Retired Texan cyclist Lance Armstrong will appear in an upcoming Fox reality TV show. The series, Stars on Mars, features a cast of minor celebrities on a fictionalised journey to Mars [ed. the planet, not the chocolate bar].
According to Entertainment Weekly, the show’s premise is to see which celebrity would be the best at colonising the red planet. The cast features big names including Ariel Winter (Alex from Modern Family), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin’ from Superbad), and Tallulah Willis (Demi Moore and Bruce Willis’ daughter). Armstrong is not the sole former-athlete in the cast; he will share screen time with Olympic bronze medal-winning figure skater Adam Rippon, and Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman, American football players for the Seattle Seahawks who won the Superbowl in 2014, which is kind of like the Tour de France of the NFL. In this lineup, Armstrong is by some margin the oldest cast member, and the most obscure.
Armstrong, 51, was a junior triathlete of some note who shed two disciplines by transitioning into road cycling, achieving modest international renown for his underdog stage wins at the 1993 and 1995 Tours de France, the Tour DuPont, and at the 1993 World Championships. That early promise proved elusive as his career progressed, however, with his last victory being the overall title at the 1998 Tour of Luxembourg. A lengthy winless streak descended, stretching until his retirement in early 2011.
Although his cycling career was frustratingly mercurial, Armstrong has since demonstrated an ability to parlay that modest sporting success into ongoing media attention. His appearance on Stars on Mars is not the American’s first foray into the televisual arts – in the mid-2000s, the cast of American Chopper built a motorcycle in his honour, a star-making moment that served as a springboard to Armstrong’s wildly popular guest appearance on a 2013 episode of Oprah. Armstrong had cameos in the films Dodgeball (2004) and You, Me and Dupree (2006), and voiced the character ‘Lance Armstrong’ in the indie animated series, The Simpsons (2011). He is also the author of several works of semi-biographical fiction.
In the years since, Armstrong has largely stepped away from his former sport, and currently works as a podcaster, influencer, and investor in a number of business ventures of varying success, including Uber and outdoor media conglomerate Outside Interactive. He is the co-owner of a vodka startup, Lift, that claims to be “the ONLY Aspen Vodka made from 100% Aspen water”. This tagline is curious seeing as A) it is contract-manufactured for them in California, and B) there are several other Aspen-based vodka brands – including one literally called Aspen Vodka, which sources its water from an on-site well. Escape Collective expects that any inaccuracy in Lift Vodka’s marketing is an honest mistake from a former athlete with a demonstrated history of truthful truth-telling.
Armstrong joins a long line of cyclists to have appeared on reality television. In 2021, Nairo Quintana – dressed as a reggaeton-singing chameleon – crashed out of the first round of the Colombian version of The Masked Singer. Nicolas Roche was an unsuccessful contestant in the Irish version of Dancing With the Stars, as was convicted domestic abuser Mario Cipollini in the Italian version, Ballando con Le Stelle, some years earlier. Michael Rasmussen – a contemporary of Armstrong’s, since disgraced as a doper and resurrected as a TV pundit – also appeared in the Danish version of the franchise.
Stars on Mars is being filmed in the South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy – a comfortable nine-hour drive north from Adelaide, the site of Armstrong’s final race in 2011.
In that year’s Tour Down Under, the Texan finished 67th overall. With 12 years of life experience in the bank since then, Armstrong will be hoping for a better result on his fictitious journey to another planet.
Escape Collective wishes Armstrong all the best in his latest venture, and applauds Fox’s diversity casting in bringing a minor representative of our minor sport into the limelight. Today, a retired cyclist goes to Mars. Tomorrow, if we dream big enough, Matteo Jorgenson can renovate a mid-century-modern fixer-upper on Love it or List it.