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.

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