A few years ago I had the idea to collect some bad Yelp reviews from US national parks for a story in the Adventure Journal.
It has been done a few more times since then.
I had the idea to give a negative rating back in 2014
because I’ve been pretty impressed with things like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier so far.
Surely you can have bad experiences anywhere, and a lot of people check the parks to let others know how the shuttle system works, or when it is difficult to find a parking space or the like, and all of these things can come in handy. But the idea of someone directly rating a natural wonder of the world is still pretty weird, I thought.
When we talk to other people about our experiences, we sometimes say things that sound objective.
We all want the best we can get in exchange for our time and / or money. You may have read online reviews of books, movies, restaurants, vacuum cleaners, under the sink water filtration systems, skis, backpacks, power tools, running shoes, hotels, or hair salons. At that point I have read thousands of them and at times after buying or experiencing something I would read them and be a little shocked.
I took my car to a certain Subaru repair shop for years and loved it. I later discovered that it had terrible Yelp reviews. I’ve skied hundreds of descents with a pair of ski boots that many people apparently thought were rubbish. (I had no problems with that.) I thoroughly enjoyed dozens of meals at various restaurants that never had a rating above 3.5 out of 5 stars online.
I once had a conversation with someone who worked in a national park town and they mentioned a trend of people just interested in doing “the best” things during their visit. We started talking about the idea of “the best” and I asked myself: what is the best, and even if we can define it, is it really important to have the best of everything?
If you get involved in something and think it will be a five star experience, are you preparing for disappointment? I think so. On the five-star scale, something that supposedly has five stars can only go down. But when you have no expectations, the sky is the limit, isn’t it?
About a dozen years ago, a couple of climbers in Wasatch started a thing called No-Star Tuesday, where they picked a number of routes that a local guide had earned for zero stars and they climbed. They purposely went for the opposite of the best, and I think most of them would say they had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Author Dave Eggers, in an interview on the Ezra Klein Show last November, talked about the idea of Rotten Tomatoes, the film reviews aggregator, and how scary it is that we somehow trust a rating system that made it, “A messy, complicated art form can be reduced to a number. “
Eggers said he thinks the Rotten Tomatoes concept of a good / bad metric for movies is going to happen in some way with all other art forms, and I think it already has. I use Goodreads to keep track of the books I’ve read, and if I’ve learned one thing, if a book exists, somebody somewhere on the internet will give a figurative shit about it (and probably do ).
I wonder: can I survive on anything other than five star coffee? Can I enjoy a three-star book, trail, or movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating below 60 percent? Honestly, I think most days I am more of a three star breakfast burrito person than a five star with food stacked.
I wouldn’t turn down a day on one of the “best hikes ever,” but there are only so many of them, and I’ve had many days – actually no, most of my best days – on trails that never put anyone on the list and won’t Rated on TripAdvisor.
I think that’s what I love about the idea of no-star Tuesdays – something that takes creativity and imagination rather than just checking a best of list, and also says, “We can have fun doing it all.” to do.”
Can you imagine evaluating a sunset? Or look at the view of El Capitan or the Matterhorn in the early morning light and turn to someone and say, “That’s okay, but it’s much better in late summer”? Or tell the happy couple, “For example, compared to the last wedding I went to, yours were three stars out of five.”
I hope Dave Eggers is wrong to say that we are well on the way to building a world where we can only steer ourselves towards the highest rated trails, artwork and other experiences.
And if he’s not wrong, well:
Brendan Leonard’s new book “Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems: More Funny Shit in the Forest” from Semi-Rad.com is out. All images courtesy of the author.
Support outside of online
Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. For the past several years, Outside Online has reported groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you updated on the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous reporting helps spark important debates about wellness, travel, and adventure, and provides readers with an accessible gateway to new passions in the outdoors. Time outside is important – and we can help you get the most of it. Providing a financial contribution to Outside Online takes only minutes, and it ensures we can continue to deliver the breakthrough, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you will support us. Many thanks.
Main illustration: Brendan Leonard
Thank you so much!
You are now subscribed to What You Missed
We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.
You can find more newsletters on our newsletter registration page.