept, the term “loser” can be a spectrum. Unfortunately, the term loser is mainly attributed to people who lack talent or motivation — or at least that’s what it takes for me to refer to someone as a loser. I tend to think of the people who came to win but just weren’t cut out for it. But what about the people who were just as good as the winners, but had a bad day? Or maybe a temporary bout with bad luck? Or how about those who got all the way to the top, only to realize they just don’t care about what they worked for anymore? Losers isn’t necessarily about losers: It’s about winners who pulled the short straw.

Losers follows the lives and careers of athletes who dedicated themselves to a sport, but fell short when it mattered the most because of factors completely out of their hands. Take episode 6 highlight Aliy Zirkle, a champion musher in sled dog racing. While competing in the biggest trail dog sledding competition The Iditarod, Zirkle suffered an attack directed at her and her dogs by local Alaskan man Arnold Demoski in 2016. It was Zirkle’s tact and devotion to caring for her injured dogs that held her back. Watching the footage of Zirkle caring for her many dogs on her Alaskan property, it’s obvious the special connection she shares with them; her empathy towards her dogs is on a level most humans fail to exchange with each other. The fact that Zirkle put the animals before her own ego and will to win is something that deserves to be praised.

Losers establishes that, at the end of the day, anyone can win, but a good attitude and a strong moral compass are what make a winner. As a society, we don’t like to see mean people win. We also don’t like to see deserving people lose, but, despite our supposed empathy for them, those losers usually aren’t offered a platform. The series gives some of those deserving losers a voice and ultimately humanizes them. The focus on niche and less-sponsored sports makes it all the more interesting — you notice the stakes are instantly higher when there’s nothing but big fish in a small pond.

You get a sense that the featured athletes aren’t really disappointed in the loss itself, but the more the fact that they were so close. It’s easier to lose when you can blame it on your performance. It’s easy to pinpoint a flaw in consistency and technique, and work to perfect it before the next game, but the docuseries puts an emphasis on the fact that the elements are  sometimes just working against us. Specifically in the case of episode five’s subject, Mauro Prosperi, sometimes the elements are actively trying to kill you in the form of desert sand storms, and the race can instantly turn into a game of survival against one’s will.
I think the greatest thing about Losers is its challenging of the importance of winning. What is winning good for if not done ethically and by the rules? What good is winning if you or someone else gets hurt in the process? Is winning worth assimilating to what the public thinks a winner should be like? Is making a statement sometimes more important than winning? It kind of sucks that the featured athletes are being labeled as losers — at the end of the day, they are, but it doesn’t define them. If Losers is about unlucky winners, then I’ll be on the lookout for the obligatory follow up docuseries about the lucky losers of the world, simply titled Winners.

Shamir is Shamir and remains Shamir through and through, no matter what the universe puts him through. You may know the singularly named artist (think—Madonna or Cher) from his 2015 debut hit record Rachet, beloved by NPR listeners and club kids alike. After quickly rising to underground fame with his Northtown EP in 2014, the DIY pop star made a sonic splash with Rachet’s lead single “On The Regular,” a poppy banger that had extensive commercial usage. But how to follow all that up? Shamir, who came from the dusty dunes of Las Vegas, to Brooklyn’s Silent Barn, to the Philly indie scene (and all over the world in between), wanted to go back to what had inspired him from the beginning. Outsider music, country & punk. Raw and vulnerable tunes, stripped down to their emotional core. 2017’s Revelations explored a new avenue of guitar driven hooky indie rock and was widely critically praised in the US and overseas.

Shamir’s most recent releases, the brilliant Room 7” on Father/Daughter, and his self-released limited edition album, Resolution, are pinnacles in the catalog of the increasingly fascinating artist’s career. Room and its b-side Caballero celebrate Shamir’s love of country music, while Resolution is a deeply introspective look into the fabric of society and the artists’ own mind.  With these two releases he has refined his craft exponentially and done so in less than six months from the release of Revelations.