Ken Block is no stranger to entertaining. The famed rally car driver and member of the Hoonigan Racing Division has spent years behind the wheel, whether it be for a race, a television show, or his YouTube channel, which boasts 890,000 subscribers as of this writing.
Now, Block is one of the many names to hop on board with Quibi for the first wave of shows during the mobile streaming app’s launch. In the aptly named Block vs. Elba, Block and Idris Elba go head-to-head in a collection of car-themed challenges. While logic would dictate that Block has a major leg-up, Elba is no slouch behind the wheel, either, and without giving anything away, the show’s second episode features him being far more eager than Block to do a particularly dangerous challenge.
Block vs. Elba made its debut last week, and Uproxx Sports caught up with Block to discuss how this came to fruition, making the show, and why he thinks it’s perfect for Quibi.
How did it come about and what was the timeline on making this show go from an idea to reality?
Yeah, good question. The impetus of it was really Idris. Idris really likes cars and likes to do car-type activities, everything from racing to the shows. So he sought me out, came out and visited me in a race a couple of years ago in England and we hit it off and really enjoyed hanging out with each other. So he pursued a couple of different show ideas with myself, and the first one that we’ve done now is this show with Quibi. So this was his production company that did it, it was their idea and I just came along for the ride, which I gladly did because I liked the idea of it, I liked working with Idris, and I think they did a great job.
Filming the show, can I get a general timeline of how that looked, where it happened, and then just the sheer amount of organization that goes into setting up the various challenges that you two put yourselves through?
Yeah, the show was filmed last June in a part of London by the London airport ad it took three or four days to shoot, I think a total of four days. Some of the stuff, interviews and little bits between Idris and I were done separately, but then a bunch of the competitions were obviously done together. So it was really quite fun to do and quite a challenge for the production team to do all those different set-ups in a small area.
The ones that I saw were the obstacle course in the first episode, the long jump, and then driving on two wheels. Why were those things that you guys wanted to get into this as challenges?
Well I think the basic impetus of it was Idris knew if we just went out and raced that, most likely, my experience in the racing field would put him at a disadvantage. So they came up with a bunch of fun and interesting challenges that would challenge us in different ways, because I’ve never driven a vehicle on two wheels, so that was something that we kind of equaled the playing field because we both have skills in the car but this challenges those skills in a totally different way. So I enjoy adapting and approaching each challenge as a unique way to challenge all the race craft that I had, but I think it was a great way, like I said, to make the challenges an equalizer that didn’t make it just so the race car driver went out and beat the non-race car driver.
Yeah, I was going to say that second episode, it seemed like you were a bit surprised that Idris was so gung-ho about having a car launch off of a ramp and onto a bed of other cars. Did you kind of get surprised by his desire to do some of those crazier things that you might not expect that a Hollywood celebrity would be into doing?
Well, he comes from a slightly different world where stunts that normal stunt drivers do. Like, jumping a car to a dead stop is kind of normal but for me that’s the opposite of what you want to do. Every jump that I do is a very calculated jump with a take-off ramp and a landing ramp. I want to roll away from the jump, I don’t want to come to a dead stop. So I think that one just came more as a surprise to me that people wanted to do that. But for him coming from the world that he comes from, he sees a lot more of that stunt action, which is a bit more standard in that world and that’s something that excited him a lot more than it excited me.
What’s the number one thing that you wanted to accomplish with this show?
Well for me it was great to be able to have someone like Idris challenge me in this way and it was a lot of fun to do. But also there were certain challenges in there, like driving on two wheels, like driving a monster truck and doing the Wall of Death. These were things that I always looked at as interesting and fun things to do with vehicles that I just had never gotten the chance to do. So this show gave me the opportunity to go out and do some things that were just on my bucket list to try but I just never had the chance to set them up. So for them to set up a fun show for me to go out and compete against a great guy like Idris and create really fun content on a new app, that’s very cool. I like Quibi, it was just a very great opportunity for me.
In that first episode you say, I think verbatim, “I really don’t think Idris has a chance here. He’s basically screwed.” For someone like you who has done this competitively for years, does your competitive spirit kick in right away, or do you take more of a “this is supposed to be fun” approach. How does doing something fun like this mesh with Ken Block, the person who has done this competitively for years?
I’m competitive no matter what I do. So I always try and have fun and enjoy myself, but at the end of the day, I want to put myself in the position to win. So when we originally started looking at this, I thought, “Crap, Idris is going to come out looking pretty good no matter what in this.” Because I’m the race car driver, I’ve got everything to lose. So if I lose, that’s going to make me look pretty bad. But if he wins, he just has a nice upside really, no matter what. Even if he comes close to beating me, it still looks great for him.” So yeah, there was a bit of extra pressure on my side, but I wanted to have fun and enjoy myself competing with Idris. But at the end of the day, I want to win no matter what.
Of all the challenges you did in this show, what was your favorite one and why?
I would say my favorite one was actually driving on two wheels. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time and my buddy Terry Grant, that’s a stunt driver in England, has taken me for several different rides on two wheels at events like Goodwood Festival of Speed or a demo somewhere like Gymkhana GRiD. So I’ve always been intrigued by that but never had the opportunity to learn it. So that was a huge challenge and it was a lot of fun to kind of unscrew my brain and try and learn a new skill that just made no sense to me, so that’s the one I enjoyed the most.
It seems that you and Idris both had a blast. What was the most fun part of all of this?
This has a nice ring to it; “Idris Elba to drive Ken Block’s Ford Mustang Hoonicorn RTR at Gymkhana GRiD!” What do you think? Should we push @IdrisElba to come race GRID this year?? #ElbaForGRiD2020 pic.twitter.com/XCcD5YWg8G
— Ken Block (@kblock43) April 14, 2020
I would say the most fun part was really interacting with Idris and really the sportsmanship and the challenge of trying to beat someone else, and he’s genuinely like a car guy and a fun guy to compete with. So just that whole interaction of trying to outdo a guy like Idris was just a really fun part and now that I’m doing all this.
I know you’ve done plenty of TV over the years. How do you think a medium like Quibi is right for this kind of show?
Well, I think that all of us are kind of experiencing really the birth of the internet and social media and how us as humans are using it and to watch new apps come along and be very successful based on the way that we consume media. So I think Quibi is really found a niche in the idea of making short, high-quality content that people can watch sitting on a train or in between appointments or however they want to do it. And it really resonates with me because a lot of the things that I do, especially like the Gymkhana videos, average around 10 minutes. So for me it’s something that I really appreciate. I think it goes right into sort of my sensibilities of how I like to use my phone and watch content. So I think they’ve done a great job.
Have you and Idris spoken about possibly doing a season two? Would there be any interest in that sort of thing?
Yeah, we’ve had a couple discussions about it. I mean instantly when we got done filming this show, he was talking about trying to do a second season, so I’m game. I really enjoyed it. I think there’s ways that we could even up the level of the competitions even more next time. So I really hope it happens.
Is there anyone else off the top of your head you can think of that you’d be interested in competing against in a format like this or is number one you want to run it back with Idris and see what else you guys can cook up here?
Well, I enjoyed working with Idris because he’s definitely a car guy. I get to compete against all sorts of different race car drivers around the world from the likes of Petter Solberg to Vaughn Gittin, doing different things. So I enjoy that element of it. But this, doing it with an actor and a personality like Idris was really cool. So I’d love to do that again but if I had to pick someone else, I’d love to do it against another celebrity like Idris, or like a Brad Pitt, or someone like that that’s really into cars and competing. But I really hope that we do a second season of this show because I enjoyed working with Idris and his production company, so I hope Quibi makes it happen.