Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Amazing Entry

If you're a fan of The Amazing Race, there's some good news, and there's some bad news. The good news is that we're back to teams of two, back to travelling around the world. As always, Phil Keoghan is still the host with the most, bringing his charming accent and awesome eyebrow to the party. And after a stint on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. away from American Idol, CBS put TAR on Wednesdays at 9, so as not to get slaughtered by Lost and the AI results show.

And the bad news? Let's see...the legs don't allow for much bunching. There have been three "needle in haystack" tasks in six episodes. Actually, that's four if you count the gnome-hunt Roadblock, which ticked off fans due to the lingering stench of sponsorship. But the worst part is this: out of the six teams remaining, only one is worth rooting for.

This isn't new for diehard fans. In TAR6, most of the nice teams were gone by the midway point, leaving us with whiners, racists and losers. The following season wasn't much better, with hard-luck couple Uchenna & Joyce facing off against the reality veterans (Rob & Amber), the twit gay couple (Lynn & Alex), the old couple that had no business lasting eleven legs (Meredith & Gretchen), and the dopey ex-POW and shrewish beauty queen girlfriend (Ron & Kelly). And the less said about last season and the Weavers, the better. The point is that we've stared down long odds for a happy ending in the past. Yeah, TAR can kick the stuffing out of any other reality show in terms of excitement, but we might be looking at one dark season finale next month. Let's look at the teams that have left us so far.

John & Scott The first team out, and we didn't feel too bad. Now that's a rarity. Their early ouster was for the best, since John was probably going to drag in the next several legs. Also, that whole "genie" business from John? Kinda creepy. They do have good taste in dogs, though: a Great Dane, Dane puppy and bulldog. Very nice.

Lisa & Joni Last season, the Linz siblings became the first team to win the Race after barely avoiding elimination in the first leg. This season, these big-boned sisters finished tenth in the first leg...and stayed there for the second leg, earning the boot from Phil (another first for the show's history). I'm sure these self-named "Glamazons" are nice people, but it was like they were auditioning for The Travelling Godlewski Sisters: A Two-Woman Play. Very, very loud.

Wanda & Desiree The token parent/child team got off to a great start, but the double-leg killed them. It's bad when Wanda had to overcome her fears of deep water on the fly during a Roadblcok. It's bad when they kept missing an exit...but then the cameraman caught the sign in the back window while filming from the front seat. If there was a Pit Stop in Moscow, they'd still be racing.

Danielle & Dani I really wanted to like them, with no questions asked. They're from Staten Island...home of Bobby Thomson, Paul Zindel, the Wu-Tang Clan, Drew Feinberg (one half of the Frats), John Vito & Jill, and myself. In fact, one of them just graduated from Wagner College, where I got my degree in 1997. So what happened? They were horrible racers. I honestly can't sugarcoat it...they were good for at least one major mistake per leg. In their last leg, they fell behind, got Yielded...and even when they went into the Roadblock ahead of one team, the "Double Ds" got eliminated. Also, there's the business about hooking up with a few male Racers. It's probably an overblown story...they probably felt sorry for the guys, and they let 'em cop a feel. Honestly, I don't know, and part of me doesn't want to know.

Dave & Lori Their elimination hurt last week. I don't think any other couple was as much in love as these two. Unlike a certain other team, the humor from the self-professed nerds wasn't that forced. I think the beginning of the end came with the statue Roadblock, where Lori couldn't figure out that she had two extra pieces. After they, there wasn't much bunching to be had, and they ended up getting passed and eliminated.

Who's left? And why am I dreading the coming weeks?

Eric & Jeremy

No other team has been as hot at these guys. In the first five events, they have finished first, second, first, second, first. In a cruel twist, such divine racing talent is wasted on these idiots. They've flirted with damn near any woman they've come across, and they've been "chummy" with Danielle & Dani. It's gotten to the point where fans wonder if they're closeted, virigns, or both. Or maybe they're just two huge assholes.

BJ & Tyler

At first, there was a parallel to Jon & Al, the circus clowns of TAR4. Jon & Al mugged and schticked through the first few episodes. But then they turned a corner...they helped out Millie during a major asthma attack, flung poop at each other, and broke through as that season's fan favorite team. But with BJ & Tyler, what you see is what you get. And what you get are two camera-hungry "hippies" who will not shut up at all. Watch them prance around Italy, shouting in horrible Italian accents! Witness them jumping in front of cars, trying to scare other Racers! See them try to be so "alternative" that it physically hurts them! And naturally, they are the second best team in the race (2, 1, 2, 1, 2). Unless they piss off the locals to the point of torches and pitchforks, we're stuck with these two dopes for the long haul.

(Oh, and the wearing of the "Bowling Moms" t-shirts? Not funny. I'm not changing my mind on these two just because they paid tribute to Linda & Karen from TAR5. I am honestly distressed by the number of people who flipped based on that. And their drawn-out refusal to Yield was crappy...give me Chip faking Kami & Karli out any day.)

Lake & Michelle

These two are doing so much for the South. How come a pair of good ol' boys like Ryan & Chuck get sent home so soon, and we're stuck with their two? We've seen this couple before in the forms of Colin & Christie and Tara & Wil: guy is a butthole, girl isn't much better. They stumbled right away by reserving their first flight over the phone, which was a big no-no. Lake whined and bitched about going to Moscow, as if he read the travel guide written by Marshall & Lance. Also, the move to Yield the Double-Ds was foolish, especially with Ray & Yolanda in the back of the pack. It would have been a lot smarter to kill a more compentant team. And I'm getting tired of all the "dangummit!" from Lake. A few more weeks of these two, and I'll be begging for a team of Tom "Don't be stupid, stupid!" Buchannan and James "Jeff Probst is a sumbitch" Miller.

Joseph & Monica

I love the producers. This rather blah alpha mixed-gender team calls itself "Mojo," to the point that they wore "Mo" and "Jo" t-shirts. At this point, the people running the show basically said, "Fuck you, you're 'Joseph and Monica'." They've had good moments, but Monica has had a few emotional moments, and I think that will kill JoMo's chances for the win.

Fran & Barry

There are two types of elder teams: those that get unbelievably lucky and go farther than they should (Teri & Ian, Meredith & Gretchen), and everybody else. Fran & Barry fall under the former category. This is a team that has struggled to find the clue box on two seperate occasions. If it happens again, they would get tipped off by the cameraman laughing at them. They've had a lot of "we're doomed" jags, but they are in the middle of the pack. Also, Barry has a hairline similar to Uncle Leo from Seinfeld, so I can't take these two seriously.

And that leaves us with...

Ray & Yolanda

Meet the token black team. Ray is an attroney and only the third black man to appear on this show with a lot of hair on his head (joining Tramal Raggs and Reggie Black). Yolanda is a science teacher with a great pair of legs (I don't really notice them, but Phil won't shut up about them). They're not quite as lovey-dovey as Dave & Lori, but Ray did shoot a death glance at locals who were hooting at Yolanda. Yolanda works to lighten things up, and Ray jokes from time to time (best example: When Lake introduced himself and added "like the ocean," Ray responded with "Ray, like the sun.") The main problem is that these two have been in the back of the pack, narrowly avoiding elimination in the past two legs. I compare these two to Uchenna & Joyce not due to the color of their skin, but by their average racing skills. The Agus did perform better than Ray-Ray and Yo-Yo (as Dave dubbed them in an interview), but they didn't really catch fire until the eighth episode. That gives my favorites-by-default enough time to forstall the sucky ending, if not prevent it altogether.

A new episode airs in less than an hour. Hopefully, one team I can't stand will get their walking papers tonight. I'd settle for Phil dope-slapping Eric & Jeremy, especially for calling him "Big Philly Style." Hey, you can only raise that eyebrow for so long before something gives.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gauntlet 2, Episode 17: Whimper

It’s been a fun season, hasn’t it? Okay, after seeing Beth wear out her welcome and Kina turning into a shrill drama queen, it hasn’t been all giggles. Still, after enduring The Inferno and Battle of the Sexes 2, I say this edition isn’t the worst season ever. And I still feel that it will prove to be better than the upcoming Fresh Meat Challenge, even with Coral in that one.

Previously on Gauntlet 2: the Rookies won Piece by Piece, upping their bank to $90,000, which was better than the Veterans’ $60,000. Timmy volunteered to go into the Gauntlet, but not before Derrick killed a table trying to choose between Timmy and David. TJ went over the rules of Reverse Tug-Of-War, which was to this season what Dead Man’s Drop was to the original Gauntlet. Oh, and the loser of the final Gauntlet goes home with no money.

Gauntlet site. Shots of Derrick and Timmy. Derrick reminds us that he has gone 4-0. Clips of his battles with Adam, Ace, Syrus and Brad, fights that showcased Derrick’s guts, determination, and how darn short he is. He tells us that he’s praying not to lose. The two combatants man-hug prior to their battle. Katie interviews that both are strong players that she likes. “Timmy is such a great asset to the team,” she continues, “but Derrick has so much heart, and I feel that he deserves to be here more than anyone on both teams.”

Both players are tethered to each other. TJ rings the bell, and they take off in opposite directions. Derrick stumbles, as Timmy gets closer to his flag. David makes a weird guttural noise pulling for Timmy. Derrick digs in the sand. Timmy gets closer. Cut to Kina on the sidelines, hanging on Alton’s arm. Aneesa and Katie have their faces in their hands. Derrick digs. Timmy inches closer. Derrick grunts and screams, invoking memories of how Ruthie (another short player) got damaged in this event. Timmy finally gets the flag for the win...and unlike Beth, I’m okay with him winning.

TJ rings the bell to officially end the match. Timmy gets up, while Derrick chooses to remain in the sand. Kina turns around and walks away. Alton is flanked by Ibis and Jodi, and none of them look happy. “My heart just aches for him,” Jodi interviews. “He just worked so hard to get here, and to go home the day before [the final mission], it doesn’t get any worse than that. It really doesn’t.” Cut to a close-up of Derrick, face caked in sand. Timmy half-seriously smacks a mast. He interviews that he felt like losing because Derrick has more heart than anybody on the cast. Derrick is still in the sand. “For me to send him home,” Timmy tells us, “it’s a horrible feeling.” Derrick: “I failed. I didn’t make it to the end. I got thrown in the beginning, and I fought my way out of it for such a long time, and the fifth and last Gauntlet, I got the boot.”

Timmy crouches down. Derrick tells him to pick his head up, that he won fair and square. Timmy says that he knows, and he repeats how Derrick deserves to stay here. Julie tells us that she’s upset because Derrick kept the team together. “Our team could not be in a worse mood,” she interviews. "We could not feel any lower.”

TJ wraps things up, announcing that Timmy is the new captain...which means zip at this point. Is that a title Timmy can keep, as in “Captain Beggy”? TJ moves on to Derrick. The Rookies cheer out of respect, the Veterans applaud, and even TJ claps his hands. He notes that Derrick went out like a champion on his own terms. Damn...maybe TJ should have spun the wheel. Anyway, Derrick gets twenty minutes to pack up and leave. Cut to Kina, Aneesa, Ibis and Jodi, all of whom look pained. Derrick shakes hands with Timmy, then gets hugged by the remaining girls from Road Rules: X-Treme. Kina sobs, and Derrick tells them that he’ll see them soon. I know it’s stupid, but I feel for them, even if they did help kill the Road Rules franchise. Mark wraps an arm around Derrick, saying he has so much respect for him. Alton: “From the very beginning, he felt like he was thrown to the wolves and underestimated, and he’s taken all that adversity and allowed it to strengthen him.” Alton and Derrick do their super-secret dorky handshake one last time. “It’s hard to watch the undefeated champion go home.”

Night. Derrick gets applauded by everybody on his way out. David rubs his head, and that skeeves me out to no end. It should’ve been his ass getting kicked by Derrick. Hugs from Ibis and Timmy. Katie interviews that the team feels disappointed in losing Derrick, and the only thing to do is win the final mission, because that’s want Derrick wants. Outside, Derrick yells that he loves everybody. Aneesa wipes her eyes dry, while Derrick playfully beats on the waiting car. He tells us that he can’t believe he lost. “I gave my heart out every challenge and every Gauntlet.” Flashback to him walking in the tires during Team Builders. Derrick gets a hug from Julie. “The final challenge is not going to be nothing nice.” Flashbacks of Derrick washing up after a Gauntlet, ranting in the first Gauntlet meeting, and arguing with Brad. Present-day shots of Derrick getting hugged by Aneesa and Alton. “My advice for the Rookies and the Veterans: no pain, no gain.” He hugs Timmy, and we flash back to his battle with Syrus. “You motherfuckers are gonna hurt really ad in the challenge. This shit is not gonna be easy, so your heart, your enthusiasm, your drive, your compassion, you better bring all of it.” Shot of Derrick walking to a Gauntlet. Awwwwwww.

Night. Pizza dinner. Mark reads the clue off the sponsor phone: “Time to go ‘all in.’ Get your ‘booty’ ready at 9 a.m.” Thank you, Mark, for making the quote marks with your finger. What a tool. Alton congratulates everybody at the table to making it to the end. He interviews that the Rookies are the stronger team, and they are not stopping for second place.

Morning. The Veterans get ready, as Mark check on Aneesa. Timmy wears the bunny ears we saw at the end of Inferno, and he holds out a huge pair of briefs. “Someone freakin’ left Beth’s underwear,” he quips, getting laughs from Aneesa and Katie. He tells us that his team is ready for an upset. After watching George Mason make it to the Final Four, the idea isn’t that absurd. Elsewhere, Kina tells Ibis and Susie that they can’t lose. “There’s not a chance in Gauntlet hell we are going to lose,” Ibis interviews. “Not a chance.”

Gauntlet site. Two cushy chairs and a table are set up. TJ welcomes everybody to the final mission at Turtle Beach (all together now) “in beautiful Trinidad & Tobago.” The players cheer, their shirts and arms covered with shout-outs and dedications. I’d go over that, but I’m running behind as it is. Timmy: “I look into everyone’s eyes, and I can just tell that people are ready to throw up, because there’s so much heartache, so much sorry and so much pain that has happened in this Gauntlet, and here we are for the last time.”

The final mission: Bet Your Booty. The payout: $150,000, which TJ tells us is in U.S. dollars. This mission has three events: eating twelve pounds of Roti, something called “Pirate Memory,” and Sand Sprint, which is a relay race that depends on the number of people participating in it. If you’re looking for the grueling long-distance finale which has been a staple since Extreme Challenge, then you’re out of luck. So much for Kina carrying Ibis across the finish line. All players can compete in only one event each, and each team gets 250 gold doubloons to bet on each event, with the maximum wager being 248. Julie repeats most of what TJ said, then adds that the teams can stack people anyway they want. TJ wraps up by saying that the team with the most coins in the end wins the mission. He gives both sides thirty minutes to deliberate.

On the Rookie side, Randy thinks the team should put the most doubloons on Sand Sprint, the key being going “all in” on one mission. As the Rookies do a cheer, Jamie breaks down the final mission: he, Landon and Alton will be in Sand Sprint, with the team betting 248 coins on that event. Susie and Kina will tackle the memory game (one coin), and everybody else takes on the Roti (one coin). On the Veteran side, Julie gets the same idea as Randy, putting the maximum on the Roti. Timmy says that this is a poker game, and they will try to beat the Rookies in the first event. Mark tells us that he, Timmy, Robin, Julie and David will have Roti (248 coins), Katie will do the memory game (one coin) and Aneesa will do the Sand Sprint (one coin). This must have been a great idea at the time. “Drastic times take drastic measures,” Mark interviews, “and that’s what we’re doing.”

TJ talks about the Roti, which is a local delicacy. I’ll let David handle the description. “Basically, Roti is the Caribbean version of the burrito. The conglomeration of potatoes, bones...we’re gonna eat a chicken tibia, we’re gonna eat a beak. It’s not the most appetizing food by any means.” TJ adds that the first team to throw up loses automatically. The first team to eat twelve pounds of Roti wins the event.

We get ready for the first event. The Veterans have bet 248 coins, the Rookies put up only one. TJ rings the bell, and both sides stuff their faces, while their teammates cheer from the side. Jamie puts his shirt over his head, interviewing the there are a few moments where he feels like throwing up. Julie tells us that she’s surprised the Rookies are keeping up, since the Veterans have one extra stomach. With her mouth full, Jodi mutters that she never wants to eat another potato. David: “We have to sniff it, rub it, eat it, get it by osmosis, whatever you need to do, there’s $150,000 riding on twelve pounds of Roti.” Ibis eats, as Kina tells her that she’s an animal. Jamie tells Randy to “go huge” for the money. Both sides keep eating. Aneesa bounces up and down in excitement.

Both teams clear their plates, claiming that they’re done. Jamie: “We’re done, we’re done. Fuckin’ A, what do you want from us?” The Rookies on the sidelines yell that the Veterans are still eating. The bell gets rung, and the Veterans celebrate. Cut to MJ: “She has food in her mouth, goddammit!” Ibis: “She’s still eating!” Robin reaches for her mouth, yelling that the bell has already been rung. Julie frantically points at her mouth. TJ comes in to tell both sides to calm down. Kina: “We won! We fucking won!” TJ says that he will check the tapes, and he tells them to chill. Slow-motion shows of both teams protesting, and we pause on Julie’s big mouth as we go to commercials.

Both sides wait for a decision. Kina gripes that Jule still had food in her mouth. Julie claims the Veterans finished first while the Rookies were still eating. On the beach, Mark compliments either David or Timmy on getting away to puke. He adds, “Julie sands there with a mouthful of food!” Uh oh...anybody else sense a pattern?

TJ checks the tape, as we see both teams eat on spilt screens. Cue the spot shadow of Julie still chewing, with a handy caption: “food in mouth.” TJ tells us that the Rookies were done by fifteen seconds. If you think that watching Julie screw up royally yet again doesn’t make really happy...well, you really don’t me well. Honestly, I can Coral cackle all the way in California. TJ tells the players that the Rookies were done first. He awards the Rookies 249 coins.

On the sidelines, Timmy asks the Veterans what they’ll do next. Katie thinks they have no chance of winning. Mark: “It’s going to look like we’re poor sports or assholes.” In his case, that would apply to him in any situation. Timmy interviews that the team gambled and lost. “We had a good ride,” he adds, “but we’re outmanned, we’re outmatched, there’s more of them. We just can’t win this one.” Aneesa: “Like I’m supposed to sprint against Alton, Landon and MJ? Sure, that makes sense.”

The Veterans walk over to the Gauntlet and ring the bell, telling the Rookies that they have quit. And just like that, the Rookies have won $150,000. Talk about an anticlimax. Cue the handshakes and hugs, as the Rookies do a cheer. Julie interviews that the Rookies deserve to win because they have been winning, and that they had better strategy and unity.

TJ wraps things up, noting that the Veterans tried their hardest. I’m guessing any footage of him ripping them for throwing in the towel got cut. He teases the team for placing so much on one event. The Rookies get the check for $150,000, putting their bank account to $240,000. That works out to $26,666 per Rookie, a far cry from the $57,500 payday for each Good Guy in Inferno II. The Veterans get $60,000, which works out to $8,571 per person. The Rookies cheer and grunt in a circle. Time for reflections. Susie: “I’m so overwhelmed and overjoyed. I’m just a Pittsburgh girl, and that’s a lot of money.” Kina exclaims “Oh my God!” and screams. Alton gets on his knees, beaming, “I just won!” Looks like the ghost of his decision to put Theo in the Gauntlet over Coral has just been exorcized. Kina: “I’m a rich bitch!” Audience: “Well, you’re half right.” The Rookies pose with the check. Happiness all around.

Shot of the surf. Susie hopes that the Rookies will have a special bond because they have been through a lot together. Flashback time! TJ greets the teams on the first day. The kids arrive at their posh pad. Mark gets a birthday lap dance from Aneesa. “Once it’s all over,” Mark interviews, “you can step back and remove yourself from the game and just think, ‘God, I was in Tobago and had one of the best times of my life’.”

Cue the epilepsy-inducing shots of the sky. Mark and Robin make out. Ruthie pushes a happy and naked Danny away. Sky shots. Jodi in the pool with Adam L. Mark pushes Syrus off the tightrope during Balancing Act. Sky shots. Mashed-up editing. Teams push boulders during Team Strength. Julie tries to push a truck, screaming her lungs out. Cut to a random shot of Kina looking pissed off. Shot of Katie looking reflective and sober. More shots. Cara throws a fit after being accused of being in an alliance, while Susie looks hurt. Ibis: “All the tears that have been shed, all the arguments that have been had, they have been totally worth it because in the end, we all came together as a team.”

Shot of the show’s pirate flag. Kina: “Without Randy here, I’m not sure that I would have been able to do it with the heart and the intensity and the passion that I had about this game.” In other words, if you’re looking to hate anybody for Kina’s moods, Randy’s your man. Shot of Kina beating Jillian in the Gauntlet. Shot of a lightning strike. Derrick to Brad: “YOU ARE SHUTTING ME DOWN FOR NO FUCKING REASON!” Good times. Good, drunken times. Alton pulls the cart during Rickshaw Races. Ruthie and Beth face off in the Gauntlet. Alton and Jodi dance. More sky shots. Derrick lathers Syrus with paint. Timmy exercises in a wig and girly shirt. Susie’s jaw drops. Montana laughs. Adam K. laughs. Veterans doing the Body Painters mission. Timmy and Derrick shake hands before their Gauntlet. Brad and Derrick hug. Beth puts a finger in her mouth after talking with Montana. The Veteran girls mob Ruthie.

More sky shots. Alton: “I’ve learned a lot in this Challenge.” Shots of the big fella on the cargo net, balancing on the platform during Easy Does it, and climbing out of The Pit. “I’ve always kinda been just a solo sort of player, so I’ve really learned how to just kinda step up, make decisions. I definitely learned how to be a team player. I think I learned a lot.” Timmy tells us that he’s “happy as a clam” even though his team lost, because he’s walking away with a “trunk full of memories.” One memory: Timmy snapping about his team being idiots. Cara and Kina wrestle in their Gauntlet date. Clip of Derrick looking tired. Another shot of Ruthie struggling in her Gauntlet with Beth.

More sky shots. It’s almost over, people. Veterans celebrate a few mission wins, including the one where Robin gets popped out of her top. Montage of hugs, concluding with Beth hugging Syrus goodbye, as well as Beth’s watery eyes. Whatever. Sky shots. Rookies compete in Human Pyramid. Alton smacks David up in an unofficial boxing match. More shots. Jo stalks off the show, pushing a camera aside. And we finish with the Rookies cheering themselves with their $150,000 check. Alton: “You know, life is a competition. The Gauntlet doesn’t end here.” Given his track record in the Gauntlet, he had better hope not.

And that’s that. The reunion recap will be up this week, but I just want to thank those of you who read my recaps. I believe that you can either recap quickly, or you can do it right. See you next season!