Monday, December 22, 2014

Scattered Thoughts On The Amazing Race

(Warning: crap-ton of YouTube links to come. Hopefully, they'll stay intact in the time to come. Also, I've writing all this off the top of my head, so coherency might be an issue. My apologies in advance.)

I suppose that in order to talk about the twenty-fifth season of The Amazing Race, you have to start with the epilogue. After basking in one of the more unpredictable seasons in recent memory, viewers of the long-running show had this to look forward to:

Talk about letdowns. FIVE "blind date" teams? ALL "dating couples"? It forces fans to embrace TAR25 that much harder, as TAR26 could be either a dud waiting to happen (at best) or the beginning of the end of the critically-acclaimed series (at worst).

The "silver anniversary" season was worth celebrating. It featured one of the most talented teams in the show's history (dentists Misti & Jim, winners of five legs), another pair that redefined "calm" ("Soul Surfers" Adam & Bethany . . . yes, the Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm to a shark over a decade ago), and a duo (Brooklyn cyclists Kym & Alli) whose elimination will lead to an inevitable berth in the next "All Star" or "Unfinished Business" season. Add to that mix Brooke & Robbie (wrestlers who were the show's villains at their worst), and the unlikely "Sweet Scientists" Amy & Maya, and you had the makings of one heckuva season.

Sure, the show had its downsides. For one, Brooke whined her way throughout the race, coming off like Flo from the third season, only with more muscles. Jim's refusal to blink in interview segments was distracting. And newlyweds Adam & Bethany were too perfect at times; their faith in each other and God was stronger than anything I might have. Also, the "Switchback" task of herding an ox to find a clue couldn't match the insanity from the fifth season, as seen here (start at the 1:36 mark):

So what went right? Well, Amy & Maya proved to be the ultimate underdogs, even as their 4.50 leg placement average approached that of TAR21 winners Josh & Brent. Kym & Alli sought out fun wherever they went, from dancing outside a pub to making fun of the Dentists (as seen here). Yet another stuntcasted couple from Survivor went out early, as Keith & Whitney went out after five legs, while TAR alumnus Natalie Anderson wound up winning Survivor: San Juan del Sur (avenging her fallen "Twinnie" Nadiya, who was voted out first in the "Blood Vs. Water"-themed season.) Most notably, the more dramatic teams were sent packing before the Race heated up . . . particularly Miami realtors Lisa & Michelle, who swiped a pen out one of the Firefighters' hands (as seen here) at a sign-up board; and the combustible mother/daughter pair of Shelley & Nici, with the latter having a Pit Stop meltdown and the former getting into a verbal fight with Keith. Also: there was the "cupping" Detour option, which may have scared Amy & Maya off massages for life. Warning: hysterical pain, pixilation and unflattering camera angles ahead . . .

(and the clip doesn't include the skin scrapping or application of heated cups on their backs)

What was the turning point? That's easy . . . Kym & Alli electing to go to a surf-based Fast Forward, a task seemingly made for Adam & Bethany. The Cyclists were forced to go back to the regular route, and they were eliminated. If they stuck to the route, they probably would have beaten the Scientists to the Pit Stop, eliminating Amy & Maya. Instead, the Scientists wound up clinging for life, eventually winning the final leg and earning $1 million. Oh, and Maya mounted host Phil Keoghan like a koala bear on a tree (skip to 0:44 for that) . . .

Granted, they were bailed out by a non-elimination leg in the season's penultimate episode, forcing four teams into the final leg for the first time . . . in retrospect, this was a bigger bailout than Flo & Zach surviving the first consecutive non-elimination leg way back in TAR3. After Brooke & Robbie (who finished in first heading into the final leg heading to Los Angeles) were eliminated, it came down to a three-way showdown between Amy, Bethany and Misti at the final Roadblock. Eventually, it was a gimpy Amy that deciphered the clues correctly, allowing her and Maya to advance for the win, their only victory in a leg throughout the season, a feat that had been pulled off three other times in the show's history. I will admit it . . . I never expected the Scientists to win. Worse, my mother told me that they could win, and she will never let me hear the end of it. Still, it was an impressive win. It's a pity that we might not have an impressive TAR26 to build upon such good feelings.

PS: As long as I got TAR on the brain, I might as well post a picture of me with the Twinnies from TARCon 21 two years ago. This was the first time I would get to meet a Survivor champion, past or future. Natalie is the one on the right . . . I think. I have them marked in my album from that TARCon, but I can never remember which "Twinnie" has the nose stud and which has the nose ring.

PPS: (1/13/15) Naturally, CBS pulled the last two videos I posted. However, I did screencap the bit with Maya jumping into Phil's arms, and I offer that moment as proof on how manic she was:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Regarding Diem: A Letter To Bunim-Murray Productions

The following is a letter I sent to Bunim-Murray Productions, the company behind The Real World and The Challenge. I found the company's contact information, and I sent this message to them. Feel free to write your own letter to their attention.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am not sure whom at Bunim-Murray Productions will be reading this. To be honest, I am hoping to get the attention of Jonathan Murray with this letter. As the title indicates, this is in regard to the late Diem Brown.

I know that Battle Of The Exes 2 will be broadcast no matter what. I know that Diem was cast for it, partnered with her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Chris "CT" Tamburello. And I understand that her cancer relapsed in the first competition of the show. What I'm asking is for the footage to be cut out of the finished product. I'm betting that there is a lot of speculation as to whether or not to show them. The way I see it, we're supposed to be thinking about how Diem lived, as opposed to when things started turning against her for the final time. To see her in pain would negate the vibe of the upcoming special -- "We [Heart] Diem" -- that is slated to air on December 9 on MTV.

If I'm speaking honestly, I have a suspicion that Diem's downfall would be broadcast. I feel that Bunim-Murray Productions will not be satisfied unless somebody passes away on camera. I know . . . it's a horrible thought, but it would explain so much. It would make sense to think about that when you cast a person with a compromised immune system on the same show as someone who looked to ooze twelve diseases at any given time (not to mention his ugly disposition), which is what happened twenty years ago on The Real World: San Francisco. It would explain why Frankie Abernathy (cystic fibrosis) was veered towards RW: San Diego and away from Starting Over, with the idea that she could be cast on The Challenge. Had Andrew died after getting knocked over by Ty in RW: D.C., would you have closed up shop for good? And why else would you have drama cases and Section 8s on the show along with a near-infinite supply of alcohol, if not to increase the likelihood of a fatality? Once again. . . I know it's horrible to contemplate, but I never think about stuff like that happening on, say, Survivor. And that's unusual, given that particular program's use of machetes and volatile cast members.

Do me a favor. Do the audience a favor. Do Diem's friends and family a favor. Do not show her and CT on their final Challenge. I know that ousted cast members have been whitewashed from at least one Challenge (Piggy in The Inferno), and I'm sure that even with a sudden mood change, you can make the "story" work. And while I'm at it: end The Real World and The Challenge for good. The Ex-Plosion and Skeletons seasons show a mawkish lurching towards relevancy, and I feel these "twists" do more harm than good. Also, I feel that "regular" cast members like Arielle would be rejected for future exposure to The Challenge. As far as that show is concerned, I feel that the debauchery you seem to love might be muted in future editions in the wake of Diem's passing, given how no repeat Challenger has ever died before (I know about Michelle Parma, but she just did Extreme Challenge). Also, I've come to regard some cast members (particularly the loathsome "Johnny Bananas") as human beings in the past week, and that might be a sign that it's time to pack it in.

Thanks for your time in reading this. I hope to get a response from BMP in the near future. and I hope that you agree with my options for your franchises.

Jason Borelli

PS: Full disclosure . . . I did send an audition tape for RW: Back to New York, but the preceding letter is not out of bitterness. As somebody who lived near Manhattan at the time and went to school there, I understand the odds of me joining the likes of Coral Smith and Mike Mizanin were very slim at best.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day Four

I had a good day bookended by bad experiences. This morning, I drove to the bus stop, reached into my pocket, and realized I left my Metrocard at home. So I decided to go to the local rail . . . but then I bought a new Metrocard for $20, so I walked back to the bus stop.

After about three hours, I decided to go home. Along with my badge, I had also received a New York Super Card. This is a card that entitles one to a number of discounts, along with other amenities. I decide to walk a long way to a theme restaurant because I thought I'd get a discount.

They didn't have a discount.

Okay, so I know of a place that does accept the Super Card. Problem is, I don't know where it is. I call information, walk, then call 411 again because I forget things. I wind up walk nine blocks and change, but I finally found it.

The place is empty. There's, like, two people there, and neither one notices me.

Shit. So I wind up going to a restaurant where I pay over $20 for a small burger and sweet potato fries. With no discount. And I didn't need the damn fries. But at least I was able to get home.

Parade on Fifth Avenue.

Damn. I ended up walking nine blocks to the bus stop. All in all, it was an exhausting day. I logged in 18,560 steps, tops for the weekend. But you know what? I'm okay. There was little ennui to be had. I managed to have a fun weekend. Sure, I didn't get to do everything I wanted, but I met some familiar faces, got twelve sketches, and I had fun doing it. I'm going to need a few days to decompress, but I don't have to deal with many regrets. All in all, it was a fun four days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day Three

I had a good day. Logged in 14,860 steps, but I wasn't in much pain. Once again, I had to bail out early to get home at a decent hour. That meant missing another Adult Swim panel block, with Black Dynamite (a favorite cartoon of mine), The Heart She Holler, and Mike Tyson Mysteries (no, for real). I wanted to see it, but it took place at a time where it would let out around 7:30. No dice on that.

I wound up getting three new sketches, making in ten in three days. I spent $40 on an Abin Sur sketch from Dean Kotz, who drew a miniseries I read avidly, Krampus. I've been good about not going overboard with money . . . a little better than Fan Expo in Toronto. I'm going to fall short of my four-day record -- twenty in Comic-Con International 2009 -- but I don't care. One day, I'll have disposable income to spend on the bigger names, but I'm happy with what I get now.

The highlight for me today? Well, first I went to a panel on Disney's Infinity game. When the panel asked for questions, damn near everybody stormed to the back to grab collectable figures that you can play in the game. It was unbelievable to see a horde swarm for the swag. Yes, I was in there, and I got a Rocket Raccoon, but I wasn't hellbent on it.

Then came a panel for DC Comics' "Champions Of Justice." One thing about DC panels is that they give out swag for good questions. And I wanted to get something. Last year, I got a lenticular-covered copy of Forever Evil #1 for wondering how the Court of Owls could breathe in their mouthless masks. It took me a while to formulate something. I managed to get into one of the lines to speak. I saw others walk off with neat stuff. My question: What books would you like to see in a "rub and sniff" format? My question was the last one of the panel. What did I get?

A cape.

Yes . . . a cape. To commemorate Batman's 75th anniversary. I would've wanted another limited release issue or something flashy. But a cape? Oh, well. It was free, and I might wear it on Halloween while greeting trick-or-treaters. It depends on how I feel.

I have one more day. Happily, the ennui that hammered me in Toronto isn't affecting me as bad. I hope that I can last through Sunday without suffering from boredom.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day Two

Well, I had less fun today. A lot of it was timing . . . I gave my sketchbook to an artist, and he didn't come to Artist Alley until 1 p.m. For me, that meant a lot of wandering, killing time until he returned. I picked up a few odds and ends, but I kept looking at my phone, waiting for a call. Not a lot of fun, to be honest.

Also, there was the issue of timing. I had to bail out early because I wanted to get back home by 8, which I did. Problem was, I had to ignore the big-ticket panels, including Agents Of SHIELD and Archer, the latter panel I managed to get to last year. I think it would let out around 8:30, and it would take me forever to get back home. And it turned out that they handed out wristbands far ahead of time, so I would've been shut out anyway.

I did get to spend a few hours basking in Adult Swim goodness . . . they showcased Rick & Morty, Robot Chicken, and a show featuring Jack McBrayer and Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog. I am dead serious. It turns out that Jack and Robert Smiegel (Triumph's creator) have good chemistry together. Look at this clip from Conan which was screened at the panel:

Nice, right? Anyway, the plot has the pair being ex-stars from a Lassie-type show, reunited in California (even though the show is filmed in New York City). To add to the surreal atmosphere, the panel was moderated by Alan Colmes, best know as Sean Hannity's former punching bag.

The other panels (or is it the rest of the uber-panel?) was interesting. Rick and Morty is gearing up for its second season as caustically funny as the first. And I got to see the brains behind Robot Chicken for at least the third year in a row. It was pretty fun with the silly hats and occasional clips. Turns out they'll be doing another Christmas special, titled The Robot Chicken Lots Of Holidays But Don't Worry Christmas Is Still There Too So Pull The Stick Out Of Your Ass Fox News. For real. They were giving away trips to a nearby boat for the best questions. I got to the line too late . .  . I have no sense for those shorts of moments. I was going to ask what the darkest sketch in the history of the show was. The premise comes from this bit from the opening season:

Dark, right? I have a few ideas of what could supplant that, but I didn't get to the microphone in time. Oh, well . . . there's always e-mail.

Aside from the waiting and the panel, I didn't do much. I wound up going to a panel for Vertigo Comics, where I found that Gail Simone was going to be writing a book -- Clean Room -- where she shows off her dark side. Well . . . her darker side. And I got to thank Kurt Busiek for a great story in his creator-owned Vertigo book, Astro City.

Getting home was a hassle. First, I boarded a shuttle bus that was slowed by New York traffic. I took it to Penn Station, where I boarded an express train. I was going to switch to the local to get to the ferry station, but I didn't see any other trains running. At this point, I just wanted to get home, so I wound up taking an express bus to Staten Island, where I walked out of my way to get to my car. My pedometer reached 17,974. Judging from the blisters on my toes, I can believe it.

I have two more days. I'm sure I can make the best of them to have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Adventures @ NYCC 2014: Day One

After feeling not my very best in Toronto, I'm trying to rebound by having a good time at New York Comic Con. This is my ninth time going to NYCC, which is based on the west side of Manhattan. To me, it's too close to home to consider not going. And like Comic-Con International in San Diego, the convention has gotten bigger over time. The organizers wound up throwing a smaller con at the Javits Center -- Special Edition NYC -- several months ago. I wound up spending my first hour there waiting on line to getting my NYCC admission. Not the sign of a sane person, but here I am.

So far, I've been having fun. I wound up taking 14,565 steps, a lot of that was from walking from Sixth Avenue all the way to the Javits Center. I could have taken a shuttle, but I wanted to get off to a healthy start. The convention isn't as spread out as Fan Expo Canada . . . there are three levels of action to be had. The main floor is located upstairs, the ground floor features Artist Alley, and the lower level hosts panels. Once you get the hang of the basics, you're home free. You just have to give yourself enough time for the panels.

THE GOOD: I wound up hitting one panel, on Doctor Who in comic books. It was pretty good. I indulged my Titan blind box habit, winding up with a 1-in-40 figure of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. I also got five sketches, which might be a first-day record for me. This time, I'm trying to save my money, so I'm hitting the DC Comics area at Artist Alley for freebies. I also got to meet Gail Simone for the first time since Special Edition. I wound up getting my copy of Batgirl: Future's End autographed . . .

THE BAD: . . . which I ended up losing, because I was using the issue as a reference for a sketch. I think it fell out of my sketchbook. I'll have to check Lost & Found tomorrow, but I'm resigned to getting another copy. Also, I didn't get a freebie sketch from a famed artist. No big deal . . . I wasted a little time, but I knew the odds of me getting something from him were pretty slim.

Things should pick up tomorrow. I won't stay out too long . . . The Amazing Race will be on at 8 p.m., and I want to catch it "live," even thought I'll be DVRing it.

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.