Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eighty Reasons Why I Love Comics

I'm not much of a meme guy. Hell, I barely post here nowadays. But a blog called seebelow unveiled a meme based on Fred Hembeck's list of 100 things he loved about comic books. Soon, the meme infiltrated comic blogs I frequented, including Christopher Bird (of posting forty sets of panels as evidence that he'll love comics forever.

I sat down and I listed stuff that I've liked reading over the years. And I kept writing. And since I stink at writing lists, I came up with eighty reasons in total. There's probably a lot more that I can think of, but a. there would be more overlap of reasons that I have right now, and b. I need to stop while I'm still relatively sane. If I included cartoons and manga, the list would be even long, so I stuck with comics. Most of the links are from my Flickr account, where I've posted sketches that I've been getting since 2000. If I ever get back to blogging on a regular basis, I might explain some of my picks. But in the meantime, enjoy the list and leave a comment if you'd like.

1. Kingdom Come
2. Marvels
3. Impulse (by Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos)
4. Young Justice (Peter David & Todd Nauck)
5. Top Ten (Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon)
6. Black Panther (by Christopher Priest)
7. Quantum & Woody (Priest & MD Bright)
8. Gail Simone
9. Evan Dorkin
10. Pedro & Me
11. The Adventures of Barry Ween
12. "Do you seriously think I'd explain my masterstroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago." (Ozymandias, Watchmen #11)
13. No, I was a failure. If I were a real hero . . . I would have been here in time to stop the first plane." (Mayor Mitchell Hundred, Ex Macchina #1)
14. Adam Warren
15. Deadpool (by Joe Kelly)
16. Danny the Street (Doom Patrol)
17. Kemlo "Hyperdog" Caesar (Top Ten)
18. Joe Pi (Top Ten)
19. "The Intervention" (Dork! #9)
20. Kyle Rayner: The Last Green Lantern (as written by Ron Marz and Judd Winick)
21. "Maybe Next Year" (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #33)
22. Mogo and Rot Lop Fan (introduced by Alan Moore, Green Lantern #188 and Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #3, respectively)
23. All-Star Superman (Grant Morrison & Frank Quietly)
24. Tommy Monaghan (Hitman)
25. "Mad About The Boy" (Wonder Woman #153)
26. "She's A Wonder" (Wonder Woman #170)
27. "So there was only one Green Lantern . . . and I'm it. Everybody better get used to the idea." (Kyle Rayner, Green Lantern #0
28. "How To Win Friends And Influence People" (Impulse #3)
29. Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan)
30. Everett K. Ross (Black Panther)
31. Vincent Van Goat, aka H.A.E.D.U.S (Heavily Armored Espionage Deadly Uber-Sheep) (Quantum & Woody)
32. "Captain Traynor, sir? All due respect sir . . . Permission to use extreme force." " Break her &$%!ing neck, son." "Yessir." (Jeff Smax and Steve "Jetman" Traynor, after Commissioner Ultima killed Girl One, Top Ten #10)
33. Empowered (by Adam Warren)
34. "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?" (Superman #423 & Action Comics #583)
35. "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, & the American Way?" (Action Comics #775)
36. Deadpool kicks a possessed Captain America in the balls before saving the world (Deadpool #25)
37. Nextwave
38. Transmetropolitan: Lust For Life trade paperback
39. Ghost Rider 2099 #1-12
40. Ryan Choi (The All-New Atom, by Gail Simone)
41. Secret Six (Gail Simone)
42. 7 Guys Of Justice (Brian Joines)
43. Action Philosophers
44. Starman (by James Robinson)
45. The Shade (as written by James Robinson)
46. Couch-bound ex-baddies: Caged Demonwolf (Empowered) and Head (The All-New Atom)
47. Barbara Gordon wiggles her toes (Birds Of Prey #85)
48. Reverend Doctor Michael ibn al-Hajj Achebe (and Daki the handpuppet) (Black Panther)
49. "Kiss Me" (Hitman #21)
50. Steve Englehart's contributions to the Ultraverse: The Strangers and The Night Man
51. "Beginning's End" (Green Lantern #150)
52. The Shift/Indigo romance (Outsiders)
53. The short-lived Ragdoll/Mad Hatter friendship (Secret Six #6)
54. Grunge & Twenty-Man Tommy settling a dispute through ferretlegging (Gen13 #65)
55. Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World
56. "Uptown" (Black Panther #17)
57. Superman/Batman: World's Funnest (written by Evan Dorkin)
58. "The Santa Contract" (Hitman #22)
59. Easter Eggs in Top Ten from Gene Ha
60. Joker, Green Lantern, and Superman from Tangent Comics (pre-Superman's Reign)
61. Spider-Boy (Amalgam Comics)
62. Livewires
63. Spider Man/Human Torch: I'm With Stupid
64. The Golden Age
65. T'Challa sucker-punches Mephisto, sells his soul for the safety of his people, and walks away victorious (Black Panther #4-5)
66. "Cluttered Like My Head" (Dork! #7)
67. Milk & Cheese
68. "Failed Universes" (Gen 13 #69-70)
69. Wally West makes Reverse-Flash his bitch, finally comes into his own as Flash (Flash #80)
70. The William/Josh "trivia-off" ("Bring Me The Head Of Boba Fett" by Evan Dorkin)
71. "Running From The Past" (Impulse #16)
72. "Stop Me if You've Heard This One..." (Superman/Batman Annual #1)
73. Supergirl/Batgirl: World's Finest
74. Wildguard
75. Amish Kal-El vs. Kryptonian DNA-infused Jimmy Olsen (JLA: The Nail #3)
76. Dr. Thirteen: Architects Of Morality trade paperback
77. "With Great Powers Comes Great Coincidence" (Deadpool #11)
78. "Switch" (Quantum & Woody #10)
79. "Shazam! SHAZAM! SHAZAM!" (Captain Marvel, Kingdom Come #4)

And finally . . .

80. "Spinach and cottage cheese? That's a Spectre Platter?" "Look at it this way. It's flattering to be remembered somehow." (Jim Corrigan and Norman McKay, Kingdom Come)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Building a Better Gauntlet

I have come to accept that Bunim-Murray Productions doesn’t care about Real World/Road Rules Challenge in the sense that fair gameplay doesn’t facilitate drama, so it takes a back seat. I know that the players will be cast for maximum entertainment; any chances of halfway normal people – Roni, Steve, Dave, Jacquese, Lori, etc. – coming back are practically nil. I’m resigned to the realization that a story as involving as Sarah winning five Gauntlets will never be told again because the engine that drives the show needs very little sympathy to run. Even worse, not only do I hear that Beth – pushing 40, by the way – is open to doing more Challenges, but Mark Long might be coming back as well. This former good guy turned cradle-robber, fit-thrower, and giver of $60,000 to an undeserving prick like Eric Nies, actually swore he was done with Challenges at the reunion special for Gauntlet 2. What, Reality Remix isn’t good enough for you, Marky Mark?

Yes, I do wonder why the hell I should care about this show, especially since it brings out the vilest emotions from my soul. The road to each season’s “handsome reward” has been riddled with potholes, and BMP does little to fill them. This season on Gauntlet 3, we have the team losing a mission forced to watch as the victors pick one of their own to go into the Gauntlet, as well as protect a prospective “easy pick” from going in. Then the losers would deliberate as to who else would have to fight in the Gauntlet to stay in the game. Great ides, especially the part when the captain system from Gauntlet 2 gets dumped. So what went wrong to make Gauntlet 3 the absolute worst season in Challenge history?

First, the Gauntlet still alternated between men and women, which means at any given time, that one gender isn’t at risk, and they can throw a mission to send somebody into the Gauntlet that they don’t like. This has led to countless interviews with Evan, Kenny, CT and Danny bitching about how the women on their team don’t pull their own weight, even though their side hasn’t lost that many missions outright. The unspoken second problem is that there are no bank accounts in play this time; instead, we have an all-or-nothing system where only the winning team gets paid, and the losers walk away with little more than sponsor prizes. Also, most seasons end on a long distance mission, where more people could be a problem. This is probably one of the bigger bugs up CT’s ass, since he was a part of the Bad Ass team in Inferno II that only lost one player (Dan) to the Inferno (Beth took a powder, Karamo had a prior obligation and threw his Inferno against Landon), only to helplessly watch as Tonya (fatigued from a night out) and Tina (more mouth than leg muscles) dragged them down for a loss. Being a better team in missions or in endgames doesn’t seem to benefit winning teams directly, leading to the ugliness of Gauntlet 3 and Coral’s departure.

Well, I’m here to help. I’ve recapped six seasons of the show, and I’ve devoted too much time and too many brain cells to it. I’ve figured out how to organize teams, how success in missions and Gauntlets would pay off (I prefer Gauntlets to Duels, Infernos and Pits, so that’s the format I’ll be using), how one person can stand head and shoulders above a team and win the most money in Challenge history . . . and how anybody can be motivated by the ultimate threat.

The Teams

In the beginning, there was Real World and Road Rules. Then it was men against women, but that was brutal to watch at times. With the death of the Road Rules franchise, BMP found new ways to divide the players, first with “Good Guys” and “Bad Asses" starting in Inferno II, followed by “Veterans” (those who had done two or more Challenges) and “Rookies” (comprised of newbies, second-timers, and Jamie, who had won two prior Challenges. Don’t ask) in Gauntlet 2. There were teams of two on two separate occasions (Battle of the Seasons, Fresh Meat), and players going solo with The Duel . . . but since freakin' Wes won $150,000, we’ll pretend that never happened. I’m ignoring all that for a new notion: Red vs. Blue.

Here’s how it starts: the 24 or 28 contestants are hustled to either a clearing with woods surrounding it or the 50-yard-line on a football field. The host does the welcome speech, when goes on about how things are different this time. Cue the helicopter hovering about a half-mile away. From there, $5,000 of fake money in single bill form is dropped, a nod to how All-Star Challenge kicked off. The twelve or fourteen guys are told that 4,998 bills are green, but they have to look for a red and a blue bill, then bring it back. Oh, and tackling others to get those bills would be permitted. A few minutes later, while the guys are scrambling, another 5,000 bills are dropped, and the girls get to make their run.

At the end of this mission, one guy and one girl will have blue bills, and another pair will be holding red bills. They will helping to form the teams. As a reward, these four get to split the traditional $10,000 prize money for a mission win, and immunity from the first Gauntlet. After a quick session of rock-paper-scissors, one team picks one of the 20 or 24 remaining players. The other team follows with a pick from a different gender. The teams rotate, either male-female-female-male-male, etc., or female-male-male-female-female, etc. To make things interesting, a “scapegoat prevention clause” would give immunity to the last guy and girl picked for each team, so they can “step up,” “redeem themselves,” and whatever other cliche phrases you can think up. Oh, and there are no twists in terms of belonging on a team. Once the teams are formed, they will be no trades or defections.

The House

In my head, there would be three main areas: the center would be a “free” area for both sides to mingle, ans two “wings” would be attached to either side. Before Gauntlet deliberations, both sides would be sequestered away from each other in their respective wings. After making their decisions, the teams would call the house on a private hotline before proceeding to the Gauntlet. Speaking of which, the Gauntlet will be right outside the house, just like back in Telluride, Col., in the original Gauntlet.

The Missions

I wouldn’t change much by way of actual missions, as long as not an emphasis on the icky and the excruciating (like forcing players into freezers and submerge themselves in ice water). Any timed missions would be averaged out per person as opposed to cumulative, especially in the case of a numbers advantage. The team that wins a mission gets $10,000 for their bank account, the final one pays out at least $150,000, and only those that make it to the finale get to share in the riches. Also, I’d put in time limit missions; if both teams don’t succeed in the allotted period, neither side gets money, and that amount gets added to the final mission jackpot.

The Gauntlet: Spiel

“Take a look around, people. Anybody here could face anybody else. Your best friend may have to take you out in order to stay in the game. You might have to battle your worst enemy, somebody you’ve barely met, maybe even the one you’re hooking up with. Just remember . . . all roads lead to the Gauntlet.”

The Gauntlet: Deliberation

As stated earlier, both teams would be sequestered in their respective wings, with no interteam conversation before the Gauntlet. Regardless of winning or losing, both teams would nomination one of their number to go to the Gauntlet, then call the host on the hotline with the decision. They can vote any way they'd like . . . privately, publicly, the 3-2-1 system Steve came up with that his own team used to send him to his doom by Trishelle's hands, etc.

The Gauntlet: Restrictions

For the first time since The Gauntlet, there would be no same-sex endgames. However, the same gender cannot be sent into the Gauntlet more than twice in a row. For instance, a side that has sent two females must pick a male afterwards. In addition, any player that wins a Gauntlet is immune from the next vote. This shall be known as the “Grayson Rule,” at least for myself and any other hardcore fan of Sarah. Also, Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards would be given to the top players in every other mission in the first half of the season and every mission in the second half. Instead of rewarding the best player from each team, the MVP honors would be given to the top male and female competitors, who would be immune from the Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet: Game Selection

In the beginning, there was the oversized single die rolled by the player from that week’s winning team. Now we have a spinning wheel, which doesn’t work as well, and there’s the potential for rigging by production. I mean, Beth got to choose Reverse Tug-Of-War twice. That’s the definition of “shenanigans,” right? For this edition, I’m going old-school: lottery machine.

Here’s how it would work: three balls would represent each game. Just press a button, watch the ball pop up . . . boom, there’s your game. After the draw, that ball would be taken out for good, in order to minimize games coming up again and again. In addition, there would be three “winner’s choice” balls, where the competitor from that episode’s winning team would choose the game, and a single “loser’s choice" ball would be mixed in to make things interesting.

The Gauntlet: The Twist

I came up with what I thought was a great idea. It’s hard to explain, so I’ll have to go with an example.

In this simulation, the Red team has won the mission and $10,000. After both sides call in their Gauntlet choices, Red gets ten red balls put into the machine. They can replace one red ball for a blue one for $1,000 per ball, which comes from that episode’s winnings. That money would be added to the $150,000 awarded in the final mission.

The Red side decides to spend $7,000 to replace seven red balls. One ball pops out. If a red ball comes out, nothing changes. If a blue ball comes out, Red can pick anybody from Blue that is not immune from the vote. However, if they pick Blue’s Gauntlet representative, Blue can turn around and pick somebody from Red to replace their doomed player. If they choose the player picked by Red, then nothing changes, and the Gauntlet goes on as originally scheduled.

I know . . . it’s a bit complicated, and I can’t imagine some veterans wrapping their minds around it. The main goal is to set up a stage where anybody could face anybody else in the Gauntlet, regardless of team affiliations. Imagine this playing out in the original Gauntlet. We could’ve had a battle between polar opposites from RR: The Quest: alpha douche and poster boy for ADD-riddled assholes Adam versus underexposed smart guy Steve. Coral might have been forced to fight her best girl friend on her team (Elka) or her worst enemies (Trishelle and Matt). Even scarier: a one-on-one rumble between Coral and Mike. Or how about lovebirds Mike and Trishelle? Here’s one that would have been fun: the allegedly weak Sarah taking on Rachel, who’s been all muscle and little hustle in her entire Challenge career. Rachel vs. Veronica, Matt vs. David, Theo vs. Adam, Abram vs. Tina . . . the possibilities wouldn’t have been endless, but the fun could have been.

Gauntlet: The Games

One major caveat is that endurance contests would be scaled back, if not eliminated altogether. I’d like to see some more action, not two people hanging upside down from trapeze bars. Also, I’d bring back the different-gender policy from Gauntlet – where only half the games were used – but I’d make things a little more fair. In other words, there wouldn’t be a repeat of the final Gauntlet, where Theo struggled on a mechanical bull, while Cara got a simulated ride on a sedated cow, as then-boyfriend Dave smirked about how she’s so used to it.

As for actual games, I’d import Balls In from Inferno II, with players alternating turns. I’d also bring back Perfect Fit (players dive into pool, fish out puzzle pieces, then assemble puzzle in a tray) and Knock Your Block Off (the jousting game), and I’d alter previous games from the past.

Trivial Brawl: Both players start at opposite ends of a field. The host asks a trivia question relating to any of the other Challengers. The players rush past each other to separate pits, each filled with balls with players’ names on them. For fun, throw in black balls (a layer covering the top of the pit), balls with names of non-Challengers, and balls with misspelled names. Once the players get balls with what they feel is the correct answer, they have to rush back to where they started . . . and contact is highly encouraged. First player back to his/her starting point wins a point. To make things more interesting, the players have to get ten points to win, with questions ranging from one to five points – the more points, the tougher and more obscure the question – chosen by the player winning the prior point. Also, some questions would require multiple answers, and contact would be allowed only when players get all the balls they need. (Same Gender Only)

Trivial Chase: It’s the same setup as Trivial Brawl, only no contact can be made between players. Instead, they are given seven trivia questions that have to be answered in order. Both players go back and forth, collecting the corresponding balls for each question and putting them on a stand. Once all the balls are retrieved, a judge checks to make sure they’re correct. If not, the player is given the number of correct answers, and the player has to figure out what questions were answered wrong. Repeat as necessary until somebody wins. (Both Genders)

Turntable: This is adapted from a Gauntlet mission. Instead of putting the opponents on the same turntable and eliminating whoever flies off first, each player gets their own turntable. The mission: stay on for a designated number of revolutions. The twist: each player has the ability to control how fast the turntable moves. Have it turn too slow, you risk getting burned by your opponent. If it turns too fast, you fly off, whatever revolutions you’ve already made are wiped away, and you have to wait until the turntable stops before getting back on and starting over. Puking is not grounds for disqualification, even if it’s on the opponent . . . but let’s hope it never comes to that. (Both Genders)

The Finale: Prelude

This season, the Axis Of Ass has horrific visions of the girls slowing them down in a long distance run, with Coral faking an allergic reaction to cover for fatigue. Hey, I believe that happened to her back in the day, but Kenny pissed on that in the preview special. Anyway, who knows what the mission will be? So here’s what I’m thinking: the winner of each mission gets a set of puzzle pieces. Collect five sets, you can read what the final mission will entail. If they get the gist in less than five sets? Whatever.

Finale: Rules

Originally, I was going to keep the long distance run with a twist: the results from the Gauntlet would factor far greater. In the original Gauntlet, Road Rules would’ve had a five-minute head start for each Gauntlet won by players on their team still in the game. With Sarah’s five Gauntlet wins and Cara’s two, the team would’ve had 35 minutes on Real World. However, fifteen minutes would’ve been deducted by the three RW players that won Gauntlets (Alton, Coral, Mike). This way, RR could’ve benefited directly from Sarah’s victories instead of Adam contemplate smothering her while she slept.

But then I got a better idea: why should some Challengers be deprived of going into the Gauntlet? There were underachievers who skipped out the endgames (Veronica, Rachel), supporting role players (Roni, Dave), and alpha dogs (Adam, Darrell, Theo) who never had a chance to go in. So the final mission for a Gauntlet edition? The Gauntlet.

Here how it would work: both teams make a list of players in order of when they’d like to be sent into the Gauntlet. Those on the top of each list face off. After that, each team sends their players in order. Once a team reaches the bottom of the lineup, they go back to the top. Each player gets one life, plus one more life per MVP and/or Gauntlet won. Once a player loses his/her lives, they are out of the game. Once a team reaches 3-4 players, the time between Gauntlets is extended to allow for rest. And we go on and on and on until one team runs out of players . . . then the other side wins the game. Simple as that.

I have three additional ideas, all of which would be optional. Let’s see if you like them.

1. Team Shares

Instead of spilting team bank accounts equally, how about by the amount of work done when it counts? For every MVP honor and Gauntlet win, a player receives one additional share. I came up with this idea near the end of The Gauntlet, where Sarah would have walked away with six figures easily. That would’ve been better than my other fantasy: Sarah getting into her prize car and trying to mow down Adam, Rachel and Veronica.

2. Last Person Standing

The Duel abandoned the pretense of teamwork, letting individual players go at it for $150,000. And the results were good . . . unless you remember dickhead Wes beat Brad in the final mission. I don’t care that Wes swore off Challenges . . . he’s still a dick. But I did figure out how to make my game into an individual contest at the end.

After the final mission, the losing team goes away, and the winners get 24-48 hours to celebrate before coming back to the Gauntlet. They pick up where they left off, going in two at a time to face each other. Figure for each win in the finale, they get an additional life for this bonus stage. And the last person standing in the end doesn’t get a share of the team’s bank account . . . that person gets the same total as the team. That means if the team wins $250,000, then the one who survives the ultimate mission wins a separate $250,000 jackpot. Of course, I’m not sure BMP has that much money to give out. Also . . . can you imagine if the winner was, say, CT? How much muscle mass formula and prostitutes can a man get for a quarter million bucks? I don’t think we’re ready for something worse than Wes with $150,000.

3. The Ultimate Incentive

Now this one might be my best idea, and possibly my most evil. Go to the first episode, where the host (Rob Dyrdek in fantasy, T.J. Lavin in harsh reality) goes over the rules. The he drops the bomb: “The team that loses the final mission . . . all team members either there or at home will be barred from competing in future Challenges. FOREVER!” Cut to everybody freaking the hell out. One or two veteran players interview how shaken they are. A newbie can’t believe his first time on a Challenge could be his last. And the editors subtly drop in “Never Again” by Kelly Clarkson.

Is it mean? Hell, yes. Could decent players be screwed over? For sure. But it would be the ultimate incentive to win . . . to keep yourself, your teammates, and those unfortunate to have lost in the Gauntlet to keep suckling on that Challenge teet. I’d be unfair enough to spare anybody that had been on the winning team, up to and including a case like CT getting kicked off Inferno III for hitting Davis before a single game was played. You lose, you’re barred from Challenges and any other BMP show.

Here’s another idea which might be even more horrific: you lose, no Challenges for three years or five seasons, whichever comes first. Let’s say this was in effect during Inferno II. Out of the ten members of the losing Bad Ass team, only three have not come back to the Challenge (Dan, Karamo and Rachel), and a fourth (Veronica) only came back for Road Rules: Viewers’ Revenge. Imagine the fates of the other six: Abram, Beth, CT, Derrick, Tina and Tonya. Out of that group, only Abram has appeared in just one more Challenge (Inferno III). Tonya would’ve had to find a new way to pay off debts, which I believe was her reason for coming back every few seasons. Speaking of Tonya, she wouldn’t have done Fresh Meat, and neither would Derrick and Tina, meaning Johnny (remember him? Not the “Bananas” guy), Diem and Kenny would’ve had different partners, and maybe Diem could’ve found somebody else to get cuddly with for a longer time so she never hooks up with CT, and Kenny gets somebody as a partner who wouldn’t enable his constant need to be funny on camera. And while the ten exiled players would’ve been trapped in their own private Phantom Zone, mental midgets from The Real World, Fresh Meat and Viewers’ Revenge would be recruited to fill the void, and those excluded would be praying that there would be a place for their drama when they’d come back. Otherwise, it’s actual 9-to-5 jobs for them. I’m thinking guys like CT and Danny would resort to armed robbery if they had my 7-to-3 schedule.

So that’s my plan. If you have an opinion, like I’m missing something obvious, let me know. I’m also contemplating mailing out this essay to actual Challengers for their feedback. That would mean they’d wind up with my address, and the idea of people like Beth and Evelyn having a way to contact me upsets my stomach. The bottom line is that I don’t want to feel like an idiot for watching this crap every week. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gauntlet 3: Walking Away

On the Television Without Pity forums, there’s a thread where posters put up motivational posters based on various shows. One running topic compares programs to drugs. After this past Wednesday, I ha an apt parallel for Real World/Road Rules Challenge: PCP. All I know is I usually wind up extremely mad, bordering on foaming at the mouth, ready to tear people in half with my bare hands.

In my rage over Gauntlet 3, which has eclipsed Battle Of The Sexes 2 as the worst season ever – no small feat with me getting fired from a recapping gig in part to increasingly negative reviews, as well as Eric Fucking Nies – I was left to examine the legacy of one Coral Smith, who looked at her team members trying to screw her over, saw a nasty bitch itching to destroy her, and said “fuck this shit” and left. Coral went into Gauntlet 3 having won only one Challenge, but she had never been eliminated from the game except when injured. She would scheme and scam, but she’d never try to run anybody over with the malicious intent as this season’s Axis Of Ass. In The Inferno, when the Real World team sought to throw a mission to shove Leah into the Inferno, Coral tried to play the mission honestly. Nine times out of ten, the subjects of barbs as jagged as her name had it coming. But when she walked away, she hurt her legacy. I am happy to note that when I logged off about 30 minutes after the episode aired, there had been only two posts negative towards Coral. The rest that I read before going to bed either praised her, ripped the Veterans, and/or declared that they were done watching the show. Since then, there has been more haters taking shots at Coral, but there’s little proof of a backlash against her,

It’s one thing for me to be an apologist for Coral, but less than twelve hours later, as I originally wrote this essay at work, I still had not changed my mind, and I don’t think I will. Yes, I did come down hard on Beth when she quit in Gauntlet 2, but I see differences between the two incidents. Beth was unquestionably the worst player on the Veterans team, but she had a captain’s position thanks to two lucky spins of the Gauntlet wheel. Beth also has rarely shown the capacity for caring the way Coral has in the past, like when she comforted Sarah following the Gauntlet Queen’s heartbreaking win over good friend (and onetime roommate of Coral) Rachel, or riding in an ambulance with Leah after a massive freak-out. Beth was a nasty shit-stirring bitch, and when she fled a Gauntlet date with Aneesa, tailed tucked between her legs, I was livid. I had to listen to Beth badmouthing people left and right, I had to watch her blow mission after mission for her teammates, and she denied me a potential bloodbath. That’s why Coral’s victory over her two weeks prior was so important for me . . . there were no disqualifications, no walking away. Good stared down evil and won.

As for Coral, she had enough. She had spoken to Evan, trying to come to grips with the prospect that he had helped throw missions. They had been partners during Fresh Meat, and they had gotten along while crushing the competition (winning the first three missions and five out of the first seven) before they both bowed out due to injuries. She found herself walking down the same round as in The Gauntlet, when Mike cast the deciding vote to send her to the Gauntlet, and she cried about how he was her homie. The difference? Even though Mike acted like a butthead throughout his times on the Challenges, even though he aspired to become a professional wrestler and get employed by scumbag supreme Vince McMahon, Mike wasn’t a total asshole. On the other hand, Evan went from being a somewhat funny guy into being one of those idiots who has to say stuff, not to mention get into a relationship with Kenny that’s more than likely sexual. Fuck it, I can speculate all I want on those two. When Coral had declared to win at all costs in the Challenges – up to and including eating babies – but she wanted to balance friendship in the process. Once again, she never schemed to underperform to hurt somebody else, even though her team had more than enough male muscle to spare. So with her back against the wall, blindfold over her eyes and a cigarette pressed between her lips, Coral elected to walk away. When Beth pulled that four seasons ago, her team celebrated. When Coral left, the Veterans still had to pick somebody to face Evelyn.

(This seems about as good a time as any to acknowledge the Challenge Rules Committee, or whomever makes up how the show works. Gone are the days where Bunim-Murray Productions could at least pretend to make things fair. You have a sizable advantage over your opponents? Fuck you, here’s a mission where combined times are measured, as opposed to averaged out. Tyrie has to leave the game to tend to his ailing girlfriend? Not only do the Rookies get a replacement in MJ, he’s enough of an upgrade to make a difference on paper. And if Coral walks off in a huff? Fuck it . . . Evelyn needs to tear into somebody, so no default win for her like Aneesa had with Beth. Honestly, I’d love to run the competition portion of this show. Let 'em fight, screw and drink, but at least I’d make things fair and interesting.)

I’ve seen indecision before in deliberations, most notably the Great James/Shane Debate from Battle of the Sexes. But I’ve never seen people look as if though they had forgotten how to wipe their own asses . . . and with Neanderthals like CT and Danny, that was a distinct possibility The only thing missing was a shot of Coral watching a live feed on the bus ride to the airport, cackling at her team’s indecision. Eventually, Casey stepped up to be the sacrificial lamb, and nearly everybody made a huge deal about how good a teammate she was. I understood Casey’s rant against Coral . . . but when she bitched about how Coral had been screwing teammates for about eighteen years (which she did, like, once) and how she should get a job, I hit the ceiling. While Coral took two Challenges off after Fresh Meat, Casey rushed to do The Duel. When was the last time Casey updated her resume? And where did she get the money for her breast enhancements? Working a 9-to-5 job, or using the $5,000 she won on Fresh Meat? Casey should shut the fuck up, like, forever.

So the Axis of Ass is still in effect, and they might use the final female Gauntlet to screw Katie, who is the biggest victim of Coral’s departure. I would not have blamed her had she grabbed onto Coral’s legs and refused to let go. With Casey gone, Katie is now the de facto weakest Veteran, and the Rookies can’t save her again like they did in the latest episode. Here’s the thing about Katie: Yes, she’s weak, but she’s also a human being. After witnessing her team repeatedly throw her under the bus in Inferno, including Abram openly humiliating her while throwing a mission, I feel for her. I’d be honest to her about sending her off to an endgame, but I wouldn’t actually attempt to lose in order to make it happen. The only bright side is that Katie might reach critical meltdown like she did with Veronica, but that probably won’t happen.

While I’m thinking about it, here’s more stuff I’d like to happen, even though I know it’s a waste: Evan & Kenny come out as a couple; Frank succeeds in baiting CT to punch him, sending the Masshole home; Adam responds to CT pouring beer on him by kicking the Masshole in the cannoli; Jillian gets beat in the Gauntlet, killing any comparisons anybody would make between her and Sarah; and Frank and Nehemiah injure each other in the Gauntlet, taking them both out of the game.

Things that more than likely with happen: Veteran males scheme to “trim the fat” yet again; Kenny and/or CT will “quip” about how they can’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die; Brad gets defeated in the Gauntlet, making him 0-for-5 in Challenges; Diem staying with CT, making it obvious that whatever cancer she had in her ovaries has traveled to her brain and affected judgment of boyfriends (totally nonfatal . . . I’m not hoping for anybody to croak just yet); the Veterans win the Challenge, even though most of the team doesn’t deserve a single cent of prize money; and nobody – and I mean NOBODY – gets booed at the reunion or completely called on their callous actions.

There is one ending that I could live with. In teasers pimping the season, we saw Eric on the ground, obviously out of breath, in serious peril. While I don’t hate the one they call “Big Easy,” how funny would it be if he costs the Veterans their all-but-guaranteed win in the final mission? I’m ashamed to admit that the thought didn’t occur to me until I read somebody suggesting it on the forums. Really, all this talk of “trim of fat,” and nobody even considers Eric’s overt obesity as a problem? Really?!?

Two weeks ago, I said that the prospects of comeuppance and schadenfreude were good enough to keep watching Gauntlet 3. Apparently, I was wrong. Now I just want to see this crap through to the bitter end, because I’m masochistic enough to do it. And this makes Coral a more stable person than me, because when she saw nothing but assholes, bitches and scrubs in front of her, she walked away. If only I could do the same.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Surviving Fans And Favorites

I should be putting my full effort into writing a book review or two. Instead, here’s an essay on the opening episodes of Survivor: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites I wrote out while at work this morning. You’re welcome.

Four episodes into Survivor: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites, I can say that it’s a slight improvement over the previous season (China). Even though players from both tribes (Malakal for the “favorites,” “Airai” for the “fans”) have shown a lack of brainpower, and there’s little to suggest that this edition won’t be a colossal fuck-up like any other “all-star” season on CBS, at least there’s some game-playing going on, misguided as it may be.

In last week’s episode, Malakal suffered a loss at the immunity challenge, and somebody had to go. At this point, there were two factions: a loose-knit coalition between couples Pavarti & James and Amanda & Ozzy, and the foursome of Jonathan, Yau-Man, Eliza and Ami (the latter two having zero business posing as “all-stars,” but that’s a gripe for another day). In the middle: Cirie, the couch potato-turned-power player from Exile Island two years ago. She got wooed by both sides for her votes. She talked with Amanda and Pavarti, and soon there was a move on her part to boot Yau-Man.

Let’s pause the action to reflect on this. Yes, Yau-Man is dangerous. He’s not at all big, but he’s wilier than any cartoon coyote you’re likely to meet. He managed to last 38 days on Fiji and came within one bad deal from winning the $1 million prize. But at this point in the game (nine days), wouldn’t you need somebody like that on your camp, winning challenges and making camp life bearable? To me, Cirie was thinking too far ahead. She dreaded the idea of Yau-Man going to Exile Island and retrieving the sole hidden immunity idol, a feat he pulled off in his first season. Here’s the problem: he would either have to be picked to go by Airai when they won a reward challenge, or selected by his tribe If they won. In my head, both were scenarios nobody would explore if they were smart.

So what happened? Jonathan took Cirie’s wavering as an insult, they had a verbal battle, and Yau-Man got five votes out of nine to get sent packing. One genuine fan favorite was gone, and the other two had a backlash against them over on the forums at Television Without Pity. Like I had posted there on that night, it was like a holiday dinner at your house where your favorite aunt and uncle from separate marriages yelled at each other, and the beloved granduncle keeled over into the mashed potatoes. And it didn’t help matters to see Eliza sick in the following episode, and a few tribe members realizing they got swept up in Cirie’s zeal. It was a hangover without alcohol (“We did WHAT to Yau-Man last night? Really?!?”) But at least Cirie was trying to play the game; if she had been passive in Exile Island, she would’ve been the first person off, and she’d be rooted to the couch today, watching this season with the rest of us.

Moving on to the latest episode, we had Malakal winning the reward challenge. For the third time, they sent Kathy to Exile Island. This was a smart move, since there was less of a chance a weak-looking player such as her would find the idol. And if they knew she was on the outs along with Chet and Tracy, she could be handed the idol and be sent back to make things go awry at Airai (I’m prouder of that phrase than I really should be). But the rub was that somebody from Malakal had to join Kathy . . . and this time, it was Ozzy.

Pause. As I write this at work, where I’m wide awake and haven’t done jack this morning aside from handing in my timesheet, I remember reading in the episode thread at TWoP where somebody had found out that Malakal had a system where there was an order as to who would go to Exile Island. The only way this is a good idea is if the person who retrieves the idol tells everybody else in the tribe about it, with the understanding that it would be played if the wielder was threatened. In exchange, the idol would be easy to track after the obligatory tribal shakeup, and it would be used as a weapon to take out any perceived power player from Airai. Hey, it makes sense in my head. Then again, I’m not actually there, and I can play “armchair survivor,” trying to figure out strategies in a week while the actual players would speculate over a few hours. So I understand why taking turns going to Exile Island might be a good idea.

However, this is a flaw in the system, and its called “Ozzy.” This guy is half-man, half-fish, all-amazing. If there is water involved in a challenge, Ozzy will rock it. In the reward challenge, Ozzy had the presence of mind (or instructions from his comrades) to stay underwater and move coconuts closer to the edge of the cage in order to make it easier for his teammates to retrieve them. Bottom line: Malakal had voted off the biggest threat to find the idol . . . and they sent the biggest threat to find the idol.

Back to the action: Kathy didn’t feel up for an idol hunt, perhaps still worn out after she and Cirie slogged through the water two episodes ago. At worst, she feels singled out by Malakal and only two people like her at Airai. At best, it’s like she’s at a Survivor fantasy camp, and she’s paid five grand extra to receive private sessions from former cast members. On more trip to Exile Island might bring her a romantic package with James . . . emphasis on “package.” Ozzy said he wanted to look for food, and she bought it. He read the clue. Swim, swim, swim, clue. Swim, swim, swim, clue. Swim, swim, swim, clue. Swim, swim, swim, idol. Now one of the strongest players in the game had even more power. I’m not saying Ozzy cliched a total victory, especially after dumbass James got voted off last season while carrying two idols last season. But Ozzy does seem to have a few more brain cells than the gravedigger. And in a salute to Yau-Man’s discovery of an idol two seasons ago, Ozzy crafted a dummy idol and put it in the hiding place. It would have been every better had Ozzy went into a giggling fit and flicked his tongue like Yau-Man, but you can’t have everything. It’s hard not to like Ozzy right now, even if he does have Jeff Probst hanging off his jock.

Fast forward: Airai has lost the immunity challenge – their fourth defeat in the last six challenges – and somebody had to be sent off. All common sense pointed out Chet as the obvious choice. He had been following Janu’s path from Palau with the lack of effort in challenges and camp, and the accelerated disintegration of the body. His only allies: Kathy and Tracy. Chief amongst the majority was Joel, a very large and tattooed firefighter who looks like he lives on a diet of puppies and orphans. Two episodes prior, he got it into his head that Mary and Mikey B. were a power couple, and he got Mary voted off, passing up a chance to oust Chet. He still had it in for Mikey B., even though the guy’s greatest sin was making people call him “Mikey B.” Reality fans with a masochistic streak already put up with a “Mikey B.” of sorts (Mike Malin, a.k.a. “Mike Boogie” from Big Brother), so why watch another? Getting back to the point: again, Chet seemed to be the correct choice to boot. Of course, we had somebody say that Chet was going home in the episode’s first act, so the seed of doubt was already planted in my mind.

Enter Tracy. Right now, I can’t tell her from Alexis and the other woman whose name I can’t be bothered to remember. In retrospect, you can understand her fear of a vote against Chet; if he got voted off and Kathy – a potential loose cannon – had retrieved and kept the idol, she’d be the next to go. So she came up to Joel and played on his loathing of Mikey B. The obvious move was to keep the tribe strong, especially when there was no obvious timetable for a merge or shakeup. But Joel listened to Tracy, nodded his head . . . and managed to talk a few allies into voting for Mikey B., who went out 6-3 and didn’t even think to punch Joel in the mouth for the change of plan. Also, Airai had Chet for seemingly the next few days, a loose wheel ready to pop off the axel in challenges. You can understand why Jason voted for Chet, looked into the camera and said, “Please leave the island.” But Chet is still in the game thanks to Tracy . . . and I’ve decided to think of Joel as “Mongo” from here on out, because he would so fall for an exploding candygram. Also, I wouldn’t put it past him to punch a horse.

Whatever beefs anybody has with no obvious weak links getting voted off so far have been rendered moot by the teaser for next week’s episode, where Jeff orders everybody to drop their buffs for a tribal shakeup. Now Cirie and Tracy will be seen as smart for getting rid of potential power players that could have gone against them. And maybe things will pick up for a franchise still reeling from the strategic vacuum that was China. At the very least, whomever wins this season will look like a saint compared to the winner from Big Brother 9. And no contestant has insulted the mentally handicapped . . . but the season is still young.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Axis Of Ass: Then & Now

In 2003, I was recapping Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet, and I was furious. I had made the mistake of staying emotionally attached to Sarah Grayson, and I took exception anytime her teammates sent her into the Gauntlet. I had followed her since Road Rules: Campus Crawl. I had occasionally written to her, especially after she posted on the RR thread at Television Without Pity. I even met her at a reality event at Calico Jack’s in Manhattan, even as I was suffering through a nasty cold. It was a good night . . . I got to meet some of the saner stars of the Challenge, and I witnessed Antoine dancing on the bar before getting pulled down by management. Good times.

Anyway, whenever Sarah got sent into the Gauntlet, I got pissed. Eventually, I came up with a term to group the jerks together: the Axis of Ass. There were three members: Adam, the douchy ADD case with the stupid beard; Rachel, the butterface lesbian, who should go down as the single most overrated Challenger ever; and Veronica, a bitch whose bitchy actions before and after Gauntlet are still talked about. There was also Darrell (a cast member on Sarah’s season who had wanted her gone from the start), Laterrian (who had knocked her out a rolling log and refused to take responsibility for it in order to avoid the Gauntlet), and Abram (more on him later), but the Adam/Rachel/Veronica troika was the main Axis. In the end, they stayed on the winning Road Rules team and got their shares of the $150,000 prize. Happily, none of them has won a Challenge since, and Sarah managed to go out with her money, as well as her dignity intact.

I would feel the need to invoke “Axis of Ass” several times in my recaps and on the TWoP forums. The Inferno gave us a Road Rules team hellbent on eliminating weak link Katie, but four teammates took center stage. Veronica was in on it, of course. Holly and Christena emerged as stealth bitches whom I had once liked. Finally, there was Abram, the knuckle-dragging Bozo from Bozeman, whose throwing of a mission was one of the most sickening acts I had ever witness. Down the line, there came other Axes: elder assholes Mark and Eric in Battle Of The Sexes 2, the “Mean Girls” trio of Veronica, Rachel and Tina (a discount version of Coral) in Inferno II, and Beth, Wes and Nehemiah in The Duel (I had posted that Aneesa belonged with them, but I think it was more about buddying up with members of The Real World: Austin – one of the suckiest seasons ever – and not wanting a piece of Beth after she bailed out of a Gauntlet date two seasons prior).

As the Challengers devolved into a cesspool of media whores, where sanity and manners were increasingly out of fashion, I didn’t feel a need to lump two or more people together. But now, I do. Out of the darkness of Gauntlet 3 rides four supreme dicks. Two of them have telltale Boston accents, and you have to take delight that they were probably crying in their beer when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. Two of them are products of the Fresh Meat season, and neither one of them are as funny as they think. You can tell them from the others by their repeated interview loop: “Trim the fat, trim the fat, lose the girls and trim the fat.” They are the all-new Axis of Ass, and in the latest episode, they came dangerously close to getting rid of a Challenge legend and keeping somebody who’s about as malignant as they are. Let’s meet them, shall we?

Evan Starkman

Basically, Evan is the Canadian version of Challenge veteran Theo Vonkurnatowski, in the “I used to love you, but now I have to kill you” sense. He came off well enough during Fresh Meat, and he and his partner Coral tore through their share of missions. But he wound up with a hernia, and he and Coral ended up getting sent home early for their injuries. Over time, he’s become less funny, and the latest Challenge has revealed him as an unredeemable jerk. I’m hoping he’ll stay north of the border following this season, but I doubt it.

Kenny Santucci

Unlike Evan, I’ve known Kenny as little more than a punk from the start. He’s always coming off as fake in interviews, always trying to be clever and funny. Basically, he’s a knockoff of Veteran teammate Brad. Before the season started, he had the gall to say that Coral faked her severe allergic reaction to a spider bite at the end of Gauntlet, during the preview special, Physically and Mentally Challenged: 25 Most Unforgettable Challenge Moments. It was bad enough when his ex-Fresh Meat teammate Tina said the same thing, but Kenny wasn’t anywhere near Telluride when that went down.

Danny Jamieson

If not for RW: Las Vegas, Danny would have had a huge part in the worst season ever. I mean, when you act like such a dick that you erase any sympathy people might have when you got your face smashed into pavement, that is bad. Danny is another gung-ho alpha dog who insists that the women on his team are a huge weak link. Of course, if the Rookies had the same philosophy and tried to eliminate his fiancĂ© Melinda, he’d have a huge fit.

Chris “CT” Tamburello

If you look up “Masshole” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of CT in a sleeveless and stained t-shirt, a cigarette in his mouth, a can of beer in his hand, and a Patriot or Red Sox cap cocked at an angle on his head. This evolutionary throwback has taken to the “trim the fat” philosophy like fair-weather Bostonians jumping on the Celtics bandwagon. Interestingly enough, the Assembly Required mission wasn’t the only time CT helped throw a mission. Back in Inferno, he played a huge part in getting his close buddy David win the Aztec Lifeshield in order to escape a date in the Inferno and put Leah (CT’s ex-roommate in Paris) in his place. In retrospect, David was just as much dead weight on the Real World team as Katie was to Road Rules, and it was fitting that she defeated him in the final Inferno, as badly designed as it was. There was also the time CT tried to pick a fight with Dan (Inferno II), the time he lost to Brad on a disqualification in the final Duel and proceeded to lose all of his shit, and the time he got kicked off Inferno III for punching Davis. Following that, CT’s replacement for the Bad Ass team – Derrick – went on to win his first Challenge in six attempts. I honestly think CT doesn’t believe in karma; otherwise, he’d try not to be such a big-haired prick all of the time.

The fact that the Axis of Ass (along with any other collaborators) got away with throwing a mission is galling. But that lead to a chain of events that along eliminated Coral. For some viewers, Coral is a heinous bitch whose bark is far worse than her bite. To me, she’s an entertaining bitch who gives great interviews, whose ability to avoid elimination is almost magical, and who snipes on those who truly deserve it. This is somebody I want to see from start to finish. I will admit that she did get too prissy when the Rookies revealed that it came down to a coin flip between her and Evelyn (shades of Brad getting drawn to battle Abram in the Inferno) to go into the Gauntlet. Her anger raged even more when the Veterans team went against her wishes and picked Beth to face her. I do understand the team’s need to banish Beth, since she’s usually a drag on team morale wherever she goes. But Coral had a point about the possibility of giving up 50 pounds to Beth. And when the spinner landed on Ball Brawl, I got worried . . . scared, even. I’ve seen Beth overpower Ruthie (who gave up a lot more than 50 pounds) and Montana (who doesn’t make the Challenge her life) in Reverse Tug-Of-War. I’ve seen Beth win a wrestling-based mission in Duel (defeating Diem, Jodi and Robin), and coming close to taking out Svetlana in Push Me. A win from Beth meant that she’d be gunning for the Axis afterwards. It would have been like watching a knife fight between Hitler and Hussein. Who would you root for?

Happily, Coral overcame Beth’s weight advantage to win Ball Brawl. There’s a one-in-three chance Beth will claim to have thrown the Gauntlet, but I don’t care. In a clash of the Challenge titans, good prevailed over evil. However, this was a clash that should not have happened in the first place, and I blame the Axis for that.

I will give the Veteran women credit for not returning the favor and intentionally giving up on the following mission, which would have resulted in the elimination of one of their male teammates. A few of them probably knew about the screw job, nobody would have blamed them for throwing the mission. Katie still has the tire scars from where her Road Rules teammates threw her under the bus during Inferno, and I’m amazed she didn’t try to rip CT’s eyes out during their heated exchange preceding Assembly Required. But whether the ladies were too dim, too cautious or tool cool to throw Walk The Plank, the results were a slap in the Axis’s collective face.

The mission was simple: in separate gender-based heats, one team had to walk down a plank over water, while the opposition hurled tethered medicine balls at them. After the Veteran guys staked the team to a lead, the girls could only afford one fall in order to clinch the win. Casey was the only one knocked off, and not only did she have the presence of mind to not take Katie with her on the way down (shades of Laterrian), she kept her legs together hitting the water. That was the way I was taught to jump off a ship prior to taking a cruise years ago. For somebody whose fear of falling kept her from missions in her first few Challenges, Casey has managed to evolve nicely . . . something no member of the Axis can claim. Speaking of which, Evan and Danny had gotten knocked off, and Kenny drew a disqualification for grabbing a tether.

The ensuing Gauntlet could not have worked any better for the Veterans. After the team picked Derek (a perceived “big gun”), the Rookie chose Ryan, figuring that the stronger Derek would win any contest. But the spinner came up on Sliders, and with verbal help from the Veterans, Ryan pulled off the upset. This left the Rookies with only three men along with Ryan: MJ (a gift from the producers after Tyrie left to be with his ailing girlfriend), Frank (living on borrowed time by flapping his yap over girlfriend Jillian going to the Gauntlet three times), and Nehemiah (got cuddly with Beth during Duel, so you know he’s got mental problems). In contrast, the Veteran guys are seven strong, and the Axis can send in outsiders such as Adam (knocked out in two previous Challenges), Eric (the overweight “Big Easy” who is seen getting medical attention in trailers for the season), and Brad (who has taken over Derrick’s mantle as the hard luck Challenger) into the Gauntlet. And for this, the guys have the girls to thank for the advantage . . . not that the Axis will be quick to do that.

Why should anybody continue to watch this Challenge? Because I firmly believe that at least two members of the Axis will get thrown into the Gauntlet, and maybe they’ll be pitted against each other. I believe that karma will punish as many of the Axis members as possible, even if it’s not as overt as losses in the Gauntlet. Maybe Danny and CT would have to say goodbye to their girlfriends (Melinda and Diem, respectively). Maybe Evan will lose Kenny or vice versa. And while scrubs like Casey and Katie might be sacrificed for a supposed “greater good,” those who whine about “trimming the fat” and “no more free rides for the girls” will be equally at risk to get stomped. Comeuppance and schadenfreude . . . that’s what keeps me going. I hope it’s good enough for you.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thoughts From A Blah Friday

Thoughts On A Blah Friday

Note: The following was written this past Friday at work. Edits were made accordingly.

As I start this entry, it’s 7:50 a.m. I’m nowhere near a computer and I won’t be able to get online until about 4. That’s because I have a job. It’s been about six weeks since I’ve started this temp assignment and I’m a little surprised that I’ve lasted this long. I don’t have the gig, but I have to get here before 7, meaning I’m expected to get up around 5 . . . something unthinkable for me as recently as late November. Here’s a rough breakdown of a typical day:

7 a.m.: Arrive, get settled in,

7:15-12:30 p.m.: Arrange medical charts, fetch them for others, help out by running errands. Bigger priority: not falling asleep. Honestly, there are times where I have nothing to do, and I’ve barely improved on my nighttime sleeping habits. So I have to try and not drift off into sweet slumber. This is done by going outside in the cold (in contrast to my work area, which has gotten as warm as 80 degrees), drinking water, snacking, reading magazines and newspapers (my supervisor frowns on this, so I have to be sneaky about it), working on puzzles (usually copying the day’s Jumble onto an index card and trying not to get too stressed when I get stumped), working on potential blog entries, and talking to co-workers. I’ve connected with the others, though I could have done without suffering a serious allergic reaction in front of them.

12:30-1:30: Lunch hour. I always go out at this time. I get some fresh air, get the Village Voice (Wednesdays), The Onion (Thursdays) and drop off my check at the one bank (Fridays). Some days I bring lunch, other times I buy it.

1:30-2:55: More working, albeit at a more relaxed pace, since things have died down.

2:55-3:00: Mad dash to catch the ferry back home. Usually, I get to the terminal in time. I hate running, especially since it involves quick sprints following and walking and trying to cope with the burning in my legs, but I don’t want to wait another thirty minutes for the next ferry.

While I am making friends and developing some semblance of a work ethic, I can’t see myself staying at that place for keeps. A lot of it centers around the early hours, but it all comes down to me wanting to write. I still have a magazine that I freelance for, and if it really takes off, I could go there on a regular basis, hopefully getting up in the morning when there’s light out. That’s just the way I feel.

Onto two quick topics so I don’t doze off again (yep, I’m still weak):

The Amazing Rebound

When was the last time we went into the finale of The Amazing Race certain we’d be smiling at the end? After the utter crap that was All-Stars, we needed a comeback season, an edition that wouldn’t be the best but far from the worst. We started with donkeys, and we’re ending with no jackasses running for $1 million. Okay, there is Ronald Hsu, but at least he tried to be a better teammate for daughter Christina after he ripped into her a few times. It’s not like he constantly yells at her like Mirna did to Charla last season. He’s just another member of the Nice Person/Bad Racer Club (president: Flo Pessenti).

The Hsus’ wins in three legs puts them in position to become the first team bonded by blood – other than the Linzes from Family Edition to win the race, if not merely topping the current standard set by the Mycoskie siblings (TAR2) and the Duphiney brothers (TAR3). Another family team making it to the finale has proven to big a bigger shock: youngster Nicholas Fulks and his grandfather, Donald Jerousek. There hasn't been an age difference this great in the show's history, but these two have lucked their way towards the finish line. They've emerged as the cuddliest team remaining . . . mostly because of the 68-year-old Donald, who got muddy performing a pole-vaulting Roadblock in Ransdorp (The Natherlands), and had trouble playing robot soccer in Osaka. In addition to the memories, the duo will also be walking around with tattoos, which they received in Italy in order to receive a Fast Forward.

The logical favorites to win are TK Erwin & Rachel Rosales, another in a long line of dating couples. I haven't had much insight into these two, save that they are very laid back. They're like hippies, but not the dreadful "hippies" from three seasons ago. They have argued, but - and this is rare by reality television standards - they actually work through it as adults should. That alone makes them unique . . . which is ironic for me, considering that "TK" is a mark writers make when they don't have the information they need as they're writing. Just me? Okay, then.

The real miracle came in last week's episode, where Jennifer & Nathan got eliminated. They were the bickering couple, with the hook being that Nathan had cheated on Jennifer(or was it the other way around?), and they were now going to make things work, audience members' eyes and ears be damned. If you don't watch the show, then you don't understand; having a team like that in the final leg of the race is almost always a given. These two fought each other through most of their stay, and it was hard to watch. They were competitive enough, but they never won an individual leg. That was awesome, especially after Jennifer bitched about how everybody should get a chance to win after she and Nathan came in second right behind Azaria & Hendekea in Burkina Faso. At one point, they came out of a Detour in the lead in Croatia, but a cab driver wouldn't take them to the Pit Stop because Jennifer was wet. Meanwhile, a less discriminating cabbie took Ronald & Christina to another leg win. It was a great running gag while it lasted. The end came in Taiwan, when a squabble over getting to Youth Park in Taipei, Taiwan cost them the game . . . and on Jennifer's birthday to boot. When they arrived at the Pit Stop, I'm sure I wasn't the only one singing "Happy Birthday" at the TV screen.

Bottom line: Sunday, 8 p.m., one hour, happy ending. I'll be doing the usual thing: going to Stitch in Midtown for TARCon, followed by DimSumCon the next day. The best part is that the get-together at Jing Fong falls on national holiday, so I don't have to sweat losing a day's pay. For The Amazing Race, things have been great. Here's hoping they get even better.

A Token Gesture

Last month, I visited the recap site I used to write for. You know, the one where I spent my last few months getting flayed for my opinions before getting cut loose. Anyway, the head honcho was crowing about how Entertainment Weekly recognized the site as one of the best online, especially for their interviews with reality contestants.

First of all, the way interviews were handled wasn't too special when I was there. On the night where a contestant was eliminated, us writers would be asked for questions on the site's Yahoo groups forum. It wasn't that complicated. Secondly, I think most of the bigger reality sites get interviews, so it's not that big a deal. We're talking e-mailing questions to producers. The funny thing is that the site was second on "Must Click Television" sites list. The first entry? Television Without Pity. That just seems right to me.

Another thing I wanted to mention about the site is that they'll probably be doing their annual "25 Most Memorable People In Reality" list, or whatever it's called. Want to know who will be at the top? Dick & Daniele Donato from Big Brother 8. How do I know? For one thing, they've put participants from reality's foulest backwater on top in their first two editions: the "Friendship" alliances from Big Brother 6 (I have zero clue), and Mike Malin and Will Kirby from All-Stars (over Cirie Fields from Survivor: Exile Island and Yul Kwon of Survivor: Cook Islands). The fact that Alison Grodner, the show's executive producer, has been subject to speculation of rigging events to ensure a daddy/daughter finale will barely be noticed by the site. They just love to toss Big Brother salad. Besides, they lost all credibility with me two years ago, when they failed to place Tom Westman on the list. All Tom did was lead the Koror tribe to victory after victory on Survivor: Palau, snare a shark by himself, win all but two individual immunity challenges, not recieve a single vote the two times he was vunerable, and win the final vote 6-1. You know which Palau cast member did make the 25? Wanda Shirk, who spent a day and a half before getting pushed off after a "pick 'em" game to form the two tribes. Also getting the boot was Jonathan Libby, but he didn't make the list because he never sought attention by making up annoying songs on the spot. So if you get sucked into the countdown and find yourself pulling for Yau Man Chan or Jordin Sparks, don't say I didn't warn you.

It's about 2:50 p.m. now. I figure next time, I'll go into the TAR finale and aftermath, the unlikely resurrection of The Mole, and/or a review of a book written by Bill McDaniel, the Mole from the second season. In the meantime: stay warm, stay safe, and stay awake.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The All-New Atom In 30 Seconds

I'm not much of an artist. Let's not mince words . . . I donwright suck. But when Chris Sims of Chris's Invinicible Super-Blog set up a recap contest for his site's third anniversary, I answered the call. The following is a highlight sequence from 2007 for one of my favorite comic books, The All-New Atom. It's supposed to be a 30-second recap, but I just had to put more of my crap MS Paint skills into it. If I had more time and a higher ceiling, I would've thrown in stuff like Dean Maryland and his circus peanuts or Atom spilling his guts while hanging on Wonder Woman's girdle. In the end, I'm happy with the finished product, and I hope you are as well. Oh, and click on each pic to see it full-sized.