With more than nine million followers on his Instagram alone, Saudi actor and social media personality Tareq Al Harbi has become well attuned to being in the public eye.
Yet, when the chance came to commentate Netflix’s first Arabic reality series The Fastest, which premieres on the streaming platform on Tuesday, Al Harbi says he couldn’t help but feel nervous.
“When I first found out, I was over the moon,” he tells The National. “I did every known dance in history. But it’s Netflix, man. It’s a global platform and you’re in the eye of many. I’ve presented several shows on television and social media, but still, at the bottom of my heart, I was nervous.”
Coming from a family of petrolheads, Al Harbi says taking on the commitment was a no-brainer. A lifelong fan of car films and reality shows, he says he often wondered why there was no Arabic interpretation of shows such as BBC’s Top Gear or Xzibit’s Pimp My Ride, which ran on MTV in the mid-2000s. After all, the Middle East is known for its fondness of fast cars.
With The Fastest, Al Harbi says Netflix is bringing something new to car-related entertainment.
“We were just waiting for the chance to watch something like this in Arabic,” he says. “Car lovers and adrenaline junkies will love this show, and once they know what cars are being featured, they won’t miss a single minute. But the show has something to offer for everyone.”
The six-part series features souped-up Ford Mustangs, Toyota Supras modded like greased lightning, glistening vintage Camaros, and burly trucks that go as fast as speedsters. It also brings in several supercars to the fold, including a Dodge Viper and Porsche 911 Turbo. The cars will go head-to-head in a series of drag races across the landing strip of Al Ain International Airport, as well as a number of side challenges such as a drift contest at the Yas Marina Circuit.
But the show, Al Harbi says, is as much about the cars as the men and women driving them. The Fastest’s contestants come from various backgrounds across the Arab world, and the race for who will be the fastest among them, Al Harbi promises, will be “unpredictable”.
“The contestants are all so different. And we get to hear their stories, see their problem-solving skills and how they approach each race. There’s no guessing who’ll win. I kept trying to predict the races but I couldn’t.”
The unpredictable results, Al Harbi says, ensured his reactions and commentary stayed fresh, and authentic.
“A lot of reality series say they’re genuine but are really scripted,” he says. “That’s not the case with The Fastest. Every reaction you see and hear from me is authentic. Everything’s from the heart. Nothing is scripted.”
Another element that helped in maintaining the show’s unpredictable nature, Al Harbi points out, is the committee that ensured the cars participating in each race were of equal footing.
“Some of the contestants have modded their cars to increase their horsepower and performance, others have supercars, which are, well, super, just as they are. So the committee would inspect the cars to make sure the races were fair. After that, it was all up to the contestant’s driving skills.”
The committee, he says, also made special preparations ahead of every race to ensure the safety of the contestants, inspecting the cars as well as track and weather conditions.
While Al Harbi comments on the races from a closed room away from the tracks, he says the thrill of trying to peg who the fastest would make him feel like he was in the middle of all that rev and roar.
When asked what car he would bring if he was allowed to compete, Al Harbi is swift in his reply.
“A Mustang Eleanor,” he says. “I love that car. It’s the one from the film Gone in Sixty Seconds. I haven’t seen many of them, which only increases my fondness of it. But I love cars, all types. I never thought I’d be part of a show as great as this and on a platform as big as Netflix. It’s incredibly exciting.”