Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Challenge Postmortem: The Decision

This is how bad John Devenanzio, a.k.a. “Johnny Bananas,” bugs me. After he won an unprecedented sixth Challenge at the end of Rivals III and screwed over his partner, Sarah Rice-Patterson, I came across this post on Stop Being Polite, which wondered if he was wrong in taking the $275,000 for himself. I called him a “scumbag,” which shows where I stood on the issue, and I wondered if the split money would still have made for the biggest payout in Challenge history. Turns out I didn't research hard enough; at the end of The Duel (where Johnny made his debut and lasted all of one mission), Wes and Jodi went home $150,000 richer. Here's where I got more upset . . . could it be possible that Johnny wanted to take the single season money record from his favorite ginger-haired punching bag? As far as Johnny is concerned, I would not be surprised.

History will show that Rivals III was one long clusterfuck of a season. Four teams wound up leaving the game without going into the Jungle. Devin & Cheyenne were the first team out, came back into the game when too many players were vacating, got picked by winning teams to be in the Jungle, and they wound up avoiding the black skull on six draws. Johnny's idiot cousin Vince didn't learn any lessons from his first Challenge stint, and he wound up getting into his share of conflicts. After a shoving match with Thomas, host TJ Lavin gave Wince a warning. True, no punches were exchanged, but one has to wonder whether his “bloodline” with Johnny kept Wince in the game. He wound up finishing second with Jenna because somebody had to place. And Johnny & Sarah went into the Jungle only once, right before the final mission. A few episodes before that, Dario & Nicole had a chance to send Johnny and Wince to draw skulls with their respective partners, but Dario didn't pull the trigger. While neither team would have been an immediate underdog facing Nate & Christina, Bitchio could have turned up the heat. He did not, and Johnny continued yet another charmed run, aided by perhaps the best partner he ever had.

Even if I had not accidentally gotten spoiled about Johnny & Sarah's win (I hit the wrong button on my iPad), I still would have bet on them in the final mission. The only suspense was which of them would earn more points in order to decide the prize split. Like I said last time, Sarah was in a no-win situation, while the toxic atmosphere of the series ensured Johnny wouldn't be raked over the coals like his partner would. The turning point came in the overnight session. One player per team would sleep in relative comfort, while the other had to stand on a stump in the cold. Whomever stood on the stump longer would get two points, while the rest of the tasks awarded one. In the finished product, TJ doesn't announce the winners, probably out of suspense. Sarah was shown to have been feeling ill, so people would have to assume Johnny outlasted her on the stump. For somebody as cynical as me, this seemed like an easy way to give Johnny the points and the ultimate decision. Bad enough that the times per task were being added up, and the final ascent wasn't staggered like the start of a leg on The Amazing Race. The possibility of producer interference was too much to ignore.

Cut to the final minutes of the episode. Johnny & Sarah had trounced the opposition, and the lead points-earners had to make their decisions. Devin faked out Cheyenne before declaring that he would split the $25,000. Wince followed suit with a $50,000 split. Then came Johnny's turn. He bullshitted about how he had forgiven Sarah for the sin of playing to win on Battle Of The Exes II. Then he figured that he probably didn't have many seasons left in him, and he claimed the money for himself. While my grip on reality television is nowhere near as tight as in years past, that still has to rank as one of the dirtiest moves in the history of the genre. I saw Johnny's relationship with Sarah being mostly 50/50. At worst, it was 60/40, but that could have applied in either direction. Neither player carried the other outright. At the very least, Sarah deserved $137,500 from her trials. She wound up with nothing, save for a stipend and/or appearance fee, which would be considered small potatoes compared to the runner-up prizes.

Sarah broke down. Hard. Since she truly believed in friendships and forgiveness, she thought Johnny would do the honorable thing. Johnny broke Sarah. It is my policy to view anybody debuting on a BMP show to already have been damaged, but Sarah wasn't the massive trainwreck like so many of her contemporaries. Sure, she had visible cracks, but most viewed her as intelligent. I don't think she was seen as totally pitiable before the decision . . . and that was some feat given how many of her past teammates let her down. She had to leave Battle Of The Exes when Vinny pulled down Mandi’s top. She was dismissed when Trishelle quit Rivals II. In the aftermath of having won her first Challenge two seasons prior, she probably thought that the show wouldn't fuck her that hard a third time. At the Reunion, she pointed out that she merely sent Johnny (and Nany) into the Dome in Battle Of The Exes II against Leroy and Theresa, and she didn't add that he had already been eliminated earlier in the season. Not that the audience would have cared anyway, given the applause Johnny's choice got in the Reunion’s opening minutes. While Sarah has never been a widely-beloved figure, you can't help but sympathize with her when she yelled at the audience for co-signing Johnny's shitty, shitty move. Even if the crowd had loaded guns pointed at them, it was still an inexcusable reaction.

I don't understand why Sarah attended the Reunion. She probably knew that she'd be sitting next to Johnny, inches away from hearing his excuses (“All’s fair in love, war and Challenges”? Fuck you, Johnny. Seriously). The cynic in me figures she was paid to show up and stalk offstage for a spell, before being coaxed back by Cheyenne. Maybe she was promised five minutes alone with Johnny and no witnesses. The best move would have been not to show, letting Johnny beat off in front of his adoring fans. Then Sarah could have delivered a taped segment, venting about how she was wronged. The camera would pull back to reveal her holding a baseball bat. Pulling back further, we would see Johnny's car. And then Sarah would channel John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, screaming about the perils of fucking a teammate in the ass. Sadly, The Challenge is where hope goes to die, and Sarah didn't say much else when she returned. Instead, host Nessa (who is probably a glaring weak link on Girl Code) moved on to Devin and Cheyenne’s outrageous fortunes, an apparent hookup between Wince and Camila (somebody who probably didn't want to be seen grinding on the same family tree with its gnarled, stubby branches), and the “Challenged Awards.” This included Thomas getting “nominated” for bailing on the game, without the context of him wanting to be with his ailing girlfriend. Needless to say, the people who put the Reunion together made black holes envious with their sucking.

I'm going to stop here. I feel that I'll need to get my act together before writing about all of my problems with Johnny. Believe me, there are many. I also have to make time to listen to Bill Simmons' podcast with him, which promises to be brutal, given the affection the one-time ESPN "Sports Guy" has for Johnny. Or maybe I'll find a way to twelve-step away from Bunim-Murray for good, and move on with my life. Fat chance of that happening, though.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Sarah Redemption?

Sarah Rice-Patterson had the happy ending. Along with Jordan Wiseley, Sarah powered her way through Battle Of The Exes II, taking home $125,000. Even better, she had sent Johnny & Nany to the final Dome, where they lost to Leroy and Theresa (who was a last minute substitution for Nia, who was kicked off for grabbing Jordan's privates). Johnny was merciless afterward, spewing hatred on her for playing the game he had controlled for so long. Never mind that he and Nany lost to Leroy & Nia in the Dome, only to “earn” their way back through “Battle Of The Ex-iled.” Sarah had committed the sin of throwing Johnny under the bus, which was a transgression almost as great as quitting. While most people figured that Johnny would continue to suckle on  the BMP teat, Sarah's story was apparently over.

Of course, that was not the case. Two seasons later, she arrived on Rivals III, and she would be paired with the man she grievously wronged . . . at least if you believed Johnny. He would not shut up about how his one-time friend had stabbed him in the back. Never mind that he went into the season with five Challenge wins, and that he is the all-time money leader in the show’s history. He wouldn't stop whining. But after he and Sarah won a mission, Sarah apologized for her actions. On the forum that I frequent, the hatred for Sarah came roaring back. All we needed from her was an interview segment that her partner wouldn't have found out about for months.

“Am I sorry that I played Johnny? No, I'm not. I wanted to win the money. We all wanted the money. If the roles were reversed, he would have screwed me. But we're in this together, so I have to play to his ego so that we have the best shot at winning. If I have to jerk him off, I'll find tweezers to do it with, because I can't risk breaking his dick off in my hand.”

As the season lurched forward, it became evident that she was still needy for acceptance, even from a scumbag like Johnny. Needless to say, it has not been fun to watch. Also, heading into the final episode, the audience had nobody and nothing to root for.

But then came a twist. TJ Lavin told the final three teams that they'd would be completing tasks, and the best overall time would win it. This wasn't new .  . . I hated the notion when it played out in Free Agents and Battle Of The Bloodlines. I felt that the format could have been fixed by BMP to ensure the ending they desired . . . like Johnny’s last win, or Cara Maria & Jamie's triumph last season (I can't dispute Laurel’s win; I called her “Killbot” partially for her athleticism). The wrinkle: Each player would be competing individually for points. Whomever has more points than one’s partner has to decide whether to split the prize money, or to keep it for themselves. This included first place, with the potential for a $275,000 payday, the greatest in the show’s history.

Here's the question: Given how comfortable Sarah has been with Johnny's usual antics, would taking all of the grand prize redeem her in the eyes of the hardcore fans? While she has been such a doormat for him throughout the season to the point where her middle name could have been "Welcome," I would hope there's a shred of pride in her, especially after eating so much shit. The money would no doubt pay for grad school and at least one child. Who cares if she would be guilt-ridden to name it “Johnny,” even if it turns out to be a girl? And isn't it fun to see an asshole get hoist by his own petard? Look at Jon Dalton on Day 38 on Survivor: Pearl Islands, as he struggled to keep his balance on a raft, begging Lillian to make a deal as she went with the flow. Johnny would finally get his sixth win, but he'd have nothing to show for it aside from whatever stipend BMP had given him. Who wouldn't root for that?

Of course, Sarah would have to announce her retirement from the show afterward. Like, five seconds after taking the money for herself. And she would need to skip the subsequent Reunion, where Johnny would no doubt belittle her to no end. Worse yet, MTV never brings in intelligent people to make up the audience, and Sarah would be dragged through the mud again. I hate her only to the extent where I'd want bags of weak tea thrown at her for being such a pushover, while Johnny would get rocks aimed at his head. Instead, the sycophants enable Johnny, feeding his massive ego. Sadly, I think Sarah would elect to share the money with him, because she values friendship so much . . . even if it's with a complete and utter asshole.

If Johnny scores more points and gets the win, he would be embraced in either scenario. If he keeps the money, he is justified for avenging himself upon Sarah, leaving her with next to nothing. And should he continue to appear on the show, that choice would not be held against him like it would for Sarah. Once again: His ass is so tasty, he turns damn near everybody around him into people with hearty appetites for it. Should he choose to share the money, he would be seen as a benevolent Banana, able to forgive Sarah for her ultimate sin. That would parlay into suckering future players into believing he is an honorable guy, where he is usually as full of shit as a septic tank.

As for the other teams? It would take a miracle for them to prevail in the finale.

Devin & Cheyenne

These  two have made show history as being the first Are You The One? alumni to make the final mission. They lost the first Jungle, got brought back, and managed to dodge a second trip by drawing white skulls. Devin is basically a poor man’s Wes, with the superiority complex that he needs to lose, even if he is the least of so many annoyances. Cheyenne recently lost it getting picked on by Johnny and his idiot cousin, to the point where she considered leaving. After talking to her mother (whose works would've earned her all of the prize money in a better world), Cheyenne came back to play. It's a pity she's got AYTO stink on her. I may have gotten to like her.

Jenna & Vince

Of course, Johnny's cousin would turn out to be a mainstay. Wince is still an asshole, and a dim one at that. He reminds me of Mac from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, what with the bulk and mental vacancy. He truly is related to Johnny, given how he lucked into the finale. Should he receive any money at the end, I fully expect Johnny to sell him beans for the prize. He wouldn't even have to claim to have magic beans. Johnny would have found a can at a bodega and pawn it off on Wince. And while I'm thinking about it . . . "Vinny Pineapple" is not a good nickname, Wes. That is yet another reason why you will never be considered cool.

Jenna is just as dull mentally. She probably thinks devices get heavier the more material is downloaded on them, and she didn't feel insulted when a pissed-off Devin labeled the other players "sheep." Her nadir came when she found out that her boyfriend Zach may have been unfaithful to her over the phone. She has crap taste in guys. Jay was a shrimp and a cheater, and he persuaded her to quit the final mission in Battle Of The Exes II. Given Zach’s lack of stamina in finales, I see him as a “two pump chump,” who constantly pinned Jenna to the bed as he went to dreamland. And she would stare at the ceiling, persuading herself that he was the right man for her. Now I hear rumors that she rebounded with Wince. That is a downgrade. If you clog your ears, Zach would be nice to look at. Wince can probably eke out half a pump before collapsing, and Jenna would have to reevaluate her life yet again. The girl needs an intervention.

Recently, I found out that VH1 Classic has been rebranded as MTV Classic, and it will show "classic" shows from MTVs heyday. If they opt to show Real World/Road Rules Challenge, may they air episodes from The Gauntlet. At least we would get a Sarah worth rooting for. The Sarah we got today makes it so hard.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Two Bullets For Bunim-Murray (Part Two)

Sorry for the delay. Between my job and sleep taking me on the weekends, I haven't found much time to write about the evils of Bunim-Murray Productions. I'll tweak this entry when I get home.

What is the best way to describe The Challenge in general? It helps if you're familiar with the story of Pinocchio, particularly the part where the wooden lad gets into mischief with other bad boys. They drink, smoke, generally act unruly . . . and then they transform into donkeys and get forced into labor. Of course, there are a few differences. For instance, women carry on as badly on the show. Also, nobody learns a lesson. And donkeys are cute creatures. Your average Challenger? Not so much.

It's hard to pick the high point of the show’s 28-season history. Maybe it was back in the pre-elimination era, when Real World/Road Rules Challenge was more of a traveling circus. The original Battle of the Seasons piped in voting drama, but the prevailing pairs wound up sharing their spoils with most of the departed teams. Battle of the Sexes? Anything with the detestable Puck Rainey cannot be considered a good thing, even when he bailed out halfway through. The Gauntlet introduced the win-or-go-home format that is in the DNA of the show today, and it yielded a great heroine in Sarah Greyson. But the finale was marred by Coral succumbing to a spider bite, leading to her team losing and Mike and Nathan pitching fits afterwards (logical in Nathan's case, since he knew this would be his final Challenge). My nomination for the last good season would be Inferno II, where the shrinking Good Guys team prevailed over the Bad Asses in the final. However, like I said previously, you have to remember Tonya struggling and her nasty female teammates heaping abuse. After that comes a blur of drama and turmoil, headed by TJ Lavin, the poor man’s Jeff Probst.

(Quick tangent: It sucks that BMP never found another host, because I find Teege to be so tiresome. Off the top of my head, the following would have made suitable replacements over the years: Melissa Howard, Coral Smith, Frankie Abernathy, Blair Herter, Timmy Beggay, Devyn Simone, and Rob Dyrdek. I know, Rob isn't in the Bunim-Murray Productions “family,” but he's probably the most entertaining person on MTV. Also, he could have whipped up a theme song for the show. And perhaps performed it as Bobby Light, his Eighties one-hit wonder alter ego.)

As of this writing, it looks like Johnny & Sarah will triumph in Rivals III, giving him an unprecedented sixth Challenge win. While I do not care to call him “John” like Abram did last season, I refuse to use his nom du famewhore. Sure, those two come off better than most of the Go Big Or Go Home cast, but they are grimy as hell. Sarah is the biggest disappointment this season. While she did not know she would be partnered with Johnny going into this season, she has shown regret at playing to win during Battle of the Exes II. She went as far as to apologize to him for her supposedly treacherous actions, as she and Jordan sent Johnny & Nany to their eventual doom. Never mind that those two had already been eliminated, only to be brought back in the lame web-exclusive “Battle of the Ex-iled” series. Worst of all, there have been no interviews of Sarah saying that she needed to appease Johnny for the good of their game. At best, she is a dog with a weakness for belly rubs. At worst, she is an embarrassment of a human being who would let Johnny luck his way to a win yet again.

Naturally, the rest of the cast has been crap. While the Are You The One? alumni are guaranteed to be represented in the finale (a first after three seasons), they still come off as unworthy of  getting more camera time. Devin & Cheyenne lost the first endgame, only to be brought back when the field began shrinking uncontrollably, with Leroy getting injured and Brandon punking out by quitting to be with his girlfriend (I doubt they’re still a couple). Since then, the AYTO pair have been picked for the Jungle five times, but they haven’t fall back into it. Then there's Dario, who was partnered with Nicole. After they won a mission, they had to pick two teams, one of which would have to face Nate & Christina in the Jungle. The obvious play was to send in Johnny and his idiot cousin Vince, along with their respective partners. While Nate & Christina would have been the underdogs in either endgame scenario, the thought of Johnny Fortune or Wince going home with nothing was appealing to most of the rookies and never-would-be rivals. Dario and Nicole weighed options and listened to opinions, including Johnny’s. Dario was determined to be the shot-caller in this round. Whom did he pick?

Cory & Ashley and Devin & Cheyenne.

Dario's rationale was that Cory was playing both sides, but it was still a stupid move. Before bowing out in the Jungle, Ashley called Dario a “bitch,” and I can't say that I blame her. I'm torn about what would be the better nickname: Dummyo or Bitchio. Once again. Johnny walked away as marked as a gang boss's moll, and that continued to suck. Also, he instigated a conflict between Tony and one-time partner Camila, leading to their ejection from the game. He expressed regret afterward, but I imagine him rubbing one out from glee afterward. Ditto Wince, once Johnny explained what happened.

The next paragraph is a little gruesome, so feel free to skip it. I figured out why other players love to ally themselves with Johnny, even at their own expense. It's because his ass is so delicious. Seriously, this show offers a clinic in salad-tossing, and these people are experts. They don't even bother with jam or syrup when they dive in. Does it taste like pie? Ice cream? Is it like the Everlasting Gobstopper, where you get many courses in a single bite? Maybe it's banana-flavored, giving Johnny his nickname. Sure, there are those that don't feel like partaking (Abram, Cara Maria, CT, Jordan), but they're in the minority. Aside from his ability to toast (Bill Simmons once invited him to a Grantland shindig for that purpose) and being Diem’s friend in her more painful days, is there anything good about Johnny? I don't think so.

You're probably wondering, “What about Wes? Don't  you like him?” No, I do not. There is an elitist air about him, like you'd know he would root against the Deltas while watching Animal House and for Alpha Beta in Revenge Of The Nerds. More importantly, Wes resembles Wile E. Coyote, perhaps the most hapless predator in cartoon history. How many of Wes's grand schemes to upend Johnny have blown up in his face? And when he interviews about getting the upper hand, you can mentally add a “Weston Bergman, sooooooooper genius!!” soundbite.  The guy has been sent into endgames on eighteen occasions, and he was picked or voted in all but three times. Never mind that hewon two-thirds of the win-or-go-home games. Sure, he's won two Challenges, but I figure he triumphed in The Duel because he got a headstart on Brad in the final mission, and he won Rivals II because karma decided to pay his partner CT for years of suffering. Last week, the main story shouldn’t have been about the first endgame between relatives (cousins Nany and Nicole), but rather Wes E. Coyote plummeting off the cliff yet again.

As Johnny & Sarah face off against a field as hapless as the dopes from Survivor: Redemption Island that Rob Mariano ran over for the win, we turn our attention to casting rumors for the next season. As you'd expect, most of the candidates hail from the bottom of the barrel, topped off by three of the biggest headaches from Real World: Go Big Or Go Home: Dylan, Dione and Racist Jenna (as opposed to Challenge veteran Poor Life Decisions Jenna). Sabrina's name has also come up, but she would probably be offered up as a  sacrifice to the dark gods these idiots worship. In a perfect world, MTV would pull the plug on this shitshow. Really, reruns of Ridiculousness would get better ratings. Alas, we are no doubt stuck with The Challenge until it inevitably collapses inside Johnny’s rectum.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Two Bullets For Bunim-Murray (Part One)

It's time for Bunim-Murray Productions to pack it in.

I am not the first person to suggest this, and I probably won't be the last. I'm guessing that critics have been finding chinks in the armor of The Real World as far back as 1993, when he second season couldn't measure up to the initial offering. Maybe the naysayers first took aim in 1994 with the casting of Puck Rainey, who remains the patron saint of reality media whores. Then there was the London-based installment in 1995, which only featured three Americans and had so little to do that BMP took away televisions from their houses in subsequent seasons. I put the last major peak at either New Orleans (2000) or San Diego (2004), depending on my mood.

The 31st season finished airing last month, and it has to rank  as one of the ugliest editions in the show’s history. Go Big Or Go Home was the third consecutive gimmick-laden season. Taking a page from its deceased sister show Road Rules, cast members were pressed into missions to determine their limits. Should they back out of those, they would be sent packing and replaced. With this crew, nobody was really tested. It got to a point where an eighth roommate – Dylan – was added to the show when it became obvious nobody would be eliminated. Things would have been bad enough, but BMP elected to set their cast in Las Vegas for the third time in the show’s history. And if you couldn't hate the show enough already, BMP sprung for hoverboards. Never had I wanted somebody to be engulfed in fire as badly as I did during GBOGH.

The cherry on top of the dung heap was a girl named Jenna. She hailed from South Carolina, which probably set off alarms to those who just ambled in here. She was also the second Mormon girl cast, a decade and a half after Julie Stoffer headed up the New Orleans cast. Unlike Julie, it didn't take long for her to wear out her welcome. She didn't see how racist she came across, especially to the two African-American cast members, Dean and Ceejai. Jenna's roommates tried their best to educate her. When she had to sit out a mission due to injury, the cast voted for her not to be kicked off. I imagine the producers breathed a deep sigh of relief, because she was the straw that stirred the noxious drink. Her season ended a short time earlier than expected, as Ceejai gave her the most deserved beatdown since Gladys pummeled Abe on RR: Latin America. BMP ejected Ceejai, then kicked off Jenna for her own protection. Normally, I would root for a six-on-one dogpile, but most of these people were just so repellent. Here's the breakdown:

1. Sabrina

Her “storyline” was that she had never met her biological mother. Had to deal with Jenna's drama when they had to perform an original song for a mission. She will probably never be seen on a Challenge.

2. Dean

He took to the hoverboards and “carnies” a little too easily, but he was an okay person otherwise. He’ll probably never appear on a Challenge.

3. Ceejai

Tried her damnedest to put up with Jenna before beating her up. Otherwise, she'd be in the second position. Actually seemed to regret her actions. Would probably be invited to a Challenge, but would decline for fear of BMP forcing her into a partnership with Jenna.

4. Kaliah

Big fat “whatever” with this one. Had a fling with Dione and couldn't get over that. She'd be lower on most other seasons. Would probably resurface on a Challenge.

5. Chris

I should like this guy, especially for renouncing his ties to the Mormon Church. It's just that he had to go online during the season to blab about Jenna's racist tendencies, and I find that it's better for viewers to find stuff like that on their own. We don't need friend-of-a-roommate info supplied to us. Also: if BMP hadn't made it a “mission” for Chris to tell Jenna about the “leak,” she never would have known it was him. He might do a Challenge, but I'd suspect the other players would take a “snitches get stitches” mindset and eliminate him early.

6. Dylan

When we first saw him, it was in a teaser for potential replacement roommates. He was shown at his college, stripping down and playing a “prank” on the teacher. I consider it more along the lines of a cry for attention. Bugged in so many ways, but especially for having a fling with Jenna and trying to write it off as manipulation after the fact. Dude, you tried to “stick it in crazy.” Be honest with yourself and others. He is probably bunking at BMP’s offices as I type this in anticipation of being on the next Challenge.

7. Jenna

She's a trainwreck that's visible from orbit. I shouldn't feel an iota of pity for her, but with a cast this horrible, I can't help it. Will probably do at least one Challenge, but if she doesn't poke her head above the Mason-Dixon Line, everybody will be better off.

8. Dione

Yes, I'm ranking this tool below the racist. There was just something about the freeloading “carny” that rubbed me the wrong way. I don't think BMP could have devised a mission he could fail, because he struck me as the type of guy that needed attention. I would've suspected him of dropping the proverbial dime on Jenna, but I didn't think he gave a shit either way. Also, I doubt he could read or write. If he doesn't become a Challenge mainstay,BMP will probably give him a spinoff with the rest of his loser friends. I hope somebody will explain this essay to him in a manner he can understand.

Against all logic, there is a 32nd season in development. It will be set in Seattle, which was the location of the show in 1998. That edition climaxed with the so-called “Slap Heard Around The World,” where the imbalanced Stephen smacked Irene as she was making an early departure from the show. She tried to out him before the fateful slap, and BMP rewarded her by editing her to look like a nutter. Had this incident taken place a few years later, during the reality television boom, the resulting backlash might have shut BMP down, if not altering their methods for the better. Instead, viewers are stuck with the bottom of the barrel between The Real World and The Challenge.

At this point, I would wait a few days before putting this post out there, as I'd wait for The Challenge to severely disappoint me yet again. I'd vent about Johnny getting his way, compare Wes to Wile E. Coyote, and talk about the irony that one of the show's biggest fans (Bill Simmons) has a program that premieres opposite it every week (Any Given Wednesday) on HBO. But there I found this post on Reality Blurred. It seems that a former contestant from Are You The One? is going to be cast on RW32. My thoughts on that registered as such:

"No. No. No no no no no!! NO!! God, no!! Fuck, no!!! WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING THIS TO US?!?"

I know, these are thoughts that should be reserved for war, global famine, or a Trump presidency. Shit, I get steamed up about how The Amazing Race will feature 22 strangers in its next season. But I've had enough AYTO to stomach. Bad enough idiots from that show are dumped  on The Challenge. I don't watch it, and I shouldn't be subjected to those people living it up in an exotic locale after they lived it up in an exotic locale. And now BMP, in an attempt to stay relevant, is ready to drop these losers on their flagship program? Ugh.

I'll stop here. Once I've seen the latest Challenge fiasco, I'll further articulate my intense distaste towards Bunim-Murray Productions.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

NYCC: Press-ing For Advantage

This past Wednesday, tickets went on sale for New York Comic Con, which takes place in October. The setup was similar to that of Comic-Con International . . . you create a profile and log in when the sale takes place. The show ran out of three and four-day tickets in a short amount of time. As for me, I did not try my luck. A few weeks earlier, I was granted a press badge.

Initially, I did not want to go that route. While I consider myself a writer, I've never been adept at reporting. I veer towards feature stories, where I can interview people and bang out the article by the set deadline. When I went to NYU for my Master’s degree, I was thrown not the deep end a few times. I wasn't at my best covering an event and writing about it that night. I would have been perfectly fine with paying full price for admission.

Late last year, I was visiting Bleeding Cool, and Rich Johnston was looking for correspondents to cover conventions. I go to my fair share, both big and small. Even if I don't go on an “adventure” (Toronto, San Diego, etc), I always had NYCC. This was what I wanted when I started hitting cons on a regular basis . . . to have something big that close to me. The con had some rough moments; in its first year (2006), the fire marshal shut down the Jacob Javits Center due to overcrowding. I remember being stuck on a line, pressed against a wall. Originally, the show took place in February, in the bitter cold. It didn't help when the line to get in stretched for many blocks. These days, it's mostly nice weather, where you can wear your t-shirt for a few more days before stuffing it in the attic for the winter.

As time went on, the show gained in popularity. From what I've heard, the attendance is higher than even Comic-Con. In 2014, ReedExpo added a second show in the city, Special Edition NYC, focusing more on comic books. When I went there, I saw that they were selling tickets to NYCC in advance. I waited at least an hour on line before going to my usual activities. Last year, NYCC sold out in record time. While I did get an e-mail alerting me to that, it went over my head. Also, against all odds, I was working. I probably would have taken the day off had I been aware, because NYCC was approaching CCI-level of demand. Luckily for me, Special Edition was still an option. I wound up spending four hours in what was more of a blob than a line. I wound up with four-day access to NYCC, and I was grateful for that. It was one thing to try and fail to get a badge for CCI . . . even if I got it, I'd still have to fly over 3,000 miles to get there, and I'd need a place to stay. NYCC is a lot easier for me to visit, especially with the 7 subway line extending to Hudson Yards, a short hike away from the Javits Center. To miss out on that would royally suck.

Apparently, Special Edition wasn't a hit, so it was discontinued. By the time NYCC was accepting press applications, I had covered several cons for Bleeding Cool. So far, I have written about Big Apple Con and MoCCA Arts Festival in New York, Anime Fan Fest in Somerset, NJ, and New Dorp Comic Con in my home borough of Staten Island. While I haven't gotten much feedback on my work, it had been good enough to get Rich’s blessing to pursue press access. While I will be expected to file three stories per day, I am trying my best to get ready. Right now, I am typing this on an iPad I won at a raffle a few years ago. I'm getting used to typing on the go, though some things mystify me . . . like how I can take and save pictures, but I need WiFi access to save documents in the cloud. Also, with my current temp gig, I can kill time by going online and scratching the internet itch.

This weekend, I'm going to Secaucus, NJ, to cover Heroes & Villains Fan Fest. I see it as a test of my reporting abilities. With NYCC three months away, I need all the practice I can get.

Relevant Links

Big Apple Con

MoCCA Arts Festival (prelude, day one, day two)

Anime Fan Fest (fun activity: do a shot any time I mention AnimeNEXT)

New Dorp Comic Con

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Looking Back: Saluting The 1986 New York Mets

If I didn't have a job, I probably wouldn't have gone to Citi Field on May 28.

I had gone there twice last year to watch the New York Mets. The first time was before their resurgence in early August, which culminated in them winning the National League pennant and going to the World Series for the fifth time in 54 years. I wound up going to the final game of the regular season, which they won. I wasn't particularly eager to go back, but I didn't have much choice in the matter. From May 27-29, the Mets would be honoring the 1986 team that won the World Series, peaking with a salute on Saturday. And I had to go.

Sports fans probably get where I'm coming from. If you're lucky, there will come a team that will enthrall you totally, a team that would be yours forever. In 1986, the Mets won 108 games, the most of any squad in that decade. They defeated the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series in six games, and went the distance against the Boston Red Sox, coming from two runs down in Game 6 to win in 10 innings, en route to their second (and last) title. Never mind that the "dynasty" from 1984-1990 had the team winning a mere two National League East crowns. Or that most of the team were assholes, as chronicled in The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman. Or that tragedy would dog the players for years afterward. Even as the current edition of the team is holding their own in a competitive environment, old-school fans (particularly the ones such as myself, not born when the Miracle Mets won their title in 1969) will have a soft spot for the '86 team.

I had to go to Saturday's game. On Friday, the Mets were giving out t-shirts modeled after the '86 squad's uniform, with the pinstripes and orange and blue streaks running down the sides. On Sunday, they planned to give out replicas of the World Series rings to the first 15,000 fans. They did the same thing for kids 29 years ago. I should know . .. . I got one of those. And I would have gone back, but the game was scheduled at 8 p.m. because ESPN was broadcasting it. Even with Monday being Memorial Day, I wanted to get back home at a decent hour. Even if parking was free, I probably would have made it back home after midnight . . . never mind mass transit. Despite the lack of giveaways on Saturday, I decided to bear witness. The team's site had standing room tickets, but I managed to get one from StubHub. And that was before I found out that Fox was covering the game, meaning that neither WPIX nor SNY would be airing the ceremonies.

I got to Citi Field in plenty of time, and that was a good thing, because there were lines to get in that reached the subway platform. I wouldn't call my seat a "nosebleed," but I did have the presence of mind to bring the camera with the most zooming available. Even though it took a while to get into the stadium and obtain food (had to get a Nathan's frank with fries and soda in a souvenir cup for $19 total), I got to my seat in plenty of time. There was a red carpet (or something like it) leading from center field to the infield, where uniform numbers were laid out. After a brief delay, this started playing on the scoreboard:


Like the 1985 Chicago Bears before them, the Mets were far enough ahead of the pack to warrant starring in their own music video, "Lets Go Mets." Thankfully, none of the Mets went behind the mic, settling for appearing in the video. I remember it vividly, because I was at Shea Stadium with my parents for a doubleheader when they were recording the crowd scenes. A lot of it was us shouting "Lets go Mets, GO!" This was a departure from the "Lets Go Mets!" chant that was prevalent for the team

After "Lets Go Mets" played, the scoreboard led a chant using a graphic I recognized as playing on DiamondVision at Shea back in the day. Then radio announcer Howie Rose came in to emcee the event. He started by introducing Greg Cashen (representing his father Frank, the general manager and acclaimed architect of the team) and Davey Johnson (the manager whose use of computer analysis was ahead of his time). Next came the main coaches, Bill Robinson (represented by wife Mary  and son Bill Jr.) and Bud Harrelson (the only man to be in a Mets uniform for both championship teams), followed by trainer Steve Garland (wearing uniform number 86). The players came out as highlights played out. The only folks I know that didn't come were shortstop Kevin Elster (a late-season call-up who played in the Series), reliever Doug Sisk (who was never embraced by the fans) and Roger McDowell (the prank-playing fireman who is the pitching coach for the Braves . . . poor bastard). Everybody got a round of applause . . . even obscure guys like Ed Hearn (the bespectacled backup catcher who would be traded to the Royals in the offseason in a deal that brought David Cone to New York), Randy Niemann (a guy who was buried in the bullpen), and Danny Heep (the heir apparent to Rusty Staub in terms of pinch-hitting, and the first Met to start as a designated hitter).

Of course, the big names got the most applause . . . like Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, who do color commentary on Mets broadcasts; cautionary stories Darryl Strawberry (he's a minister these days) and Dwight Gooden (runs a baseball academy on Staten Island); and the late Gary Carter, who many saw as the final piece of the puzzle for the team (he was represented by wife Sandy and son DJ). The clips led into the World Series and Game 6, where the Mets came back from two runs down and two men out in the tenth inning to shock the Red Sox. Of course, the guy everybody cheered was Mookie Wilson, whose epic at-bat against Bob Stanley ended with him rolling the ball between Bill Buckner's legs, scoring Ray Knight to win the game. Actually, there was less cheering and more mooing from the crowd. The tribute ended with head reliever Jesse Orosco, who got the final out in Game 7, striking out Marty Barrett and throwing his glove in the air and going on his knees in celebration. Once the 1986 team took their places in the infield, they were greeted by the current squad. For the 2016 team, this would be the high point of the night. After Glenn Close sang the National Anthem (which she did in the Series), Jesse threw the first pitch to DJ. And in a cute touch, he threw his glove in the air and got a bear hug from DJ, echoing how Jesse and Gary celebrated back then.

Of course, there was a game to be played, between the Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Originally, I had thought that Bartolo Colon would be taking the hill for the Mets. This was fun for me, since he's become a bit of a folk hero at Citi Field, a guy who is the team's third mascot after Mr. and Mrs. Met. Turned out I was off by a day . . . instead, Noah Syndergaard would start. With Matt Harvey having early season troubles, the man dubbed "Thor" by the fans and the media was the de facto ace of the rotation. With the Dodgers in town, this meant that second baseman Chase Utley would face a hostile Citi Field crowd. In the National League Division Series last year, Utley performed a dirty slide that broke Ruben Tejada's leg, knocking him out of the remainder of the postseason. Never mind that Major League Baseball changed the rules to prevent similar situations, or that the Mets cut Tejada loose in the offseason. Utley had taken his place in the all-time villains gallery for Mets fans, joining the likes of Pete Rose (tried to murder Bud Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS), Mike Scott (alleged scuffballer whose split-fingered fastball stymied the Mets in 1986), Larry "Chipper" Jones (the Braves third baseman who dominated at Shea Stadium, and who implied that Mets fans put on Yankees gear when the team gets knocked out of contention), and John Rocker (whom I wrote about in 2014). Also, Utley hit a bases-clearing double the previous night in the ninth inning off Jeurys Familia in the previous game, so he had not endeared himself to the Mets' faithful.

As far as nostalgia, it was a good night. For the entire weekend as well as all Sunday home games, the Mets wore 1986-themed throwback uniforms. The scoreboard showed old-school graphics, and songs from that year were played between innings. Fans were quizzed on Mets trivia and were "surprised" by members of the '86 team. And after the seventh inning, they played an Eighties staple at Shea: "The Curly Shuffle." This was a song about The Three Stooges. Yes, really. Here's the proof:


The game itself started promisingly enough, Utley struck out to start the game, much to the fans' delight. Curtis Granderson (last night's hero with a walk-off home run) got the first hit for the Mets, singling to right field. Unbeknownst  to the audience, this would be the last hit past the infield until the eighth inning. Granderson was caught in a double play on an Asdrubal Cabrara grounder. Michael Conforto followed that by hitting a line drive that smacked pitcher Kevin Maeda. He would stay in the game, working five innings total.

Things were uneventful until the top of the third inning. With one out, Utley came to the plate to intense jeers. And then . . . from my angle, it looked like Noah hit him with a pitch. Terry Collins, the Mets' manager, came out to argue, and he was run out of the game. I was confused, especially when the scoreboad announced that Logan Verrett (the team's emergency starter) was warming up in the bullpen. Once he entered the game, Utley got back to the plate. What the hell had just happened?

Because I can be a slave to technology, I whipped out my iPad and looked up coverage of the game on ESPN.com. It turned out Thor had thrown behind Utley, and the home plate umpire wound up ejecting him without any prior warning, as well as Terry. Utley had not been forced to eat dirt from a fastball to the head. He did not get a pitch to the ribs. He was intact, and Thor had gotten run out of the game. Had most of the crowd had not come to honor the 1986 team, I suspect they would have filed a lawsuit against the ump for taking the Mets' best pitcher out of the game. Utley would strike out again, but the damage had already been done.

The Mets and Dodgers did not score for five innings, as Logan and Maeda stymied each other's lineups. In the top of the sixth, Utley came up again. Cue the booing. And Utley hit a solo home run to right field, putting the Dodgers up 1-0. They scored another run in that inning. Meanwhile, the Mets' bats were unable to make a peep.

Seventh inning. Antonio Bastardo (no, really) had relieved Logan. He gave up a double to Adrian Pederson and a single to Howie Kendrick, followed by a walk to Yasmani Grandal. The bases were loaded with nobody out. Bastardo was taken out in favor of Hansel Robles, who shared a number with Jesse Orosco (47). He struck out pinch hitter Enrique Hernandez for the first out. Enter Chase Utley. Cue the boos. And then . . .

Oh, fuck no.

Chase Utley hit a grand slam, putting the Dodgers up 6-0. As Warner Wolf would probably have put it, "Turn your sets off there." Robles stayed in the game, giving up solo shots to Adrian Gonzalez and Kendrick before being mercifully taken out of the game. In the ninth, reliever Jim Henderson saw a pitch to Cory Seagar go into the stands for the Dodgers' ninth run. By then, most of the fans had elected to get an early start towards the exits. The Mets sole run came off a pinch-hit homer from Juan Lagares in the eighth. The final score: Dodgers 9. Mets 1. Not a good night at all.

Still, I did feel a sense of satisfaction. The 1986 New York Mets were an important part of my life. Even though the uglier stuff was swept under the rug that night (including the four fights they got into that season; five if you count the brawl at the Houston strip club), there was a good feeling for me, even as the umpires and Chase Fucking Utley conspired to throw the Mets under the bus. For his sake, I hope the Mets and Dodgers don't meet again in the postseason this year. Or ever. As that night proved, the fans had long memories, for good and for ill.

PS: Noah "Thor" Syndergaard and Terry Collins were neither fined nor suspended for the events of May 28. Yes, I'm still bitter, even two weeks after the game.

PPS: Here are the pictures I took from that night, from the faithful waiting for the 7 train at Grand Central to the dejected masses vacated Citi Field. At least it was an eventful day.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Amazing Statistics

I have a math degree: a Bachelor's of Science from Wagner College. I didn't have any idea as to how to use it. I definitely did not want to get into teaching. I spent so many years suffering in classrooms leading up to college . . . why would I go back? A few years later, I would get a Master's in Journalism from New York University. I should probably apologize to all the math professors I bothered at Wagner . . . especially Dr. Rahim Shambayati and Dr. Steve Sessions. This entry is dedicated to those two.

Math comes out in weird ways for me. If you've come to this blog in years past, you might remember that I came out with tables based on The Challenge. I think it goes back to a childhood poring over baseball statistics. Prior to Free Agents, I kept looking for patterns in performances, using Wikipedia to compile stats on many long-time Challengers. I went as far as differentiating between team efforts and those with a focus of individuals, pairs, and foursomes (see the second Battle Of The Seasons). That's how I discovered that Aneesa wasn't that good when playing for herself or with a partner. I stopped keeping track after Free Agents kept flipping the script in terms of format. I can probably do something on endgames (dubbed "elimination rounds" on the show), but I'm not breaking my neck doing that. If you've never seen me geek out, here are my posts of the men and women after Rivals II.

Survivor is more problematic to keep track, and the views of experts are based on subjective views based on overall gameplay. For instance, I consider Sandra Diaz-Twine to be the best lifetime player ever. Sure, Parvati Shallow competed in all but three days (a total of 114) in her three stints on the show, but not only is Sandra the only two-time champion (Pearl Island, Heroes Vs. Villains), she spent 77 of her combined 78 days with two of the biggest scumbags ever cast: Jon Dalton and Russell Hantz. The fact that she did not strangle either of them in their sleep makes her a saint. For excellence in a single season, I go with Tom Westman in Palau. He was the unofficial leader of the dominant Koror tribe that won all Immunity Challenges. He won all but two individual Immunity Challenges, and he did not get a single vote both times he was vulnerable. He got six out of seven votes on Day 39, with a player-hating Coby casting the sole dissent. Sure, Tom wound up breaking Ian into itty-bitty pieces by Day 38, and those two had an agreement that the winner of the final Immunity Challenge would take the less-favored Katie to the final day, but I feel that Tom was the best single season player. I just can't put it into intricate stats, making it subjective. Like how I feel that Scot Pollard and Kyle Jason are two of the ugliest motherfuckers in Survivor history, inside and out. That goes beyond numbers.

As for The Amazing Race, my reality show of choice? That is easily made for stats. In 2013, I ranked teams based on their average placements. I just went to Wikipedia, added  up their placements, then divided those by the number of legs run.I found out that the best with the best total was couple Rachel & Dave from the twentieth season. They averaged 1.83 per leg (22/12). On the flip side were Josh & Brent from TAR21, whose average was 4.58. That is still the worst total for a winning team, eclipsing Amy & Maya's 4.50 from TAR25. I kept trying to find meaning in the averages, going as far as deducting the best and worst performances for teams, then doing the calculations again. For instance: if you do that with Amy & Maya, the total is still 4.50. Do it again . . .still 4.50. While they were a mediocre team that lucked out in the final leg, they were very consistent about it.

I can't help but fool around with statistics and TAR. It is in that vein that I introduce something new: Strength of Final Three, or SOFT. The formula is easy to conceive, and the goal is to determine how good the remaining teams are going into the show's stretch run. Here's how it works.

1. Take the final three teams going into their season's finale. In older seasons, the last two legs should be discounted.

2. Give them three points for each first-place finish, two for second, and one for third.

3. Add up the points for the teams.

4. Divide that total by the product of legs run and six (the number of points that are "up for grabs" per leg).

5. Do NOT factor in the final leg of a season, since it would be redundant.

As you probably would have guessed, I do not have much of a life. Nevertheless, I feel that I'm onto something. Let's apply this to the first season's final three: Rob & Brennan, Frank & Margarita, and Joe & Bill:


Rob & Brennan
Frank & Margarita
Joe & Bill
Total
First
3
3
1
21
Second
1
4
5
20
Third
5
1
1
7
Total
16
18
14
48

48/(11)(6) = 48/66 = .727

Now, we look at the latest season. Heading into the final few legs, it looked as if the finale would consist of Brodie & Kurt, Tyler & Korey, and Burnie & Ashley. Brodie & Kurt had managed to finish first in half of the opening eight legs, but then they had a few bum legs and got into a Double U-Turn trap, as Tyler & Korey did the deed, while Burnie & Ashley prevented the Frisbee Bros from doing that to another team. Eventually, the boys would bow out after ten legs. Burnie & Ashley had not finished in first place throughout the season. They seemed on pace to match the feat set by Kelsey & Joey from the previous season, finishing in second place five times in a row. However, the pair wound up faltering on a Detour and switched tasks, which led to them getting narrowly eliminated by Sheri & Cole in the penultimate leg. Here are the SOFT results:

Tyler & Korey
Dana & Matt
Sheri & Cole
Total
First
5
1
0
18
Second
3
1
0
8
Third
1
3
2
6
Total
22
8
2
32

32/(11)(6) = 32/66 = .485

It turns out that TAR28 ties three other seasons in terms of overall lowest SOFT. It may have been due to the casting of social media stars, most of whom did not bicker as hard as teams from earlier seasons. As bad as it has been from Dana & Matt, they cannot hold a candle to Logan & Chris from TAR27. I could have lived with Justin & Diana winning, even with Justin's braggadocio, but not Logan & Chris. Here is the breakdown:



Season
Score
Legs
SOFT
Winners
20
53
11
.803
Rachel & Dave
9
48
10
.800
BJ & Tyler
1
48
11
.727
Rob & Brennan
7
42
10
.700
Uchenna & Joyce
5
49
12
.681
Chip & Kim
15
44
11
.667
Meghan & Cheyne
17
44
11
.667
Nat & Kat
23
43
11
.652
Jason & Amy
25
42
11
.636
Amy & Maya
27
42
11
.636
Kelsey & Joey
8
38
10
.633
Linzes
14
38
10
.633
Tammy & Victor
26
41
11
.621
Laura & Tyler
2
40
11
.606
Chris & Alex
24
40
11
.606
Dave & Conner
13
36
10
.600
Nick & Starr
3
39
11
.591
Flo & Zach
22
38
11
.576
Bates & Anthony
12
33
10
.550
TK & Rachel
10
36
11
.545
Tyler& James
6
34
11
.515
Freddy & Kendra
18
34
11
.515
Kisha & Jen
21
34
11
.515
Josh & Brent
11
35
12
.486
Eric & Danielle
4
32
11
.485
Reichen & Chip
16
32
11
.485
Dan & Jordan
19
32
11
.485
Ernie & Cindy
28
32
11
.485
TBD

Bold indicates highest score of final three.
The final legs of TAR25 and TAR26 are not counted, even though a team was eliminated midway through.

I'd like to know what you think, whether I'm onto something or if I need a life. Feel free to leave a comment below. And if you have your own metric for The Amazing Race, I'd want to hear about it.