Monday, September 29, 2014

The Amazing Crisis

I spent part of tonight watching CBS. Not because I give a crap about The Good Wife or CSI, but because I was looking for commercials for The Amazing Race. I didn't find any. I don't think CBS is trying to screw TAR fans like ABC did to The Mole, but I can't help but to be a little distressed.

For a long time, TAR used to be on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Actually, it was scheduled for 8, but it would usually air later thanks to overrun, usually from the NFL. Football would run past 7, and CBS would run 60 Minutes afterward. It wasn't like I was expecting the network to shorten or to pre-empt their prestigious news program, and it's not like CBS can shut down the NFL at the stroke of 7 (see: "The Heidi Game"). That was frustrating for me, especially when I'd go to TARCon (a fan-hosted finale party) and I wanted to record the episode while I was out. One time, it was 7 p.m., and the Packers were wailing on the Raiders, 51-3. I don't remember if that was the final score, but it was the score going into the fourth quarter when it was 7 o'clock.

Well, CBS decided to fix that, by shifting the show to Friday nights. The good news: no more NFL overrun. Bad news: a lot of people figured it was a move for a show that was about to die. I figured that there might be a ratings hit. It was a hit, all right . . . more of an open-field tackle. The first episode of the season finished a dismal second, behind ABC's Shark Tank. The only solace was that it outdid Utopia, Fox's freakshow of mental patients trying to build a society. Reading about that show, I actually look forward to the next season of The Real World, because you only see young adults act like assholes, as opposed to the Utopiots of all ages.

I try not to be an alarmist, but it is enough for me to write this entry. I've been watching the show since the second season in 2002. There have been times where I worried about the show's future, even in the (retrospectively) safety of Sunday nights. I know that nobody really reads this blog save for friends and friends-of-friends. But I don't know what else to do aside from yelling into the abyss of the blogosphere. Why don't I want The Amazing Race to die after 25 seasons? In no particular order:

1. Quality Travel Porn

I'm 38 years old, and I haven't been outside of North America yet. Watching TAR, I get to see the world. For instance, I didn't know about the African country of Burkina Faso until the show visited it. You get to see everything from landmarks to out-of-the-way places. And, more importantly, there's a good chance you get to see locals laugh at Racers as they struggle while performing tasks. Sometimes, the Racers don't deserve it, but it's still fun to watch.

2. Phil Keoghan Is Still The Man

Twenty-five seasons and thirteen years into TAR, the host is still worth watching. Unlike Jeff Probst over on Survivor, Phil doesn't get off on misery and the fumes of alpha males. Remember the times Probst was hugged? Those are few and far between. Phil can hold his own, whether he's providing narration before the credits, explaining tasks, or greeting teams at the end of each leg. For instance, he quipped about the shiny teeth of Missy & Jim (the orthodontists) to the local greeter. And I can count the times Phil has pissed me off on one hand. On the other hand, Probst manages to irritate at each once per episode. And he's the one with multiple Emmy awards. Meanwhile, Phil hasn't been nominated for Best Host in the past few years. Sometimes, life is unfair.

3. I Might Have Missed My Chance To See It

Let me explain: In May, CBS announced that the latest season of TAR would launch from Times Square in New York. That would have been a relatively short drive from my home on Staten Island. Worst case, it would take about an hour and change to get there through mass transit. The problem? It was 3 a.m.

I couldn't do it. Sure, New York is a lot safer than it used to be, but I didn't want to take any chances. Looking at the first episode, I probably wouldn't have been as nervous had I gone. There were lots of people there, as well as a few ex-Racers. In fact, one of them was Frank Mesa, who had finished second with his estranged wife Margarita in the show's first season. If you go to the 2:15 mark of the video below, you can see him telling teams where to find the finish line of TAR1: at Flushing Meadow Park. Given that the show starts and ends in the United States, and I don't get around, the odds of me seeing the show up close and personal are pretty slim. Well, there was Family Edition, but oaths were taken never to bring that up, even with the happy ending.




4. Anybody Can Run The Race

This season, the promotion people at CBS has flogged us with the show's inclusion of Bethany Hamilton. I don't follow pro surfing, but I know about the girl who lost her arm to a shark. You probably saw the commercials as well, as she was featured front and center for TAR, even more so than John Fucking Rocker was for the current season of Survivor.

I write for a magazine that's geared towards the disabled community. One of TAR's greatest strengths is casting people who might not have made the cut on other shows due to their shortcomings. For instance, Bethany is the third handicapped athlete to compete on the show, after Sarah Reinertsen (TAR10) and Amy Purdy (TAR21). You might have heard of Amy . . . she lost two legs to spinal meningitis, and she would later compete on Dancing With The Stars last spring, finishing second overall. Three contestants have multiple tours of duty on TAR while being disabled: Charla Faddoul (dwarfism), Luke Adams (deaf), and Zev Glassenberg (Asperger's Syndrome). If you consider having cancer to be a disability (like my editor does), then we had our first winners last season in father/son survivors Dave & Connor O'Leary. The contestants are rarely coddled, and most of the aforementioned Racers have managed to hold their own . . .  particularly Charla, who competed with Mirna, her total pill of a cousin.

5. Karma Might Be In Effect This Season

Usually, the team that goes off first is one you would want to start. This season, it was Lisa & Michelle, sisters/realtors from Miami. They came across as inoffensive in their preseason introduction video, but they were elevated to villain status during the first leg, when one of them ripped a pen from the hands of one of the Boston-based firefighters (Michael & Scott), when one of them was trying to sign up for a seaplane flight in St. Thomas. Eventually, Lisa struggled in a treasure chest-hunting Roadblock, when she was unable to use her compass correctly. She and Michelle eventually took a penalty along with two other teams . . . including the firefighters. And happily, they were beat out to the finish by Michael & Scott and Keith & Whitney (aka "Team Nashville"; a pair who met and fell in love while playing Survivor). So far, there hasn't been a team that has officially bugged its way out of our hearts (though Jim does seem a little intense), but there is one less noisome pair to get irritated about.

It's getting late, so I'll stop here. Please watch and support The Amazing Race. Don't judge it harshly for being a reality show, or because of how obnoxious one set of alumni (Nadiya & Natalie Anderson, aka the "Twinnies") act on the current season of Survivor (Nadiya was the first person voted off). If you go out on Friday nights, record the show. Hopefully, you'll fall for the show like I did all those years ago, and you won't look back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Survivor: Off The Rocker

I want to tell the story about a real pain in my ass from my past. For his sake, I'm calling him Bob. Bob was a recapper on Reality News Online around the same time I was. I don't remember meeting him, but he remains one of the biggest assholes I had ever gotten to know.

Now, I will admit, I am a negative person. It probably can be helped, but I don't do much with it. I was also a wannabe when it came to Television Without Pity, whose recappers I admired and envied at the time, much to the dismay of fellow RNO writers. Still, a lot of the time I felt like I was the only person who was sane, as my opinions were attacked by other recappers on the site. And Bob was right there, getting his licks in. He wasn't so much a bully as he was a toady; somebody who would kick an unconscious man after the main bullies did their thing. After I was booted from the site, he took over my Real World/Road Rules Challenge beat. The first thing he did: disrespected my writing style and made fun of my penchant for looking up last names of contestants. Bob was a real piece of work. When I went to TARCon afterward, I had to explain to people how he got the assignment, because I had fans who knew my work was superior, albeit negative and time-consuming.

Why am I talking about him? Well, back when we were on good terms (or while I was faking it), Bob claimed that he had made headway in the Survivor application process. I can believe it . . . after all, I have tried to get on The Mole with little success. I don't doubt that he caught the eye of a casting director. What bothers me is the notion that he would make it on a reality show . . . because I would feel compelled to rip on Bob every chance I got, purely out of spite. Even if he got on a show like Big Brother, which I don't watch, I'd tell people about my experiences with Bob, and how I felt he did me wrong. Even if nobody would listen, I'd still shout at the top of my (figurative) lungs about what a piece of garbage Bob was, even if the producers would gloss over it in the show's final cut. I don't know what would bother me more . . . Bob being on television on a regular basis, or Bob getting a shot at a six or seven-figure payday. Either one would hurt my soul.

Now . . . I haven't met John Rocker, either, but I know of him. While I consider myself a "lapsed" Mets fan, the fact is that I still remember 1999. I remember how the Mets couldn't get one up over the Atlanta Braves. I remember Larry "Chipper" Jones talking about how Mets fans would put on Yankees merch when their team was no longer in contention, clearly not understanding the differences between Mets and Yankees fans. It hurt that Chipper would hit, like, .400 every time he came to Shea Stadium. And I still hate Kenny Rogers for walking in the series-winning run for the Braves in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

John Rocker was in a class by himself. I have perspective about what it means to be a real Public Enemy of New York City .  . . but back in 1999, the standards were different. All Rocker had to do was say some dumb bullshit about the prospect of pitching in New York, like so:

"I'd retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing... The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

Real charmer, right? He was immediately placed on a pedestal as the worst of the worst in New York . . . worse than Chipper, worse than manager Bobby Cox, who would go on to bring in a pitcher named "Bong" as a pinch-hitter against New York after a Met got into some drug possession trouble. I remember the Mets going down three games to none against the Braves before mounting a comeback. I recall Rocker coming into the game and getting roughed up . . . and as he returned to the dugout afterward, he gestured to the jeering Mets faithful that his team was still up 3-0. The Mets wound up narrowing the gap to 3-2, and they managed to keep things interesting in Game 6, but the Braves prevailed thanks to Kenny Rogers being unable to find the strike zone. Even as a lapsed fan, I'm still bitter . . . especially when NBC decided it would be a good idea to have Rocker interviewed after the game. As if Mets fans weren't butt-hurt enough.

Rocker pitched in relief for seven years, playing for the Braves, Indians, Rangers and Devil Rays. He complied a 13-22 record with 3.42 ERA and 88 saves. He was also implicated in a steroid ring in 2007, admitting that he used the PEDs four years later. To save on droning about how his comments on New Yorkers wasn't an isolated incident, I'm just going to link to his Wikipedia page. Judge for yourself.

When I was in Toronto, I found out that John Rocker would be on Survivor: San Juan del Sur -- Blood Vs. Water, along with his girlfriend, Julie McGee. Putting aside what sort of woman would allow herself to love Rocker, you'd have to wonder why executive producer Mark Burnett would want the bum to be competing for a million bucks. Part of it is because Survivor has been home to athletes . . . most recently Jeff Kent. But even with his right-leaning politics, I still liked Kent, mostly because he probably contemplated taking a baseball bat to the bloated head of ex-teammate Barry Bonds . . . and who wouldn't root for a guy like that? But the biggest reason came from a fellow poster over on Previously.TV (my home after TWoP's forums went under) who called Rocker "the Russell Hantz of MLB!" I don't think that's a fair comparison. For one thing, I don't think Russell was a racist, so much as he probably had a deep contempt for everybody he met regardless of race, creed, color, etc. But I do agree that with Russell's best days behind him, and Burnett shying away from the Hantz family tree after Russell's nephew Brandon lost his mind in two tours of duty, a polarizing figure was needed for an increasingly irrelevant show.

John Rocker is a rectal wart of a human being. I can't see him as a redemption story. As long as he's on the show, I don't want to hear shit about anybody else . . . up to and including the two-time contestants of The Amazing Race, Nadiya and Natalie Anderson. I know, they're shrill, loud, and they once took $100 another team dropped and didn't return it . . . but damn it, they're still considered human beings. And unless somebody else from the show fills the villain role, I can't see Rocker as anything less than the bad guy you have to root against. We're talking Richard Hatch levels of hatred involved. Or Russell Hantz. Or Colton fucking Cumbie. And I'll be rooting for him to fail on every level of the game, not unlike Crystal Cox of the Gabon season (another athlete you can read about here). What I want is for everybody to root against Rocker, not just New Yorkers with long memories. I'd even want him to get booed at the subsequent reunion special, even if it takes away from people whose only crime was not being interesting in the fickle eyes of Jeff Probst. Bottom line: John Rocker can go fuck himself.

And so can Bob.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Adventures in Toronto 2014: Day Six

It's over. I'm back home, and I'm happy. So is Mom. I don't think anybody should be that happy to be on Staten Island, but here we are.

For me, it'll be back to the grind of looking for ongoing work, as well as trying to write on a regular basis. Toronto was a nice diversion, but I need to adjust my focus. That, and get a haircut. My head feels more bushy than usual, and I need to fix that.

As for Toronto? Well, I would recommend visiting the city, and I wouldn't say "no" to going back to Fan Expo Canada. I just need to alter my vision a little bit, and not make conventions end-all/be-all situations. That said, I know that I'll be ready for New York Comic Con in five weeks' time. And if I'm feeling like it, maybe I'll write about it here.

There's a lot I didn't write about here . . . like trying poutine- flavored potato chips, for instance. And seeing  Blue Jays fans wearing "I [heart] BJs" t-shirts. And trying creme brulee for the first time. And the time I found a place to get takeout dinner for my Mom and me after getting shut down by a local closed Subway. I might not have been successful in being happy in the big picture, but I did have several small moments that weren't a total loss.

Oh, and I only walked 3,276  steps today before I set down the pedometer. I'm thinking that it'll be a while before I make it over 10,000 again. Probably during NYCC. At least I'll know how to wander.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Adventures in Toronto 2014: Day Five

I gave up around 2:30 p.m. today. I don't think it's a record for me bailing out of a con, but I was neck-deep in ennui, and I needed to get out.

When it comes to Toronto, I've felt worse. Like I've said before, I lost my sketchbook and camcorder back in 2007, and I had a series of misadventures in 2011. I know things can be worse, but I can't seem to shake out of my funk. Not even legendary artist Neal Adams crashing a sketch duel could get me out of my doldrums. By the way, I seem to be coming up with a lot of synonyms for "bored." Sorry about that.

In total, I got fourteen sketches, including three today. I'd like to think it was worth the trip. I also got a bunch of blind box Doctor Who vinyl figures. It's a sickness . . . I wasn't going to get another one today, but the Titan booth slashed the price from C$15 to C$10, so I had to get one more. It was a K-9 figure, which I used as a reference to get a neat watercolor piece from Katie Cook. On the flip side, I asked for a Catwoman sketch from one artist, only he wound up using another reference I had printed up and failed to cross out. At least it was a nice sketch.

My mother wound up aiming a little lower, going shopping at the Eaton Town Mall. Mom says she's had a good time in Toronto, though she didn't check out many of the tourist places. At her speed, she can't traverse the steps of Casa Loma, and getting to the Toronto Zoo was a logistical nightmare. In the end, she's happy. That's all that matters.

After getting back to the room, we wound up vegging out on TV for a bit, including watching The Amazing Race Canada, which was a little more French-speaking than I'm used to. Also, the host isn't Phil Keoghan, but that's hardly his fault. We wound up going to Dumas Square, including visiting the Hard Rock Café for dinner. Hey, it was within walking distance. Afterward, we saw a guy on a big unicycle juggle flaming torches. It beats nearly getting molested by cut-rate plush figures in Times Square. I wound up totaling 13,305 steps today, which was a low number for me on this trip.

I'll be glad to come home tomorrow. I have stuff I'll be needing to do when I come back. As for my comic con itch  . . . I got a little more than a month to go before New York Comic Con. Hopefully, I can adjust myself accordingly to escape ennui for good.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Adventures in Toronto 2014: Day Four

Another day, another time where I question whether I'm doing what's best for me. Or maybe I'm getting burned out on conventions.

It's all supposed to be a big adventure, where I go off exploring and having fun. But a lot of the time, I feel like I could be doing something else with my time, something better. Sure, getting to, from and around the convention can be fun, but it feels like a drag. I run out of things to do, and I end up wandering the convention, occasionally taking pictures of cosplayers. I'd take off the wristband (no lanyards? WTF?!?), but I feel like I invested too much money to blow off a day of convention-going.

I did have fun getting sketches, though waiting on people to return to their booths was a pain in the ass. I geeked out over a sketch from acclaimed writer/artist Jeff Lemire . . .  it's a long story involving deer/human boys. And I got to see Greg Hyland again; like Ty Templeton, I only see him when I'm in Toronto. I wound up getting Lego versions of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. For the most part, though, I wandered. A lot. I visited a few panels, but I found myself napping through them. I just felt like today was killing time until the latest episode of Doctor Who ("Inside The Dalek") came on at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, my mother visited the St. Lawrence Market . . . and that was about it. She was on a touring bus which was stuck in traffic most of the time, thanks to the Expo and the Yankees/Blue Jays game. While I was listlessly walking around, there was a thunderstorm that my mother experienced. She was thinking of going to the Batta Shoe Museum, but she's putting that off until tomorrow. Sadly, she's going to have to put off going to the Toronto Zoo, mostly because it's a pain to visit . . . even though it's home to the only pandas in Canada. The allure of the black-and-white fuzzballs isn't enough to overcome the logistics.

I have one more day of conning. I apologize if this post came off as a cry for help. I just hate it when it feels like everybody is having more fun than me, even if I know that to be fiction.

PS: Why do I keep forgetting the pedometer? Today's total: 15,492 steps, a personal best for this trip. I hope I'm burning off calories with the wandering.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Adventures In Toronto 2014: Day Three

Had a bit of a mixed day, truth be told. The bad news was that my phone died on me, so I wound up going back to the hotel room earlier than expected. Actually, I kinda/sorta ran out of stuff to do anyway.

As a Doctor Who fan, I was sad to miss out on Q&A sessions with Matt Smith (the Eleventh Doctor) and Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams). Both would have taken way more commitment to lining up than I had. Getting autographs was also out of the question . . . lining up and paying gobs of money? No, thanks . . . the most I pay for that is $20. As for photo ops . . . it costs a small fortune to get your picture professionally taken. You know how much you have to pay for a threesome with Smith, Darvill and Karen Gillan (Amy Pond; late of Guardians of the Galaxy)? C$185. Way beyond my budget.

(BTW, I might as well talk about how funky the money is Up North. I can deal with how the paper money starts at $5 instead of $1 like in the States. But the stuff is made of a weird plastic polymer that you can see through in a few places. Also, if you scratch a dollar bill, it smells vaguely of maple syrup. It's like Canada wants to be the stereotype Americans portray them as, you know?)

Anyway, I did go to a funky panel. . . . from the Doctor Who Society of Canada, I learned about the intricacies of building a Dalek. Apparently, you can go online and get plans on how to create the Doctor's worst enemy. These people don't mess around . . . they got the eyestalks, the outer bubbles, even the voice modulators. It costs $1,500 (I'm assuming Canadian) to build one, give or take a few hundred bucks. That's dedication . . . and the architects even give their Daleks proper names. Very nice.

I wound up spending a lot on sketches, to the point where I had to get money at an ATM, which I didn't think wound work since I don't go to a Canadian bank. I got to surprise Jamal Igle, whom I had met on several occasions. He wound up sketching the Twelfth Doctor for me, once I ascertained that he was a Doctor Who fan. I finally got to meet two artists I never knew about going in. When I found out Kurt Lehner was a designer on Gargoyles (the critically-acclaimed series from Disney from the Nineties), I had to get a sketch of Goliath from him. Finally, I met Danica Brine, who did a top-notch Rocket Raccoon for me on a blank cover of the Guardians of the Galaxy star's solo comic.

I didn't do much else, to be honest. I wound up attending another "sketch duel," where two artists draw the same character. It used to be that a winner would be decided by how many raffle tickets an artist would get. These days, they just raffle off the sketches without much fanfare, and the possibility of free sketches is worth the trip for me. But after a while, my phone started dying on me. I tried calling my mother, but I couldn't get through. I tried calling collect from pay phones (which still exist in Toronto), but that went sideways on me. Soon, I was worried that my mother would be worried about me, so I figured out a way to get back to the hotel via a map I found in the lobby. You know how I got to the Convention Centre to begin with? I followed three people from the hotel, one of whom was cosplaying as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. They could have gotten lost, and I would've followed them anyway.

My mother wound up having a good time on a tour bus, which saved her legs some wear and tear. She went to Dundas Square, which is like Times Square back home, and she visited the Royal Ontario Museum, which I checked out back in 2011. She's having a good time at her own pace, which I'm happy about.

We wound up reuniting at the room, and we rested up before going out to eat dinner. Turns out our waiter originally hailed from Long Island, and he's going to Fan Expo tomorrow. He even has a bunch of X-Men tattooed on his left arm. That takes dedication . . . as much as going DIY for a Dalek.

I have two more days left before I depart for home. As long as I pace myself, spend wisely and stay away from belligerent visiting Yankees fans, I should be golden this weekend.

PS: I logged in 15,063 steps . . . not bad, since I didn't take the train either way. Oh, and Mookie Betts wound up hitting his first grand slam tonight. Good for him. Looks like he just needed to get away from the boobird Blue Jays fans.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Adventures In Toronto 2014: Day Two

Right now, Fan Expo Canada is coming to an end for the night, but I threw in the towel long before. Sometimes, I wonder if I'm getting too old for this sort of life. Or maybe I'm just upset I didn't get to have 5 Hour Energy. Sometimes, I doubt whether the stuff is effective, but I still want more.

Because of my mother's lack of mobility, we wound up taking a cab to Ripley's Aquarium of Canada. I vaguely remember it being a pit the last time I was in the area. Well, now it's an aquarium, and it honestly wasn't that great. No dolphins, penguins or seals to be found. If you want fish and not have it buttered and served to you, then it's a fun place. Like in Atlanta, they had areas where you can check out aquatic wildlife overhead. And they had areas for the kiddies where you can fool around with mini sharks and horseshoe crabs. On the other hand, there were no shows, except for people diving into the exhibits.

I wound up separating from my mother, which was an odd experience. It's just a little weird for us to have different experiences when we're out, even though it doesn't happen that often. She wound up going up to the CN Tower, where I've been twice (including in 2011). She had a good time, though she didn't get the whole experience. She saw that the Aquarium was shaped like a whale . . . which was odd, since there aren't any whales to be found. And she agreed with me about how Rogers Centre looks like a jewelry box from far above. She didn't step on the glass floors, though . . . apparently, she came up to the edge, and that was enough for her. That didn't stop others from stomping around, which must have been a little unnerving.

Meanwhile, I went to the Metro Convention Centre for Fan Expo. Short story: I got three sketches, including an awesome Groot from Ty Templeton, whom I've met each time I've been in Toronto. I also met Adam Warren, who I had only seen once before. He works on Empowered, a cheeky graphic novel series. I managed to sound coherent around him, even as I was disappointed that the next new volume won't come out until well into 2015. I'm going to go back to see him tomorrow because I brought the latest Empowered for him to autograph. Finally, I got a Doctor Who sketch from Kevin Bolk, whom I've met several times already. It's fun when an artist recognizes me from past commissions/sketches. I don't think any of them are sick of me. Yet.

If I had more stamina, I would've stayed for the "Inside The Dalek" panel from the Doctor Who Society, but I had enough. I wound up spending lots of multi-colored/see-through money, and I didn't want to waste any more. The biggest bummer of the day -- if you can call it that -- was when I claimed my free t-shirt, and they didn't have any XLs. How do you run out that early? I'm sure Canadians are about as weight-conscious as Americans. I wound up getting a 2XL, and I aim not to grow into it. On the other hand, my mother hurt herself when the shower rack detached from the wall, so maybe I shouldn't complain too much.

Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully, I can get my mojo back and have a fun weekend.

PS: I registered 13,403 steps on my pedometer. Because I'm no longer travelling with my mother, she doesn't mind hearing about how much I've walked, as long as she's not walking those steps with me.