|You gotta spin it to win it|
|Stop the presses!|
|We want pictures|
|Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
Remember being in kindergarten and arguing with the other kids about whether or not your favorite Ninja Turtle could beat their favorite Star Wars character in a duel?
Deadliest Warrior is, in a phrase, a poorly executed realization of that exact type of highly intelligent comparative analysis, directed at adults-in-name-only. Essentially, it's "Who would win in a fight? The Series", but without ever addressing whether a narwhal would beat a polar bear in a fight.[note 1]
In more detail, it is an awful television show on Spike TV that portrays two combatants (or groups of combatants in some cases, such as with the IRA vs. Taliban episode) that have no chance in hell of ever meeting one another, and pits them against each other, first by performing tests on a random selection of weapons assigned to each side and then by allegedly plugging the test data into some kind of text-based
videogame "combat simulator". Seriously.
All of this, accompanied by a lot of formulaic bluster by the self-proclaimed "experts" on each side about why "their" guy is better. It may cause some to lose faith in Western civilization.
The show has many issues with its methods of testing and the conclusions it reaches, to say the least. Anything drawn from the show is completely worthless due to the incredible number of methodological errors and tests rigged (intentionally or otherwise) to favor a particular outcome. In 2011, third season host Robert Daly admitted that he had lied about his military experience and resigned. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the show was subsequently cancelled. This was likely for the best, as the final episode was Zombies vs. Vampires. Who knows what a fourth season would have brought?
The Warriors themselves
The show typically presents the warriors as their Hollywood stereotypes, rather than with any reality of how they behaved or fought. One of the biggest offenders was the Spartan vs. Ninja fight, which turned out to be 300 vs. Chop Sockey films, rather than a reasoned thought experiment on how Spartan Hoplites might fight Japanese Ninjas. It would probably be a short fight given that ninjas are mostly fictional with minimal historical basis.
The show's much-vaunted "experts" are also often little more than cheerleaders who know how to handle the weapons chosen for the fighter (most of the time anyway). Even when qualified individuals serve as experts, they generally have little to no actual input into the choice of weapons or anything else involving the simulation.
Due to the show's weapon fetish (see below), the warriors themselves are reduced to the gear they bring into battle. Tactics, fighting style, logistics, experience, and other highly important factors in a fight are ignored. Any military professional will tell you that weapons are a small part of the entire package and to focus on only weapons is already going into the hypothetical blind.
This extremely narrow tactical focus leads to some absurd moments, for example in episode 6 where a former Spetsnaz operative argues that a headshot through the nose is deadlier than being shot between the eyes. Here at RationalWiki, we recommend against being shot in either location.
The last major problem is that battles were simulated as a one-on-one, head-on fight (though this was later changed for the most part to five-on-five squad battles). The vast majority of battles were and are not fought one-on-one, and many kinds of warriors did not fight head-on. For example, during the first episode of the entire show, Apache vs. Gladiator, the Apache expert comments on how unrealistic it would be for an Apache to engage in face-to-face "honorable" combat.
“”Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the men who lead that gains the victory.
|—General George S. Patton|
This show loves weapons, and it shows. One might think that, with the show's love of them, this is where the real work happens, but you'd be mistaken. Testing methods run from worthless to little more than a weapons demo version of a show trial.
The first strike against the testing is that the "experts" are the ones to demonstrate the weapons. This voids all data from the tests as the factors are now gathered from data gathered from the testers rather than from the weapons being tested. These match ups, for lack of a better term, tend to go from debatably balanced (a legitimate US Army Green Beret versus a legitimate GRU Spetsnaz) to completely one-sided (a world champion wild west firearms marksman versus a "relative of a mobster" with a Tommy Gun).
The show also is very dismissive of weapons that are less lethal, or simply lack raw killing power and ignore the tactical use, ease of operation, logistical considerations, and other factors besides pure damage the weapon can deal.
Liberal use of CGI also was common on the show, mostly to "sweeten" explosive weapons to give them the Hollywood fireball rather than the shock-wave and shrapnel of how those weapons truly work. Weapons were also forced to follow popular image rather than how well they worked in reality. For example, they showed an AR-15 jamming under "muddy" conditions despite the fact that the AR-15/M16's bad habit of jamming existed only with the first generation rifles, the ultra cheap ammo used in the Vietnam war, and the fact the G.I.s were told that the rifle didn't need to be cleaned after a fire-fight.
Another glaring problem is that there are no experimental controls to the tests, and therefore the way one weapon may be tested is not the way an opposing weapon may be tested. Sometimes this is a necessity, as the two weapons are almost completely dissimilar[note 2] but many times, there is no reason. One example: Two grenades. One was tested hanging in a room with test dummies, and the other was put into a washing machine.
The choice of weapons can also be very bizarre. The IRA, for example, were given a flamethrower (documented use: once during the entire conflict) and a slingshot. The samurai/Viking battle, as another example, gave the samurai a kanabō club.
Debunkery on Deadliest Warrior
To be fair, some popular misconceptions are quietly debunked:
- Armor is not useless, mail can't be hacked through, plate can't be directly stabbed through. This became so noticeable that in the "Back for Blood" special, warriors without armor were simply excluded without being given a chance. Though, that's also unscientific, and it doesn't account for armor being expensive, exhausting to carry all day, and having logistical demands.
- Plate armour isn't overly heavy or clumsy. For example, in one episode, William The Conqueror gets beaten by a girl in full plate.
- Swords are pretty much the same as other swords. 
- Exotic weapons aren't better.
- Early firearms could be accurate in the right hands
- Simply being stabbed usually isn't instant incapacitation (Though they don't emphasize that being shot by a military weapon usually is).[note 3]
The show is laughably nationalistic. All but one time,[note 4] any warrior even remotely associated with the United States won hands down. In one instance, George Washington — of all people — managing to beat Napoleon Bonaparte — of all people. Less specifically, most European factions are expected to do better in their own right, such as Waffen SS versus Vietcong[note 5], IRA versus Taliban, and 16th-century France vs. China.
Poorly defining the warriors themselves is another problem. One battle had the GSG9 (the German Counter-Terrorism force) versus SWAT. What kind of SWAT? They didn't specify; SWAT forces run the gamut from paramilitary special forces to a deputy with a rifle.
It also likes painting historical warriors with modern judgment, completely divorced from whatever realities existed when those warriors actually fought. Perhaps the worst example was how they put the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters on the same level as the Nazi SS.
- Mall ninja: The target audience.
- McDojos are to martial arts what this schlockumentary is to the history of warfare.
- Of course a narwhal would beat a polar bear.
- One may argue that the show should have put more work into finding weapons that were more like with each other to test.
- Even if it's merely between the eyes, rather than the far deadlier up-the-nostril-shot.
- In episode 6 they declared Spetsnaz better than the Green Berets, on the grounds that Spetsnaz training was more brutalizing.
- There is even a Waffen-SS protagonist in the simulation minisode!
- see here.
- Spartan vs. Ninja, Season 1, Episode 3, Deadliest Warrior.
- see this forum post
- I.R.A. vs. Taliban, Season 1, Episode 9, Deadliest Warrior.
- Green Berets vs. Spetsnaz, Season 1, Episode 6, Deadliest Warrior.
- Viking vs. Samurai, Season 1, Episode 2, Deadliest Warrior.
- Back for Blood special, Season 1, Episode 10, Deadliest Warrior.
- Joan of Arc vs. William the Conqueror, Season 3, Episode 24, Deadliest Warrior.
- Roman Centurion vs. Rajput Warrior, Season 2, Episode 10, Deadliest Warrior.
- Ivan the Terrible vs. Hernán Cortés, Season 3, Episode 29. Deadliest Warrior.
- Nazi Waffen SS vs. Viet Cong, Season 2, Episode 14, Deadliest Warrior.