Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Amazing Race 30: Thoughts Before The Finale

The thirtieth season of The Amazing Race is drawing to a close. CBS has compressed the episodes into eight weeks, and fans are on the edge of their seats . .. not so much in anticipating which of the four remaining teams will win, but whether the series will get one more season.

I have to admit, I always feel like CBS puts the screws to TAR and its fans. I don't feel that's unjustified on my part, given that the other big reality series on CBS (Survivor and Big Brother) always have a place on the network. With TAR, fans have to go on a year-by-year basis waiting for word on when a new season will air. In my head, I feel that TAR deserves two editions ("cycles" never caught on for me) within a standard network season. The reality is that it would probably be one . . . maybe in the spring, probably in the summer. The fear is that CBS would pull the plug. The glass-half-empty part of me fears that if the team of "stars" from last summer's Big Brother (Cody & Jessica) win, CBS would cancel the series, because Big Brother contestants have been inflicted on TAR for years. A win by Cody & Jessica might be seen as the "perfect" ending, by which there could be no better note to go out.

Yes, I will also admit that I am unreasonable about TAR, to the point where if that were to get canceled, Survivor should follow it into oblivion. I know Survivor has the ratings to -- well -- survive, and then some. But it's not the "water cooler" show it used to be. If you haven't been following the series lately, it's drowning in twists and gimmicks, and most of them involve host Jeff Probst trying to cater to alpha males. For him, a buff dude winning is way more necessary than a balanced season. The upcoming edition premiering next week -- Ghost Island -- looks to be more of the same.

I feel that TAR30 has been pretty good. The show abandoned gimmicks after two seasons (online celebrities in TAR28, eleven teams of strangers racing in TAR29), going with a "soft" theme of "winners." I take that as a subtle jab of the current president of the United States, who hated how TAR kept winning Emmys over The Apprentice. Right now, we're approaching the final two legs with four teams vying for $1 million: Cody & Jessica, Alex & Conor (IndyCar drivers; Alex won the Indianapolis 500 in 2016), Kristi & Jen (extreme skiers and friends), and Henry & Evan (dating debaters from Yale). The odd thing is that unlike the past two seasons, the better teams haven't skidded out of contention prior to the finale. I won't bore you with the math; just know that if you take the leg averages of all teams, they almost line up in order of elimination. Also, there were only three legs where teams finishing sixth through eleventh finished in the top three. I'll go over the stats after the finale.

As for problems this season, there were three. Here they are, in order of annoyance:

3. The Partner Swap

Going into TAR30, fans heard that teams would be switching partners. Needless to say, that didn't go over with fans that well. I thought it would have been more appropriate in TAR26, where five of the eleven teams were strangers set up for "blind dates" while racing around the world. Mixing things up gave me the image of host Phil Keoghan throwing a glorified "key party."

What ended up happening was a bit of an anticlimax. Teams wound up in Zimbabwe, camping out overnight. The follow morning, Phil woke them and revealed the twist. The teams that had arrived at camp first and successfully set up a tent would pick another team, and partners would be chosen from there. Cody & Jessica chose Kristi & Jen and Lucas & Brittany (dating lifeguards, until Lucas popped the question in France) picked Conor & Alex, leaving Henry & Evan to mix with Eric & Daniel (twins/firefighters/unrepentant punsters). The new pairs wound up performing two tasks before arriving at the Pit Stop, where the teams had to wait to reunite before proceeding to the next leg.

The stupid thing is that TAR already did something close to that. The Intersection debuted in TAR10, and would be used in the following season and TAR16. Instead of switching partners, two teams would combine to form a foursome and perform tasks until they were told to separate. The Swap was basically a more-hyped Intersection. In the end, it didn’t upset me so much as make me wonder how badly the producers wanted to create drama.

2. The U-Turns

I have come to accept some gimmicks to be adopted. The U-Turn evolved from the Yield, where one team would pick another to wait for a predetermined amount of time before proceeding. Originally, teams would perform a Detour, choosing one of two tasks, each with its own pros and cons. Upon completion, a team would arrive at a Route Marker with the U-Turn. If they chose to do that, another team would have to go back and perform the second Detour task. Last season, the format was tweaked. Now, the U-Turn would be set up before the Detour, meaning teams could perform that, and the affected team would have to perform both tasks. Suddenly, a team could throw a roadblock (small letters) at a rival without much effort.

I’m being pedantic, but I think the original format worked better. Or maybe I was just “butthurt” that Cody & Jessica (fresh from a series of which I have no interest) pulled that on Trevor & Chris (violinists, nicknamed “Well Strung” after the quartet for which they play), leading to their elimination. I get really picky about U-Turns in general. In my mind, they should come after a Detour, and a U-Turned team would not be able to do that to a rival until they performed both tasks. I don’t get that anal about it, but I can burn up a forum thread. But that’s nothing compared to this season’s “twist.”

1, The Head-to-Head

Okay. So . . . you’re running the Race, and you’re doing pretty good. You see Phil at the Pit Stop mat, but you can’t check in. No, you have to play a game with another team. If you fail, you have to wait for the next team to arrive and play them. The last team remaining gets eliminated.

There are many reasons to loathe this twist. For one thing, while the Head-to-Head was only done in two legs (second and fourth), they were at the very end, potentially negating all progress made by teams. It didn’t help that the game involved team members pushing a cart of frites through a course, while being dressed as a bag of frites. Henry & Evan arrived at the Route Marker in third place, but then proceeded to lose match after match, dropping further down the leaderboard with each failure. Finally, they managed to best April & Sarah (mothers, practitioners of “Goat Yoga), checking in eighth.

It got  worse. From what I heard, April & Sarah waited for the last team – Eric & Daniel – for three hours, then proceeded to lose the final Head-to-Head, earning an elimination. While most of the editing suggested that the women were snippy towards each other I their two legs, it didn’t seem fair that one team would have that large of a lead negated without getting an advantage for their patience. The second (and final) Head-to-Head involved a less ridiculous game of pétanque (or bocce, if you’re Italian), and that led to elimination for Cedric & Shawn . . . which was a relief after Cedric interviewed in the prior leg about having three heart attacks. That was also the episode when he elected to perform a Roadblock (running the streets of Tangiers in search of a Travelocity Gnome) while wearing a huge backpack, something he could have left with Shawn. While I’m certain all contestants had to go through physicals, and a quick online search reveals that Cedric’s heart attacks were “small,” it still felt like a relief for him and Shawn to bow out, albeit in the dumbest way imaginable.

Bottom line: I feel that Head-to-Head is a cheap way for a team to get eliminated. I prefer the more conventional methods . . . like losing a foot race to the Pit Stop (models/”ring girls” Dessie & Kayla), not being able to figure out how to open a puzzle to get a clue (competitive eaters Joey & Tim), or misplacing a passport (Lucas). Also, I did not mention that the Head-to-Head matches had Phil doing running commentary from the Pit Stop. He has never done that in the prior 29 seasons, and it showed. That is more of Jeff Probst’s deal, albeit with more shaming of women and beta males for poor performances.

Despite my problems with this season, I am convinced that average TAR is better than most reality programs. We’re going into the finale with four strong teams, and there’s no one favorite to win. I’m good with anybody getting the $1 million save for Cody & Jessica, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. After tonight, I will have to hope that The Amazing Race gets renewed by CBS. That, and hoping Survivor: Ghost Island won’t be a dud. But I doubt the latter.

PS: Here are Trevor and Chris -- along with their fellow performers of Well-Strung -- performing the theme music of The Amazing Race.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Episode 17: Blaze of Glory

This is the end. Well, this and the reunion. Once again, I regard Inferno as one of the dumber seasons in Challenge history. It didn't have a satisfying ending; anything with Veronica getting a big payday and a new car was never fun to watch. Ditto for the likes of Abram, Christena and Holly, who also hurt Katie, the unquestioned heroine of the season. The weird thing is that I don't think Veronica was as heinous as Johnny has been in his "career." For God's sake, he actually had his sister write disparaging notes prior to Vendettas, then left them in strategic places so most of the females would suspect each other. At least most of Veronica's nastiness was improvised.

Worse, the producers decided to lay into Coral in the finale, with her mistakes playing a part in the second consecutive loss for Real World. I know, she was never a "gamer," and she had an uncanny knack of making it to the end (as you'll see in Battle Of The Sexes 2). Still, she managed to save herself from going into the Inferno, and at least she managed not to come close to dying this time. Like I said . . . her "character" of being a bitch worked when her targets deserved it. You'll see how bad that could get in BOTS2.

Screw it . . . .lets get this recap over with . . .  

Airdate: May 24, 2004
Recap Published: May 30, 2004

Can Road Rules put an exclamation point on this season? Can the underdog Real World team pull out a miracle win? And how much Mexican food can you eat before throwing up?
Looking back on this season, I should feel lucky. Lucky that I'm not covering the train wreck of a season that is Real World: San Diego. Lucky that I didn't have to burn precious brain cells on Survivor: All-Stars, which had been the worst season ever prior to the finale. And I'm grateful for being out of the Bachelor and American Idol loops entirely. Anyway, I guess after seven months of recapping the tribulations of tools, I need a break. Well, no rest for the wicked, and the good don't need any. Let's wrap this season up.

Rather than recap last week's episode, Voiceover Lady takes us directly to the start of the final mission. Dave tells the players about Seven Deadly Sins, and goes into more detail than we got last week:

Lust: The teams are handcuffed together as they run through a tire course, straddle poles, and go under a limbo bar. What limbo and tires has to do with lust is anybody's guess.

Wrath: The players bust open fifty piñatas. Once all the piñatas are shattered, players look for the key to unlock the handcuffs.

Gluttony: Each teammate must eat ten taquitos. That's it.

Envy: The teams come across two platforms with oversized bricks. Each team takes the other team's bricks (hence the "envy," I guess) and carries them over several narrow bridges.

Greed: The players climb over cargo nets four feet above the ground, crossing one at a time. Also, there are seven bags connected to the net. Five contain cash and prizes, while two hold a "penalty card," which knocks their time back by one minute.

Pride: The infamous final mission puzzle. This one is of the crossword variety. Teams must solve the puzzle using clues and letter tiles provided. Dave: "The answers can be proper names, places or events." Cut to Coral looking on. This will be important later.

Sloth: Pick up a teammate and run to the finish line. First team across wins the Challenge and $150,000 to add to the bank account.

Kendal interviews that the beginning of the course will be more difficult for RR, since they have eight players. The RR players try to figure out how to run while handcuffed. Kendal continues: "I just really hope that we just try to stick together, and try to think like one person, instead of eight different people." Timmy adds that RR is uneasy, but not as much as RW.

On the other side, CT tries to limbo, as Coral tells him that she'll fall if he does. Syrus thinks he'll have problems. "Syrus makes me nervous when it comes to missions," CT interviews. "He's worried about his knee popping out because he's over 30 now. He feels like his body's going to fall apart for some reason." Are we back on that now? Coral holds her arm out, and Syrus tries to go under. CT: "He's all nervous about the limbo. I'm like, 'C'mon, man, it’s limbo.'"

Both teams get handcuffed. Dave counts down from three, then we cut to credits. Goodbye, Jeremy and Shane! I certainly didn't miss either of you after you got eliminated. Goodbye, David and Trishelle! David, I'm sorry about the Sox, but at least you got the Pats. Trishelle... screw it. Anybody who fools with Adam is not somebody I want to chat with. Goodbye, Coral and Mike! Honestly, both of you should've stopped with The Gauntlet. Goodbye, CT and Leah! Maybe you can go five minutes without driving each other mad, but I doubt it. Goodbye, Abram and Veronica! You both suck, you know that? Goodbye, Syrus and Julie! Syrus, as long as you don't bring the drama, I'll always like you. Julie, Katie, for God's sake. Goodbye, Ace and Mallory! I honestly don't care for either of you, which is better than earning my hatred. Goodbye, Katie, Holly and Christena! Katie, if you ever finally snap and beat up the other two, call me first. I want to witness that first-hand. Goodbye, Timmy! Please stick to Discovery Channel from now on. Goodbye, Darrell and Kendal! Darrell, I hope you get those diction lessons with your money. Goodbye, Dave Mirra! You actually made me miss Jonny Moseley.

Back to the action: Dave blows his air horn to kick things off. Both teams run, as RR gingerly goes through the tires. Mike points out that RW is going faster with fewer people. We know, Mike. Both teams straddle the poles. Mike limbos first, helping Syrus under the bar. RW completes Lust first, with RR trailing.

Both teams arrive at Wrath. Darrell interviews that RW took off, since they had fewer people. Everybody grabs a stick. Darrell: "But we get to the piñatas, boy, and I like to break [bleep]. I'm gonna tear a piñata up." Sure enough, both teams pound on the piñatas. CT actually grabs one and stomps on it. Suddenly, Syrus and Coral start yelling. Turns out that the handcuffs came off. A graphic tells us that the key must be found anyway. As RW stumbles around, RR continues to bash away. Abram finds the key, and his teammates take care of the rest of the piñatas. Syrus interviews that "things just went to hell." As RR unlocks their cuffs, RW roots around the debris. RR takes off for Gluttony. Christena: "I feel very confident right now. We might win this."

RR arrives at Gluttony and starts downing the taquitos. Holly reminds us that they have to eat ten taquitos as quickly as possible. A graphic informs us that ten taquitos times eight people equals 80 taquitos. Thanks for the unnecessary math lesson. Wouldn't it be more intriguing if both teams had an equal amount of taquitos, and RW had to chow down more per person? Katie interviews that she's a vegetarian. "Eating meat is not my idea of a good time," she adds. "They're cold, and I see flies landing on them." Katie belches, looking close to throwing up. Don't walk away from the table! Spew on somebody! Abram and Christena puke, while Timmy coughs.

Back at Wrath, RW is still searching for the key. A spot-shadow reveals a red salt shaker, where the key is contained. Syrus interviews that it's hard to find with all the red stuff from the pinatas. Coral points out the irony that they're not cuffed.

Over at Gluttony, Darrell spits up and pukes. Katie pukes. "I don't like throwing up," Darrell interviews, "because it hurts my nuts." Timmy: "Ironically, the taquitos taste better on the way back up." Back at Wrath, Syrus finally finds the key, and the team takes off their cuffs.

RW chows down. CT spit-pukes. He interviews that the team has to step up and make something happen. Christena and Veronica puke, while Syrus spits up. RR completes Gluttony and starts running to Envy. Timmy reminds everybody to grab RW's bricks. He expositions that the team has decided to station themselves on the bridges and pass the bricks around. RW is still eating. RR passes the bricks. Coral stuffs down the taquitos, then pukes up. RR passes bricks. Syrus blows chunks, as Mike yells "Let 'er rip, baby!" Yeah, that will motivate a guy. "There's money on the line," Syrus interviews, "and you want to get the loot. So it's just time to suck it up and deal with it."

RR is still passing bricks. Coral chows down, complaining that Gluttony is the worst game, and complained about the taquitos. "They're terrible," she interviews. "They are the most disgusting things I've ever eaten in my life." While she gags, RR passes some more bricks. Coral drops some food on the floor, but scarfs it down. "Coral steps it up," Mike interviews. "That big mouth of hers does something good. That girl yaps yaps yaps, but that girl can eat, man." RW is waved off Gluttony, and they run to Envy. And RR is still passing their bricks.

Commercials. Guess what, kids? Only two more weeks until the premiere of Road Rules: X-Treme. Let me give you my first impression of the previous season: "The only thing I can deduce is that this Donell character is a big guy, and I'm going to like him." In other words, I'm not going to look for favorites with this new cast.

RW catches up to RR on Envy. Syrus interviews that RR is wasting time with their assembly line, and he can carry lots of bricks. Sure enough, the RW players lug several bricks over the planks. Mike interviews that they're doing an amazing job working as a unit.

RR finishes Envy and rushes to Greed. Timmy nearly blows out a lung yelling for his team to stop before the cargo net, since they can only go one at a time. Darrell starts out on the net. Over at Envy, Coral carries some bricks. Timmy tells us it will take twice as long for RR to go through the nets. Holly crosses. Timmy: adds that RR isn't going for the bags. "We're going for the $150K here," he says. "We're not going to grab a free pair of jeans." He's not going to get love from the sponsors for that.

RW finishes Envy and runs to Greed. CT doesn't break stride as he hits the net. Abram can't believe that RW caught up. As Mike and Christena crawl on the nets, a graphic tells us that three members of RW are left to cross the net, compared to RR's five. Soon, RW completes Greed. Darrell: "In the back of my head, I'm thinking we ain't gonna win, honestly." Darrell is such a bastion of negativity. Timmy is the last RR to cross, and he stumbles and bumbles on the net. This is the guy the Axis of Ass guilt-tripped Kendal into sacrificing herself for?

RW reaches Pride, ready to start the crossword puzzle. Two-Down: "Disco Domino Derby Home." Mike knows the answer: El Alebrije. Timmy stumbles off the net, and RR heads for Pride. "No matter what the lead is," Timmy interviews, "you can blow the whole thing on the puzzle." He should know; his RR team from Battle of the Seasons couldn't figure out the puzzle, and RW ended up taking the puzzle, the game and the grand prize. CT tries to spell "El Alebrije." Flashback to the club's exterior, and Dave (in the throwback gear) welcoming the kids. RW is having problems. Kendal interviews that it's time to work as a team. Holly thinks it's "Al Alebrijie." Back to the club exterior, and the club sign is inverted, so we can see all the letters. RR gets it right.

Six-Across: "Tarjeta Amarilla." I don't know Spanish, but RR does: it's "Yellow Card," as in Yellowcard, as in the band who played in Wreck 'n Roll, and who might be the only guys whose reputations don't take a hit from this season. Cut to the lads playing "Way Away." RR gets that right.

Two-Down: "Julie's Method of Destruction." Her teeth? Her cord-snapping hands? Her own hubris? We flash back to Julie in Wreck 'n Roll, bashing stuff with a guitar. Christena puts in "Epiphone," the brand of guitar Julie used. That's correct. RW has "Electric." Guys, are you new? You have to think of the sponsors all the time! Mike: "This puzzle is gonna kill us if we don't get it."

A graphic shows RR has four out of ten clues right. Four-Across: "Tickle the Twine." Answer: "Grope the Rope." I'm guessing that the guys who came up with this game watched a lot of old-school Batman. "The crime took place over the sea... sea... 'C' for Catwoman!" Mike reminds us that the puzzle always determines the winner. RW has two out of ten, and they're still having trouble with "El Alebrije."

Commercial time, and we got a reunion for next week. It's everybody who made it to the final mission, so there's no Jeremy, Shane, or (thank goodness) Julie. Abe has a buzz cut, and CT's hair has grown out. Coral is wearing a top that make her breasts look so big, they appear to be on the verge of collapsing in on themselves. Katie claims she's over it. Christena rips into Abram for making a mockery over throwing the mission. Abram: "And it pissed me the hell off!" More griping. Coral: "The big plan to keep weak Katie around got them a hundred and ten [bleepin'] thousand dollars!" Timmy grabs a basket, trying to raise money for RW. I am not looking forward to recapping that.

RW gets "Tickle the Twine" right, as we get a flashback of Grope the Rope. As RW examines the board, Coral whispers the clue for Nine-Across: "Sweet Surrender." Cut to a flashback of cookies. RR examines Three-Down: "_______ City _____" They start with "Student City." Flashback to Dave welcoming the players to Student City Beach. As RR nails it, RW has trouble with it.

RR moves to Four-Down: "Cold Girl." RR can't get it right away. CT thinks it might be Katie. Coral: "They wouldn't use our names." The editors eagerly sink their fangs into Coral, running the footage of Dave telling the cast, "The answers can be proper names, places or events." Katie thinks "Cold Girl" is Trishelle, since she couldn't eat enough peppers to win her Inferno. A flashback shows that Katie is correct. Holly interviews that Katie would know this, since she's best friends with Trishelle. Veronica: "Who would have thought that Katie and Trishelle would have both helped us?" Shut up, Veronica. And why, Katie? Why are you helping these people? What happened to dumping the mission?

Mike reads a new clue: "Lights Out." Oh, come on. He should know this. We flash back to a hand holding a candle. Katie figures that it's Jeremy, since he lost Human Candelabra. A flashback shows that she's correct. Nobody says anything about how Jeremy was the only person on RR to see Katie as anything but an albatross. RW goes to "Sweet Surrender." Darrell thinks it's Shane. Sure enough, we get a flashback of Shane eating a cookie, and throwing up. I still get joy from that moment.

RW hits One-Down: "'Booty' Babes." Flashback: money changing hands, money in a jar. RR is on it, needing that to finish the puzzle. RW only has four out of ten correct, and they'll stuck on "Sweet Surrender." Holly instructs Timmy to stand in front of the puzzle, presumably to avoid a repeat of the Battle of the Sexes finale. CT: "Student City Cycle?" RR is close to clinching it. CT: "You're sure it's not Student City Cycle?" Coral: "No, it's not Student City something." Cut to Dave, welcoming the players to Student City Beach.

RR figures it out. Timmy expositions that Holly and Coral handled the money (or "booty") during Come Sail Away. RR is done with the puzzle, and they run off to Sloth. Mike is distraught. "My heart just sinks," he interviews. "My stomach sinks." Coral says that it's over. Mike: "I told you it would come down to the puzzle."

RR arrives at Sloth. The girls jump on the guys' backs, while Veronica jumps on Holly. They run. They finish. Game Over, they win. I'm sorry, but I'm down on this. After all the crap they pulled getting here, I'm convinced that the bad guys won. They waste no time going into a victory pile. Over at Pride, RW is bummed out. Syrus can't believe they didn't win. "To come from behind," he interviews, "to pass them up and then to not figure out the crossword puzzle? Very frustrating."

RR celebrates some more, and the girls hug. "I'm just excited," Katie interviews. "Any drama with me and Veronica, I'm not even worried about right now." But you got my hopes up. You could've denied your teammates the big money, and stuck it to them. What happened? Veronica and Holly celebrate their second win as teammates, their first being Challenge 2000. RW runs in, as Coral rides Syrus, and Mike smacks CT like a pony. There's hugging and congratulating. Coral: "You wiped the floor with our asses this entire time!" That's a lovely visual. She tells RR that RW underestimated them as a team. I'm too tired to even rank on Coral for that.

Denouement. Dave: "Real World, you guys are great competitors." I'm amazed he had a straight face saying this. Winning four out of fifteen missions, this team was as hopeless as the Challenge 2000 team and the RR squad from Extreme Challenge. He awards the $150,000 check to RR, boosting their bank account to $260,000, which comes out to $32,5000 before taxes. Dave then tells RR that their prize awaits them, and they have to go get it. The team gets tickets, which will take them to their grand prize.

Graphic: "One Week Later: Malibu, CA." A parking lot filled with Saturns. You can probably guess what happens next. Timmy honks the horn, cigar in his mouth, bunny hood on his head. Kendal is happy winning her first Challenge. Katie interviews that she didn't have fun at first, but she deserved this more than the others. Who am I to argue? Cut to Darrell, with Veronica in the passenger seat. How about one more verbal nugget from Darrell? "Me and Veronica, with all our money, we gonna get ourselves a little house, have all kinds of little Cuban and mixed black babies." That is a scary thought. The kids would probably be jerks, but nobody would understand their jabbering. Footage of cars driving around. Whatever.

Time for the finale montage. Darrell interviews that he loved Acapulco, and it was a great vacation. Dude, a vacation implies you have a job. You've done two seasons straight. Who are you fooling? We get footage from the first episode. The kids get off the boats and explore the Villa. Darrell: "It's been cool, watching everybody fight, watching the drama. I loved it." Cut to the Coral/Julie and Katie/Veronica fights. Julie tries to murder Veronica in the name of getting paid.

Mike interviews that he learned so much about himself. Cut to Kendal throwing him to the ground. Mike: "I came out meeting an awesome girl." Didn't you say that last season about Trishelle? The couple kisses at the club, and rolls around on the beach. No footage of a drunk Mike slagging Kendal during her Inferno.

Now we get Leah backing that thing up on Darrell. He interviews that he enjoyed Leah's company. Cut to her bungee freakout. "I tried to make Leah feel more comfortable," Darrell interviews, "because I know she thinks negative all the time." He and Coral attend to her as she gets loaded into the ambulance. "I just wish she had more confidence so she can do good."

Cut to Syrus, who talks about getting older, as we see him struggle on Climbing Wall. "It's a growing process," he interviews, "it's an enlightening process." He makes it to the top. "You're dealing with yourself, you're dealing with your fears." He wins the Aztec Lifesaver in Chicken Feeder, saving himself from the Inferno. "I can't say in my normal everyday life I would go through half the stuff I just went through." I like him. Never mind this was his third Challenge. There appears to be a genuine air to him, and I can forgive him for stuff like trying to help boot Leah off, and the time he jumped on Antoine's back. Syrus is the man.

Katie montage. She gets scared on the bungee. She interviews that it was emotionally draining and intense. Cut to her balking, and her lovely teammates screaming at her from the ground before she actually jumps. "I'm extremely proud of myself," she says. "I beat the odds. I proved everybody wrong." She beats Julie and David in the Infernos. She flashes a smile. "Who's weak now?" I'm hoping she dumps the cancer sticks and gets away from Trishelle. She can do so much more with her life.

Cut to Katie putting Trishellle's name in the crossword puzzle. Veronica interviews that Katie came in big. "Winning the entire thing is a huge accomplishment for Katie," she adds. "Everyone had something to put in, all eight of us." Shut up. Just shut up. I'm putting show creator Jonathan Murray on notice: if you insist on bringing the Verantula back, you make damn sure Emily comes in as well. As much as I despised Emilizzy Borden for putting her own selfish motives above her team, she's the only person to put Veronica in her place. Without Emily, Veronica has gone unchecked, hanging out with the "cool kids" and making lives miserable... including my own.

More RR celebration. Christena: "There's been a lot of drama, a lot of fights, not seeing eye-to-eye on our team. But when you cross that finish line, you check all of that at the door and everything in that moment is right." If Christena wasn't such a fake, I might accept that. RR does a cheer and poses with the check. Fade to black.

I'll be recapping the reunion next week, but I want to thank you for reading now. By writing in to me, you showed me that I'm not wasting my time and brain cells recapping this show. I really appreciate all the feedback you've given me, and I hope I brightened things up for you in return.

And that was that. Four months later, I was recapping Battle Of The Sexes, which -- in a lot of ways -- was so much worse. And that would be the final season I recapped for Reality News Online. Yes, I will be bringing that up looking back in those recaps. First, we have a reunion to sort through, which ran for thirty minutes. Man, that seems so long ago, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

REVIEW: Incognegro

When I was writing for Beyond Race Magazine, I was trying to find ways to keep active. Eventually (and typically), I decided to go with one of my strengths: reading comics. So I contacted several publishers and gotten preview copies of their graphic novels. I like to think I did a good job.

This is my review of Incognegro, dated October 6, 2008. The reason for posting it here is because author Mat Johnson and artist Warren Pleece have created a prequel for Dark Horse Comics: Incognegro: Renaissance. It is a miniseries that will be published monthly. In addition, Dark Horse has reprinted Incognegro ten years after its initial publication from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint.

Zane Pinchback is a black writer with a unique ability: his light skin allows him to pass for white when he travels to the South to report on lynchings, a talent he calls “going incognegro.” With the Harlem Renaissance in bloom, however, Zane wants to be known for his writing, as opposed to his anonymous fame as “Incognegro.” When his editor sends him to Tupelo, Miss., for one final story – with a promise of a managing editor position waiting when he gets back – Zane discovers that the man about to be hung is his darker-skinned twin brother Alonzo. With opportunistic friend Carl in tow, Zane journeys to save his brother, unaware that he is not the only person pretending to be something else . . . or the Klansman just itching to get a piece of him.

Incognegro is written by Mat Johnson, himself a black man with light skin. In the foreword, he writes about his difficulty fitting in with other black kids in the time of the Black Power movement. With his half-Jewish cousin, Johnson fantasized about situations where he would become a “race spy” . . . a fantasy that he found was a reality for Walter White, a former head of the NAACP, who went undercover in the deep South to investigate lynchings. Johnson’s work is original, as he peels back one layer of deception after another. While Zane is weary of risking his neck to get the story, Johnson allows him to show how he works, whether it’s straightening his hair, convincing a trio of white thugs that he’s a Ku Klux Klan bigwig, or escaping a trap set by a family of race war-minded hillbillies.

Joining Johnson in telling Zane’s story is British artist Warren Pleece. While Incognegro reveals man’s capacity for ugliness, Pleece doesn’t get overly gory with it; no small feat, especially when the first scene of the book shows a black man getting castrated, hung, put in a clown’s costume, and getting his picture taken for commemorative postcards. The black and white art fits the story, and Pleece works well with the Mississippi backdrop and the characters’ expressions, such as Carl’s masquerade as a British duke – complete with an outrageous accent stolen from a popular radio show – evaporating as a Klansman shows off pictures of lynch victims.

Even with the end of Black History Month and a market where a cheaper softcover edition seems inevitable, Incognegro is a must-have graphic novel and well worth the price. (published by Vertigo, DC Comics)

words by Jason Borell

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Inferno Episode 16: Eruption

Well, here it is. The one great episode of the entire season. Okay, you can make a case for the one with Julie calling out Coral, but that didn't climax with Coral smothering Julie using just her breasts. That would have been even more awesome. I mean, Veronica deserved to be screamed out and worse, but Julie needed to shut up . . . especially since it turned out she didn't learn a damn thing from the experience. Wait, why am I talking about Julie?

In retrospect, this might have been the last great Challenge moment for me while recapping on a semi-major site. After Inferno came Battle Of The Sexes 2, which was downright brutal to watch. Needless to say, I will reminisce in great detail when I start reprinting the recaps here. I will say that the confrontation was worth the wait, even as it had been hyped before the season officially started. In the span of The Gauntlet and The Inferno, Veronica did not get any sort of comeuppance for being a total bitch. Sarah had basically worked through whatever feelings she had towards those on the Road Rules team that wanted her gone. She went out a winner. Sure, she got as big of a share as Veronica, Adam and Rachel (and, seriously, when was she ever worth the admiration we give to the likes of Laurel and Emily today?), but she didn't bite anybody's head off. The Road Rules team of Inferno was far worse. Sure, we expected nothing less from the likes of Veronica and Abram, but Holly and Christena turned out to be heinous bitches as well, which was so disappointing. But for a few minutes, the worst of the worst got what was coming to her. And it was glorious.

Airdate:May 17, 2004
Recap Published: May 24, 2004 (either I really took my time, or resources were spent covering the Survivor: All-Stars finale)

Veronica makes Katie angry. You wouldn't like Katie when she's angry. Plus: the final Inferno.
MTV is up to its old tricks. They hype an "event" starting at 6 PM, which is just the start of reruns. Then they aired a one-hour clips show with zero new material. Memo to the powers that be: nobody cares, and David is not a rookie. He was on Challenge 2000. He tried to chase down a cow in order to kiss it, among other things. Then MTV hyped the finale... except it wasn't a finale, but rather the final Inferno event. If you want clips set to different music and a shot of Julie mud-wrestling Jamie back in New Orleans, watch the clips show. If you want the facts (or at least the on-camera representation), check out my recaps.

Previously on The Inferno: Veronica and Katie fight during the Leah/Kendal Inferno. Voiceover Lady fails to mention that Veronica dragged Katie into her fight with Mike. Coral got angry when her teammates wouldn't let her choose Katie over Veronica. CT: "If they lose Katie, then we lose Katie." Yeah, because she's hurt her team so bad, they've only won $110,000. Coral tells her team that they'd be sorry to push her. RR won the last mission, and Dave handed out Aztec Lifesavers to Inferno nominees Veronica and Coral. For Veronica, it's a chance to once again bully Katie. Coral contemplated which poor bastard she'll send in her place.

Nighttime at the Villa. Coral clutches the Lifesaver. "Some times," she smiles, "I like to pick up things and do that dance! And do that dance!" She then goes into a side kicking fury, reminiscent of the style of Tom Buchanan. She expositions that the Lifesaver guarantees a spot in the final mission.

Outside, some of the players eat dinner. Veronica reminds us that she won the Lifesaver. Christena wants to celebrate "ladies not going to the Inferno." Coral toasts with Holly. Today's theme: Coral hangs out with people that make her look worse than before. It's one thing to be a bitch, but it's another to hang out with members of the Axis of Ass. CT interviews that Veronica is going to send Katie into the Inferno.

Cut to inside, where Katie tells Kendal that she's mad. Katie interviews that she has the right to be pissed off. "She’s chickened her way out of the Gauntlet going to that," she adds, "and she's chickened her way out of the Inferno. Every single girl on our team has gone now except for her. Veronica's just an evil bitch, bottom line." Kendal laughs in her interview, wondering if the fighting will ever stop. Katie wonders if she should pack, but decides against it. Whimsical music plays as Katie uses Timmy's deodorant, since he uses her razor on his face. Soon, her armpits are on fire, and a hysterical Kendal finds out that Katie used Ben Gay. "Why do they make it look like deodorant in Spanish?" Katie laughs as she tries to quell the fires. "I hate Mexico!"

Coral enters a room, as Mike lies down. She expositions that she can elect somebody to take her place. She tells Mike that he pissed her off, interviewing that he should have had her back. But she decides not to send him in.

Instead, she asks Christena on the whereabouts of David. Christena points him out, pointing out the different-colored eyes again. I wish I could do this. I'd refer to Christena as "The girl who was nice on her season, but makes me choke on my bile today." Coral interviews that she's sending David in because he deserves it. "I'm gonna tell him ahead of time," she adds, "but I'm gonna wear a helmet." She lets him know that she's not doing in out of spite, and they shake on it. "I knew she was gonna pick me off the bat," David interviews. "I would've picked her. I kinda wanted to see her leave the show the whole time." Personally, I would've picked between David and Syrus, on account of their bodies getting easily banged up, and Mike and CT already winning Infernos. I figure David gets the nod from Coral since he was bailed out of the Inferno twice, and Syrus was Coral's only ally last week.

Inferno site. Katie sees a clear box filled with water and fish heads. Already, David threatens to kill Coral. He interviews, "I really would love to throw Coral off the staircase right now." Veronica and Coral cackle about not having to suffer. Shut up, the both of you. Katie smiles a little.

Dave welcomes everybody to the final Inferno: “Smell Ya Later.” The objective: outlast the competition by enduring disgusting smells for four hours. Have I mentioned how much I hate time-limit endgames? The winner gets to compete in the final mission, the loser will, in Dave's words, "not be able to get a whiff of any of that cash in the bank." See, we got smells, and he said "whiff" and… never mind. The glass coffins are filled with fish heads. Every half-hour for the first 90 minutes, another layer of foul-smelling stuff will be added to the coffins. If both players are still around after four hours, they go to sudden death. Whoever can hold their breath the longest wins. Dave asks Coral who she'll send in her place. She gives David a good send-off, adding that she wishes she could go. Sure you do, Coral. Of course, Veronica shoves Katie in her slot. Dave takes the players away for a rules briefing. "I hope David sends her home," Veronica interviews. "If he doesn't, then so be it. Not everything can come true for me."

Both players prepare to go into the coffins. As Katie gingerly touches a fish head on the headrest, Darrell yells and stamps his foot. Very clever, jerk. David and Katie get into the tubs, and Dave bangs the gong to start the Inferno. David laughs, as Katie thinks it's foul. Five minutes pass. Coral doesn't want anybody going to sleep, and David has his eyes closed. Coral is still happy that she's not in the Inferno. "I'm glad it's not me," she interviews, "and I'm glad it's not Veronica, either." Cut to Coral holding Veronica. Coral, do you know how hard it is for me to defend you when you're buddy-buddy with the princess of darkness? Katie took Julie out... that has to mean something to you!

Time remaining: three hours, thirty minutes. Referees place clothes over the players' faces while introducing the first rank item: spoiled eggs. The smell is so bad, even Dave is repulsed. David gags, and Dave reminds him that puking will not result in disqualification.

Time remaining: three hours. The next item: spoiled milk. I dump that stuff out a few days past expiration, so I can't begin to imagine what the lumpy mess smells like. The spectators get a whiff, as Dave tells the referees to throw in another bucket. Katie tells him to shut up. David: "I can just feel the glumps of rotten dairy products going over my cheeks, and I'm like, 'Is this really my life?'" Mike and Holly recoil from the aroma.

Time remaining: Two hours, 33 minutes. Dave announces the final ingredient: two cow tongues and a cow intestine. Kendal wonders why Katie is so calm. Dave tells the players they have two and a half hours left. We fast-forward through that time, as everybody gets bored. Heck, Abram decides to take a siesta. Have I mentioned that I hate… wait, I totally did. Never mind.

Time expires. Dave orders the players to sit up. CT interviews that his pal David is shaking and cold. Sure enough, David's chest is twitching like crazy. Both players put on goggles and noseplugs in order to submerge into the waste. "When it come to sudden death, I'm thinking David gonna win," Darrell interviews. "Katie smokes a pack a day." Cut to Katie coughing. Dave bangs the gong, and both lie on their stomachs, face-first in the water. Kendal tells us that Katie wants her to bang on the glass when she wins. "She's planning on holding her breath," Kendal exclaims, "until she dies!" That's hardcore stuff right there.

Back from commercials, everybody looks in, braving toxic fumes to see who will win. Katie's head shakes. More looking on. Suddenly, David rises from the slime. Game Over. Everybody is shocked. Dave is shocked. Kendal has enough presence of mind to run to Katie and get her out of there. Timmy's mouth is open. As Katie celebrates, Coral tells RR that they can't get rid of her. Timmy's mouth is still open. Seriously, I think Timmy will use his prize money for surgery to get his jaw working again. CT helps clean David off. "What are you going to do?" David laughs in an interview.

Denouement. Dave congratulates Katie on winning the Inferno and going into the final mission. She time, she gets mild applause, including some from Veronica. In an interview, Katie proclaims herself to be the Inferno Queen. I can't wait for the royal summit between Katie and Sarah, Queen of the Gauntlet. Dave wants to hug Katie, but the smell keeps him away. After giving David the "pack your bags" spiel, Dave reminds the remaining players that the final mission is tomorrow morning.

Who wants to see cast members feuding? Let's start with Veronica. "Because Katie won the Inferno tonight, it means we still have Katie, we still have Real World's team mascot - which is going to give them a lot of confidence going into the mission - and plus they have less people to share their money." About that last part... what? Why should she care about RW's total? Then again, why should she care about anybody's money? She's been to so many Challenges, she's probably a millionaire. Katie: "I hate her. That sneaky bitch Verantula." Over on the forums where we [2018; I meant "I"] post, Veronica is called "Klepronica," on account of how she "borrowed" a sweater from Pua and plagiarized Ayanna's paper. "Verantula" is a worthy moniker to such a sad human being. Katie continues: "I've never disliked somebody with as much passion as I dislike her."

Before we get to this season's main event, I should let you guys in on a secret. The big fight took place after the Inferno... the Kendal/Leah Inferno. This is coming from Kendal from her recap. As childish as Katie comes across here, I do not blame her one bit. Sarah didn't snap last season since her inner bitch is probably underfed. Katie doesn't have that problem.

Katie voiceovers that she goes to Kendal's room and she sees "a skank by my side." She continues, saying that Veronica starts talking, and she sees red. Cut to the camera rushing to the room. You know it's urgent when the guy pushes the door, not caring that his hand is in frame. A topless Veronica snaps her head to the camera as Katie works her over verbally. "Hold your [bleepin'] tits, you stupid bitch!" Hoo boy. Katie screams for Veronica to shut up and not to mess with her. Drop your f-bombs accordingly. "Once again - YEAH, LAUGH, YOU [bleepin'] WHORE! LAAAAUGGGHH!!!" The way Katie screams that out, I want it on a t-shirt. She flashes double birds, screaming "slut" and "whore." Veronica: "I am think the girl is clinically insane." Yeah, and you've been screwing with her, so how sane are you?

Katie yells about how she was talking to Kendal, then flames on Veronica some more. Mike is in the doorway, cracking the hell up. Katie: "YOU ARE A SHORT! SCRAWNY! ACNE-FACED LITTLE [bleep] [bleep] [bleep]! AND YOU CAN GO [bleep] YOURSELF!" Now Syrus is in the doorway, and he's having fun with this. Katie screams for Veronica to step up to her. Christena starts pushing Katie away, as Veronica advances, holding her bare chest, screaming "What do you want me to do?" over and over. Mike manages to maneuver past Veronica and Christena, taking Katie away as she still screams and flips the bird. Damn, this made my season.

In another room, Mike sternly tells Katie to calm down. She snorts and smiles, and he hugs her. I'm not sure whether Mike actually cares at this point, or if he wants to protect her so she can weigh her team down. Katie wants to hit Veronica, but Mike points out that she would go home. "I really don't like that girl at all," Katie laughs in an interview. "I want to call her out… in… screw a few more cast members, slut!" If I'm wrong for laughing, then I don't want to be right.

Holly and Coral try to calm Veronica down, as she yells for Katie to keep away from her. Holly: "Veronica snaps, too. I think everybody's reached their breaking point." You think? In the other room, Katie screams to Christena, and Mike shushes her and puts his hand over her mouth. Christena: "These two women hate each other, and it's ugly. They're both in the wrong, they're both of their mind, and they're both on my team." Mike tells Katie that Veronica will try to kick her off, "because she's a little wuss." "Kendal said that she's never seen me like that before," Katie interviews. "You also haven't had an entire team against you for the last thirty days." Katie wants out of the Villa, and Mike makes plans to escort her out.

As Veronica lies down, Coral says that she can't believe this happened. Veronica snipes about how RR has sabotaged missions in order to get Katie out. "She should be lucky that she's still here!" Veronica whines. "She sucks!" Yeah, she's lucky. Lucky to be on a team that treats her like dirt. As much as I don't care for people like Katie, I care for bullies even less, and that makes me care for Katie. If Veronica had the chance to see how bad she looked on The Gauntlet, as she tried to shred Sarah's self-esteem alongside Adam and Rachel, she'd... oh, who am I kidding? She'd still bully Katie. "She's lucky that I can't be physical with her," Veronica interviews, "because I want to slam her face into the ground."

Elsewhere, Katie can't find her favorite bag. She tells Mike that "it might be in the whore's room," then makes an attempt to get it. Mike is no dummy (at least not tonight) as he sternly orders Katie on the bed and gives her a time-out. "These two girls are on our team," Holly interviews, "and we have to work together to win, yet they both would prefer to kill each other." Veronica screeches about how she wants to be hit, so Katie would be sent home and RR would win the final mission. Wow, Veronica's as low as Julie. Such punks. Katie finally gets her bag, sighs, and gets up to leave.

Back from commercials and back to the actual timeline (shhhhhh! It's our secret!), David and CT say their farewells. In his interview, CT looks like he's about to cry. I can imagine a boozed-up Leah yelling at the TV, "He didn't step up, CT! He didn't earn his keep!" CT interviews that it's hard to lose David before the final mission. He tells David to swim home in order to lose the smell. David interviews that he got closer to CT, and he's happy for him. David continues: "When in your life are you going to get a paid vacation in a tropical environment, living in a great house and having three great meals a day? So you have to take the good with the bad." David sails off, and his fans hurt so bad. You don't even know.

Outside the Villa, Christena gets a text message for the final mission. Pick-up time at 2 PM, wearing team colors, shorts, tank tops, socks and tennis shoes.

Morning. Both teams get ready. Kendal tells her teammates that Katie still smells from the Inferno. Holly: "She's gonna to have to stand far away from me!" Oh, I bet Katie would like nothing more. Christena has a sour look. Kendal yuks it up some more about the Infernal stench. Holly interviews that Katie feels tired of being pushed around, and she projects her anger on Veronica. I did not notice that, Holly. "I think there are times Veronica deserves it," she adds. Katie interviews about knowing that her team doesn't want her here. Syrus: "I'm calling up Rent-A-Back right now. I got two rented kneecaps, and an ankle with a kickstand. I'm running to the end." Coral hopes that there will be no spiders. Given that she's the main event, I'm guessing production assistants have stomped out anything with more than two legs. Darrell reminds us that his team has eight people while RW have four, and the mission might favor their smaller number. "Do I think we have a chance of winning?" he asks us. "In my right mind... no." Way to think positive, Darrell.

Mission site. Dave congratulates the players for making it this far, and tells them that they're eligible to share in their teams' bank accounts. One team will add $150,000 to their total. The mission: Seven Deadly Sins. It's a footrace with seven stops, and we get brief clips from the last [2018: I meant "final"] episode:

Lust: The players straddle tubes. That's it. I get flashbacks of Veronica straddling the ladder last year.

Wrath: The players bash piñatas.

Gluttony: The players eat stuff. CT and Darrell blow chunks.

Envy: Something with walking balance beams across kiddie pools and carrying giant puzzle pieces.

Greed: Crawling through nets. I'm guessing money is underneath the nets, in order to slow down needier players.

Pride: The usual puzzle. What, you were expecting the teams to mess up a model's face and glue pills to one hand and a phone to the other?

Sloth: Males carrying females, probably to the finish line. I get happy memories of Adam carrying Sarah around last season. Good times.

Dave adds that some of the stops might remind them of various missions and Infernos. The first entire team to finish wins the $150,000. And now, Katie has the final say. "The $150,000 grand prize? Very nice. Enticing, yes. But to piss off my team is almost more than that to me. That's immature, but it's priceless to me. I want to sit there and piss them off, almost to the point where I'd like to stretch out right before the finish line, because I hate my team with more passion than anybody here has to win this game." This is how bad The Inferno has been: it would take the weakest player on either side throwing the final mission in order to make it a good season. After all the abuse she endured from her teammates, isn't it worth Katie screwing them? It is for me.

Next week: The finale. Piñatas are bashed. Kendal: "This is the crucial moment where we have to work as a team." Holly notes that RW has the lead since they have four players. Katie crawls on the net. Stall, Katie, stall! Puzzle. Mike points out that whichever team takes the puzzle first wins the game. Darrell: "I'm thinking we ain't gonna win, honestly." Dave awards the $150,000 check.

Like I said: epic scene. Seriously, you have to remember there was a time where BMP did everything NOT to get any cameramen in their shots. We wound up with a guy RUSHING to the door, not caring that he had his hand exposed. And thinking about it, I'm not sure Katie would have assaulted Veronica if Mike had not gotten into the mix But for those few minutes, it looked like it could happen. And I was too busy laughing myself sick to really care about Veronica's well-being. Hey, I did that at the beginning of the season, so I didn't have to do it again. And Mike's interference was selfish; he admitted as much in the Inferno II preview special.

Not much else to add. David would return three seasons later in Gauntlet 2 and basically underwhelm. Also, I'm amused that Veronica has not been a huge presence in Vendettas. It's the nature of the series; the longer it lasts, the worse people get. As I type this, her biggest contribution over the past few seasons has been a Twitter beef with Johnny, who . . . well, he doesn't make her look like an outright saint, but he nudges her towards neutral. Seriously, at one point last week, he told her to "Go back to your box of wine. It's getting lonely." Now I'm hoping she takes a chunk out of him at the inevitable Reunion. But she'd probably have to wait in line. Circle of life, I guess.