Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reality Rant: The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

As the title of this blog entry suggests, the finales for The Amazing Race and Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains were as different as night and day. And surprisingly, I actually liked the ending of Survivor a lot more than TAR.

What happened with TAR16 that made it a bit of a failure and unworthy of winning an umpteenth Emmy? Too many engineered rivalries (Narcs vs. Heidi & Joe, Lesbians vs. Brett Vs. Caite), easy Speed Bumps for teams that finished last in a prior leg, and a crappily-designed leg that caused Linda Holmes, the former Television Without Pity recapper known as Miss Alli, to declare that she was done with the show. Oh, and it turns out Jet, one of the beloved cowboys, isn't fond of gay people, to the point where he allegedly used a three-letter word to describe Jordan in front of Dan & Jordan's mother at the CBS finale party. After hearing that, I felt the need to take a shower. I'm not gay, but I don't want chinks in the armor of people that I root for.

Back to the finale . . . I watched at my usual destination: Stitch, a bar/restaurant in the fashion district (or is it garment district?), for TARCon. I miss the days of the Play-By-Play near Madison Square Garden and goodie bags (which were repealed once some asshole put a few up on eBay), but I honestly cannot imagine spending a TAR finale anywhere else, let alone at home. I paid $50 cover to get in around 7 p.m. as opposed to $75 and 6 p.m. because I was going to spend money at Who York (more on that later), and I already spent $55 on Custom Quest. I did find a seat, although I mostly stood up to watch the episode. Basically, there was no room for teams to maneuver. Dan & Jordan managed to butt ahead of Jet & Cord on line at the airport since the Cowboys were lollygagging near the ticket counter. Then the brothers wound up jumping to first class, which bent the rule of buying economy/coach tickets only. From there, their trip through San Fransisco was about as easy as it gets. The teams went through an ascender for a Roadblock and wound up at LucasArts for a fancy virtual reality task. How poor was the design? At one point, Jordan had finished his task (walking around a virtual environment) and had to stand around while Dan, watching on a monitor, had to read a clue circling around Jordan's avatar . . . and meanwhile, Jet (with his cowboy hat-wearing avatar) stood in front of Jordan, waiting for him to move out of the way so he could complete a level. Given that the fan favorites wound up losing on one of these turning points, I imagine the designers won't be getting bonuses this year.

Anyway, the brothers got their clue, did an all-too-easy "remember the legs?" task (putting up posters of teams in order of their elimination), and went to Candlestick Park (which I thought was torn down when the Giants moved out) for the finish line and the $1 million that they were lucky to get. Like I said, the brothers were like pond scum because they managed to rise to the top despite some shaky legs. The Cowboys came in second, followed by Brett & Caite, who got done in by a crappy cabbie and their leaving their fanny pack behind. Brandy then began to eviscerate Caite for the use of the U-Turn several legs ago. Never had a TAR finale gotten that ugly, and I've seen Eric call up his dumbass ex-partner Jeremy five seasons prior.

The difference between the TARCon crowd and the reaction on the TWoP episode thread could not have been more different. Most of the people posting hated the win, thought the brothers to be unworthy winners, and pissed all over Brandy. The TARCon crowd cheered the win. Yeah, I couldn't believe it, either. I thought the Cowboys would be the out-and-out favorites of the crowd, but when I talked to others, they said that they were pulling for the brothers. I think it's because Jordan was a fan of the show, and that he lived the ultimate dream. I wouldn't say that past winners were recruits that wouldn't have known TAR from Big Brother, but Jordan's pressuring of Dan to apply must have struck a cord. Also, most of us cheered on Brandy ripping into Caite. It's not that Brandy was right in doing so, but Caite and her partner (and ex, if I've heard correctly) were just another in a long line of irritating couples. It didn't matter that Caite could laugh about her "The Iraq" blunder by appearing in the meme-tastic video for Weezer's "Pork & Beans." Caite still sucks, and I wish TAR would stop casting pageant contestants altogether.

Almost two weeks after TARCon, I have to say that most of it was a blur. First came two former Racers in Mark from TAR13 (wearing a Villains t-shirt from Survivor) and Drew from the original season and the only other Staten Islander besides myself that I can recall (John Vito used to come to TARCon, but I haven't seen him in a while). Then came a mix of past and present Racers, including Dan & Jordan, Jet & Cord (and their black and white cowboy hats, respectively), Caite, Louie & Michael (the latter without his trademark mustache), Heidi (without Joe; he was promoting a book), Monique & Shawna (the "Momtrepreneurs") and Dana & Adrian (the first team eliminated, whom I met at the Quest). Off the top of my head, there was also Ken (TAR3), Tom & Terry (gay team from TAR10 with matching hairlines), Joe (TAR6, who I briefly bumped into and didn't realize it; I usually recognize his diminutive partner Avi on sight), and some others. It got crowded, and I didn't get to chat up many people that much. I saw Heidi laugh it up with the Narcs, showing that Louie & Michael's Blind U-Turn of her and Joe was water under the bridge. I did get to talk to Jordan, who was thrilled not only to win, but to be the first gay Racer to triumph since Reichen & Chip from way back in TAR4. I also chatted with Murtz Jaffer from Reality Obsessed. He told me that the reunion for Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat II was filming that Tuesday. I think I'm getting old, because I didn't get the gumption to go up to MTV's headquarters and hassle some of the idiots involved . . . especially Kenny, whose superiority complex is eclipsed only by Russell's. I honestly wish I brought a tape recorder, because it's so hard for me to remember some of the other conversations that I had. I did see a woman breastfeed her baby, though. Took me about two seconds after I was shooed away for me to realize what I had seen. You can check out my pictures here. It was a good time had for such a lame finale.

One week later, there came the finale for Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains. And for the first time, I had to miss a final episode. I'm into Doctor Who New York, a local fan club of sorts dedicated to the hit British sci-fi series. That night was a Who York event featuring Sylvester McCoy, the seventh actor to play the Doctor on the show, and I couldn't miss that. Like with TARCon, I can't remember most of the stuff he talked about, but I do remember having fun. When I got home around 11, I rewound the tape and played it, shotgunning three hours of Survivor fun in one shot.

While The Amazing Race had a finale that was unpredictable and yet lame, Survivor had a predictable finish that was awesome. Last week, I predicted most of the outcome correctly, except what happened was what I wanted to happened, as opposed to what I thought would realistically happen. I thought that Parvati was going to win, because she had more experience than anybody else (having played 114 out of a possible 117 days in three seasons), and mostly because I didn't like her. She wound up winning the 833rd endurance challenge of the season, and Colby rolled over and died for the most part, except when he made an eleventh hour plea to Russell that fell on the troll's deaf ears. Then came a blindfolded maze challenge, where Russell barely triumphed over Jerri and Parvati, with Sandra, as usual, nowhere near contention. There was suspense whether Jerri or Parvati would be the last to go, but Jerri got a predictable 3-1 boot. Then came Day 39, where the finalists had to face a jury of their peers. Here are the approximations of their arguments for the million bucks:

Parvati: "Did I use Russell to get this far? Yes. Am I going to take a long shower to cleanse myself of the evil scuzziness? Of course. If there was another way, I would've taken it. I'm young and I'm hot, people . . . you gotta vote for me."

Russell: "I'm Russell Motherfucking Hantz, the greatest player in the history of reality television. I lied to y'all, I hid a machete on my teammates, I showered losers with visions ranging from the final three to fellatio, and I ain't sorry. Y'all should be the sorry ones, lookin' all losery on those hard benches. Don't think I didn't see the fake gagging one of y'all did when I voted that one time. If y'all have a brain in your damn heads, you'd vote for me. Dumbasses."

Sandra: "Okay, I didn't win an individual reward or immunity challenge. I never got close to that. I promised myself that I'd get rid of Russell, and I obviously failed. But I tried to work with the Heroes, and what did they do? Right . . . tell Russell about it. Then I had to change my plans to work with the majority, because I'm sticking to what won me the million the first time . . . being as sneaky and non-obtrusive as possible. Oh, and I burned Russell's stupid porkpie hat today. Who wants a fistbump? Besides Courtney, who's already in the bag for me. I love ya, girl!"

Then the jury got to ask questions. All I can remember was Coach borrowing "the penitent man will pass" quote from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Courtney's love-in with Sandra, and Rupert being unable to blink throughout the proceedings, looking like a serial killer. Then he tore Russell a new asshole, probably as a response to Russell mockingly calling him "the second coming of Christ" . . . which wasn't far from the truth, given that Rupert's ugliness is usually buried under good press. Then came the voting, with three votes shown for Parvati (including one from Coach, where he went on a long-winded speech about Arthur, punctuated by an eagle's screeching) and three for Sandra (including Rupert being proud to write her name for a million bucks again like he did on Pearl Islands). After the usual Jeff Probst spiel of "This has been a great time, but y'all gotta wait a little longer," the show went live at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. I won't lie . . . after the Who York event, there was a part of me that wanted to go up there and see if I could get close to some of the people involved. I think Sandra needed a hug from a big hairy guy who wasn't as insane as Rupert. But it was late, and I probably would've gotten stuck getting hugged by Jon Dalton, who was inexplicably in the audience. Whether he sneaked in or was brought in as a potential punching bag for Rupert's doughy fists, I will never know.

To say that I was thrilled with Sandra's 6-3-0 win over Parvati and Russell is an understatement. Like I said before, previous "all-star" seasons of CBS reality shows have ended with the least deserving winners. For instance, Mike Malin's win on Big Brother All-Stars was recapped by Miss Alli, and it was harrowing to read. Amber didn't deserve to be cast for Survivor: All-Stars, and I still say Parvati was "favorite" enough for Fans Vs. Favorites even though she finished fifth on Cook Islands (which surprised me). Sandra's win took hard work, effort, and a little bit of luck to pull off. She wound up with the $1 million grand prize, the distinction of being the first two-time winner in the show's history, and a lovely tiara which she wore on the reunion after her win. Parvati got $100,000 and the makings of a good argument for being the best player ever. And while it's hard to put a positive spin for Russell, he wound up with $350,000 for two straight seasons of work ($100,000 second place money from Samoa, $50,000 for third in HvV, two $100,000 prizes for "fan favorite" honors). As for the others?

Sugar: She found out that it's not okay to cry and dry-hump a sleeping Colby (not at the same time, mind you).

Stephenie: Despite her early and ugly exit (as described here), it probably was for the best, especially after her crappy behavior in Guatemala. Also, it's a shame that she got a third time at-bat, while Bobby Jon was shut out.

Randy: I honestly don't believe he's a racist. I reckon he hates mostly everybody, and that he's so grouchy that he should be living in a trash can. Getting dispatched by James quickly in his final immunity challenge was not sweet. Throwing his buff into the fire after being voted out? Totally sweet. And he was the first Villain to be aware of how dangerous Parvati was.

Cirie: If only she had worked with Tom. And if only she had better support up top. I swear, if she gets a fourth chance, she could kill somebody with a loose boob.

Tom: If only he had worked with Cirie. His early exit and status as the only ex-champion to not play a part in the later game does ding his overall legacy, but I still feel he's one of the best players ever, as evidenced in his domination in Palau.

Tyson: Dumbass. Can't believe I picked him as the winner.

Rob: He's had five chances at a million bucks and he's failed each time. I think he should get back to construction and tend to his wife and beautiful baby girl.

Coach: His work as the lead singer of the Dragonz almost makes up for the time he cried after Sandra smacked him verbally during Tribal Council.

Courtney: When I want a snarky New York chick, I'll take Shii Ann. But Courtney wasn't too bad, and I liked how she insisted on referring to Probst as "Jeffery."

JT: Super dumbass. Who gives a hidden idol to the enemy? I had to explain it to Bob & Kathy, who let me watch the episode at their place. In terms of total brainless moves, Erik giving up individual immunity in Micronesia -- Fans Vs. Favorites still tops that.

Amanda: Too bad that "The Closer" couldn't blow another finale win. With her lack of jury-convincing skills, Russell could have beaten her in the end.

Candice: Who?

Danielle: . . . who? Oh, the one that almost catfought with Amanda for the immunity idol clue. That was awesome.

Rupert: Using a pocketed rock as a fake immunity idol was pretty smart, but he's still the most overrated player in the show's history, and no amount of tie-dye can hide that.

Colby: It was like seeing a favorite player hobble around with a different team . . . Willie Mays with the 1972-73 Mets, for instance. The next time he's on television, may he hawk razors again.

Jerri: Wins "Most Improved" honors, but her would-be fling with Coach? Yeesh.

There's not much else to talk about, aside from Russell laminating JT's letter to him (which was awesome), a brief remembrance of the late Jenn Lyons, and no performance from Dragonz. For the first time in too long, Survivor had outdone The Amazing Race. Here's hoping that TAR's braintrust gets the show back in gear come the seventeenth season. And here's hoping Survivor walks away with an Emmy this fall, and not one for Probst alone.

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