Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reality Reviewed: The Amazing Race

It's tough to be a fan of The Amazing Race.

Actually, it's tough being a fan of anything, really. For example, while I would consider myself a Mets fan, I have to add "lapsed" to that. I haven't been to Citi Field since 2009, and I don't really follow the team anymore. A lot of it has to do with the chaos in the front office, what with Fred Wilpon losing gobs of money in a Ponzi scheme. He could've had Shea Stadium renovated, but he had a major hard-on for a new version of Ebbets Field. Today, the Mets don't have the near-infinite funds the Yankees do, and they look to be stuck out of contention for years to come. Add that to lots of injuries, traditional wonky luck (especially fifty years without a pitcher earning a no-hitter) and looking like chumps compared to the Yankees, it's tough to support the Mets. Yet I can't see myself being a Yankees fan. For one thing, most of them are bandwagon-hopping jerks. Seeing people donning Yankees t-shirts with the number and name on the back is annoying to me, since the team doesn't put names on the backs of their jerseys. Besides, I don't want to be a sports bigamist.

I can cite other examples, but I want to talk about The Amazing Race. To me, it's the CBS reality show whose fans never get respect. Take the 8 p.m. time slot on Sundays, for instance. TAR got moved around a lot in the early days. After the painful ending of the third season in fall 2002 (where freakin' Flo Pesenti quit, like, a million times, and she wound up winning  $1,000,000 with her too-good-for-her partner Zach Behr), fans needed relief. Instead, we had to wait five months until the new season in late May 2003. It happened again after the debacle of TAR: All-Stars . . . the show wasn't put on CBS's fall schedule for 2006. The network decided to wait until a time slot opened up. Meanwhile, they invested tons into Viva Laughlin, an American version of Viva Blackpool from the UK. Everybody and their mother knew the show was going to suck except for CBS. It lasted a grand total of two episodes. I don't understand why the network even bothered. Tax reasons, maybe? Anyway, the TAR faithful had to wait until November for the start of the twelfth season . . . and once that edition ended, eight months until the thirteenth season aired in fall 2007.

As for the slot itself . . . it kinda sucks, to be honest, especially in the fall months. It follows 60 Minutes, the venerable mainstay of CBS's Sunday nights. The problem is that it's too important. When NFL games run past 7 p.m. on Fox, the 7-8 p.m. slot is kept open. When the same thing happens on CBS, 60 Minutes doesn't get preempted. Instead, it gets bumped back until the games are over. And when I say "games," that means that you could be watching one game game, then get told that due to FCC regulations, CBS has to switch over to another game. And it doesn't matter if these are two 4-12 AFC teams you couldn't care less about. If that game goes into overtime, there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Meanwhile, CBS placed Survivor in a cushy slot on Thursday nights at 8 p.m., moving it to Wednesdays last fall, and Big Brother gets times that don't get mixed up that often. There's also the matter of what kind of self-hating viewer would watch a show that never respects its viewers, but that's a matter for Big Brother fans with their own blogs.

And then there was this past May, where CBS found a new way to screw the show's loyalest fans. Since the first season, folks who post on Television Without Pity have gone to New York for TARCon, a finale party where Racers past and present drop by. This time, CBS and Snapple teamed up to hold a party for all Racers in Miami Beach to commemorate the show's ten years on the air.. On the day before the season finale. You know how many Racers came to TARCon? Two . .  . gay couple Tom Rock and Terry Cosentino from the tenth season. That was it. Nobody from Unfinished Business dropped by, because they were (presumably) sleeping it off in Florida. CBS could have held the party in September, ten years after the show first aired. But they cut into one of the coolest traditions I know, and I was pissed off . . . especially since I didn't get to meet Zev Glassenberg again. I first met him and buddy Justin Kanew at TARCon 15. While I don't have Asperger's Syndrome like Zev, I do feel that I got enough loose wiring in my head to emphasize with him. After the duo wound up getting eliminated on account of Zev losing his passport (dropping them from first place), I told them that I hoped they would come back to the show one day. Well, they did, winning four legs before their elimination on Unfinished Business. Even though Zev wasn't the one doing the heavier lifting, I wanted to congratulate him for coming so far, as well as surviving a Detour where the duo ate too much cheese fondue. Justin threw up, while Zev made a face that indicated he was going to die in seconds. But I didn't get to see them again, thanks to CBS..

There's other stuff to bitch about . . . like how the show's eight Emmys in nine years have been devalued by Jeff Probst's four wins as Best Host, giving weight to the theory that the voters would rather be locked in a room where Cop Rock is played 24/7 than even think about reality television. There's the lack of DVDs, . . . with CBS pouring the salt in the wounds by offering the second season on Amazon with no extras whatsoever. Then there's the lack of media attention . . . Rosie O'Donnell and Bonnie Franklin invited Racers on their talk shows, but the most we can get these days is a winning team getting interviewed by Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, neither of whom can be bothered to actually watch the damn show. The last interview they gave to a pair of winners could have been done from a moving car. Beyond all that, I can see that The Amazing Race has problems without CBS hurting it.

Imagine a square, with sides of equal sizes. Now, imagine that at the center of the square, there's a hole that starts getting deeper and deeper. As the hole grows in depth, it also grows outwards, consuming more of the square's area. This is how I see reality television these days. The hole gets deeper thanks to crap like Jersey Shore, Mob Wives, Toddlers & Tiaras, etc. When the hole grows, shows that were once credible start sinking . . . including TAR, sad to say.

It's hard to say when the show started letting people down. In its prime, it was the greatest show on Earth, Ringling Brothers be damned.The rushed format was an adrenaline rush for viewers, making the endless  machinations of Survivor look slow by comparison. We got to see far-flung locations that most of us would never get to see in our lifetimes. And we had a great host in Phil Keoghan, whose raised eyebrow Jeff Probst could never lift. So what went wrong? What factors have soured fans on TAR, as well as cause Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred to endlessly whinge about how much the show blows in comparison to its past?

The Downgrading Of The Fast Forward: The Fast Forward was once a task offered to all teams. If a team were to go off the race course and complete it, they could go to the Pit Stop without telling with all of the routh Route Markers. Teams could only do it once, and only one team per leg could complete it, so they would have to figure out when it was most advantageous to go for it. After the fifth season, the Fast Forward was downgraded to popping up twice. With a limited number, only the lead teams go for it these days, making the show's once-great equalizer irrelevent.

Lack Of Mingling: In the old days, episodes began with Phil going on about how teams checking in at the Pit Stop would have twelve hours to "eat, sleep, and mingle with the other teams" before starting the race again. Around the fourteenth season, the producers thought that the teams were getting along too well . . . so they eliminated the "mingling" bit by separating the teams from each other. in order to inject drama into the mix. That seems like something Survivor creator Mark Burnett would do . . . or Bunim-Murray Productions for that matter. Actually, BMP would probably go one further and insist teams drink alcohol while shit-talking during interviews.

Stuntcasting: I know what you're thinking: "Rob & Amber." Yes, it felt like CBS sent fellas named "Rocko" and "Mugsy" to see the producers about putting the Survivor couple on the seventh season and the "all-star" season. There's also the casting of three Big Brother "stars": Allison Irwin (along with her idiot on-again/off-again boyfriend Donny Patrick) in TAR5, and Jordan Lloyd & Jeff Schroeder in the sixteenth season. The worst case had to be Caite Upton, who was best known for mangling the living bejeezus out of a response during the Miss Teen USA pageant. She wound up on TAR16, where she bickered endlessly with her boyfriend, Brett Horne. Fans also had to deal with Brandy Snow and her endless mad-on for Caite, even at the finish line, where she chewed out Catie. As big a bitch as Brandy was (enough for her partner, Carol Rosenfeld, to soon break up with her), I had to give her this: Catie was indeed a huge twit.

Crappy Tasks: This mainly pops up during the Speed Bump. This was introduced as a way to penalize teams that had finished in last place in non-elimination legs, as opposed to taking their money and/or bags. The problem is that the Speed Bump doesn't take enough time to be a huge deterrent. One Speed Bump consisted of merely throwing coins into a fountain's slot. Then there are the tasks that don't make sense or seem like filler, like teams getting fifteen minutes worth of waxing in Rio de Janeiro last season. For three teams, there was minimal discomfort. For the hirsute Zev & Justin, however, it was a quarter-hour of hell, courtesy of a devil that watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin one time too many.

Nobody Reads The Damn Clues Anymore: I know that if you've been running almost non-stop for 10,000 miles, little things slip your mind. But that doesn't excuse loads of teams failing to comprehend the given instructions. Then the teams arrive at the Pit Stop, where Phil informs them on their transgressions, then makes them sit down on the side during their penalty time, an adult version of a "time out." Most recently, "dating goths" Kent Cothron and Vyxsin Fiala failed to realize that they were not supposed to take a taxi to the Pit Stop two legs before the finale. And as they stewed away from the mat, Zev & Justin finished the leg, eliminating the bickering goths.

But for all of the gripes people have about TAR, I still watch every episode. And I'm trying to keep a positive attitude going into the nineteenth season, which premieres tonight. Here are some pluses:

Travel Porn Is Awesome: Admit it . . . when TAR went to Burkina Faso in its twelfth season, you didn't know there was a Burkina Faso, let alone where it was located. I didn't know the place existed. Every week, you learn about the world. While Survivor recycles locations under new names, TAR keeps finding new places, even if there are lots of places out there that scream "red flag." Also, the show manages to incorporate the traditions of the area into the game . . . as opposed to Survivor, where you don't get challenges indigenous to the location . .  .unless you count the season in China, where a Reward Challenge involved six-foot-long chopsticks and setting off fireworks.

Phil Keoghan Is Still Phil Keoghan: For the record, I'm more upset that Probst has been winning Best Host Emmys than Phil has lost them. Even if you consider him to be more of a narrator and greeter than an actual host, he still excels at his job. Thankfully, his role doesn't allow him to interfere with the game, as opposed to Probst's blatant brownnosing. By comparison, Phil has only pissed me off twice in eighteen seasons: letting Brandy go off on Caite, and letting Eric Sanchez call his buddy Jeremy Ryan to let him know that he and "girlfriend" Danielle Turner won TAR: All-Stars. For me, that ending was like getting punched in the face, and the call was a kick to the nuts. Yet I can't stay at Phil.

Ethan & Jenna Aren't Necessarily Overt Stuntcasting: In case you're just coming in, one team is dating couple Ethan Zohn & Jenna Morasca. Both have won Survivor (Africa for Ethan, Amazon for Jenna) and a million bucks apiece. Ethan lost a lot of luster during Survivor: All-Stars. Jenna lucked into her win, then bailed out of All-Stars to be with her dying mother. In the run-up to Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, CBS aired a special that included a feature on the couple. It turns out that Ethan suffered from Hodgkin's lynphoma, and he wound up going through chemotherapy. Through all of that time, Jenna stuck by him, and I actually softened my view on her. If you figure these two are ringers, know that they haven't been on a competitive reality show in seven years, so they're not exactly Rob & Amber. Even as I try to forget about Kill Reality and The Scorned (don't ask) and hearing rumors that Ethan proposed to Jenna during the race, I'm willing to give these two a clean slate heading into this edition.

No Hantzes! In my preview of Survivor: South Pacific, I completely forgot to mention the casting of Brandon Hantz, the nephew of notorious asshole Russell Hantz. That means we've had Hantzes in four of the last five seasons of Survivor. After two episodes, viewers have been squicked by Brandon, particularly his obsession for voting off Mikayla Wingle, whom he fears might lead him astray from his wife. Did I mention the guy in nineteen years old? Right now, I'm thinking that the next season of TAR will feature "all stars," given that it'll be the twentieth edition. My big fear was that CBS would send Rocko & Mugsy back to lean on the producers to bring "Ramber" back. Now it's seeing Russell & Brandon race. Right now, though, we should be thankful none of the Hantz family is on TAR.

Lack Of "Fuck You" Endings: I will admit that seeing sisters Kisha & Jenn Hoffman winning Unfinished Business was disappointing, but only because their "story" wasn't really told until the final episode. Not enough was made about how every other team from their initial season (TAR14) went out before any other team, or that Kisha would become the fourth openly gay person to win on the show. I felt the focus was mostly on Zev & Justin and father/daughter pair Gary & Mallory Ervin, but they finished fourth and third, respectively. But it wasn't what I considered to be a "fuck you" finish. In the show's eighteen seasons, there have been only three: Flo & Zach winning TAR3, the odious Freddy Holiday & even more odious Kendra Bentley lucking into a TAR6 win, and Eric & Danielle's All Stars triumph, even though they weren't really a "dating couple," on account of Eric being a major closet case. In comparison to other reality shows, having a crap ending in one out of six seasons is pretty good.

That's all I got. I hope you'll give The Amazing Race a shot this season. I still think it's the best reality show on television today, and unlike most of the Emmy voters, I actually mean that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reality Reviewed: Survivor

If you want the status quo for Survivor these days, you need to look back to May 4, 2011, with the twelfth season of Redemption Island. Specifically, the immunity challenge. The deal: fit ladder rungs onto slots and climb to the top. The catch: each rung can only fit in specific slots. Also, it's 110 degrees in Nicaragua.

The guy busting ass up and down the steps is Rob Mariano, best known as "Boston Rob." He first played the game in Marquesas, the show's fourth season, which aired back in 2002. To give you some perspective, eventual second runner-up Natalie Tenerelli was about ten years old at that time. He failed to make the jury, what with being a pain in the ass to damn near everybody unfortunate enough to be on the same tribe as him. He was an entertaining pain in the ass, so he was invited back two years later on All-Stars. He wound up running the game, since most of the people he was surrounded by weren't intelligent at all. He also found true love with Amber Brkich, who was cast mostly because former "America's Sweethearts" Colleen Haskell and Elisabeth Filarski passed. Amber wound up winning the $1 million grand prize riding on Rob's broad back, while nobody challenged them. Rob had to "settle" for the $100,000 second place dough, as well as Amber's hand in marriage. I'll stop here before I dive into "Ramber" and their two appearances on The Amazing Race, as well as their televised marriage.

The man in the khakis doing commentary is Jeff Probst. Show creator Mark Burnett plucked him from VH1 obscurity and made him a household name. While Probst has earned a place on the Mount Rushmore for reality show hosts (along with Ryan Seacrest, Phil Keoghan and Anderson Cooper), he tends to get too involved in the show. Like, "interfering with the game" involved . . . like the time in Palau, when he pushed Janu Tornell (who probably wasn't fit to play going in) into quitting in order to keep Stephenie LaGrossa in the game. Or how about the time he shamed a tribe into picking a leader after Tribal Council? How about all the alpha males he's crushed on season after season? Right now, he is yelling about how Rob is "literally carrying his family on his back!" Literally, mind you. In actuality, Rob has a picture of his family (Amber and his little bambina) taped to his back. What's galling is that Jeff Probst just won his fourth Emmy as Best Host of a reality program. The fact that he's won more than once proves that Emmy voters take all of five minutes making up their minds before making a half-hearted decision, and this invalidates all Emmys awarded in the genre in the past, including the six that The Amazing Race picked up prior to 2010.

Anyway, Rob wins the immunity challenge, and he is wiped out. Probst gives him the immunity necklace, pausing to put his pom poms down first. Probst asks if he wants the medical staff to look at him, but Rob waves him off. Probst and a few of the other players do help him to his feet. As I watch this, I give props to Rob's efforts . . . but there's a small part of me that wants him to fall down the steps. I don't want him to die or break something. I want him to get just the right amount of hurt to get taken out of the game . . . because if that happens, the others have a shot to win the game. Granted, none of them deserve to win, but it would be a nice change of pace. The players go back to camp, and we don't hear Probst cheer, "TWO, FOUR, SIX, EIGHT! WHO DO WE APPRECIATE?!? BOSTON ROB! BOSTON ROB! GOOOOOOOOOOOO, ROB!!!"

What ended up happening was that Rob won the $1 million on his fourth try, and it was so easy for him. I kept hoping that Burnett would just stop the game and give him the money. The last episode wasn't a conclusion so much as a coronation. In the hearts of Burnett and Probst, Rob would run 26 miles and change, symbolizing the time he ran the Boston Marathon without offically entering it. He would then run up 117 steps, one for each day he played Survivor. On steps 22-60, Amber would ride on his back, much the way she did in All-Stars.At the end of the journey would be Probst, who would crowd him Sole Survivor, Ultimate Survivor, King of All Survivors. And then the blowjob would begin in earnest.

The last several seasons of Survivor haven't been that fun to watch, particularly the last four. To wit:

Samoa: From the depths of the lackluster cast comes Russell Hantz, a small man with a major set of balls. He became the definition of Chaotic Evil, dumping out water and burning a teammate's socks. Only two things kept him from getting voted off: he was seen as an easy opponent to face on Day 39, and he sniffed out hidden immunity idols like a pig seeking truffles. Seriously, aside from Russell and Shannon "Shambo" Waters the mulleted mental case, can you name anybody from this season? Well, there was the other Russell -- Russell Swan -- but he wound up passing out during a challenge and wound up getting booted out by the medical staff. There were also rumors of somebody named "Brett" on the show, but those were never proven. In the end, Russell got two votes, while Natalie White won the big prize.

Heroes Vs. Villains: Having carved a niche as perhaps the biggest asshole in reality television, Russell wound up earning a berth on the latest "all-star" season. He was put on the Villains tribe, along with Rob, who apparently doesn't have a day job. The two wound up butting heads, but Russell's alliance managed to get the upper hand, and Rob got jettisoned. Lots of other stuff happened, but the reunion basically was reduced to both "legends" dropping trou to compare sizes. Back in his undisclosed lair, Mark Burnett had a brainstorm: what if those two were on the show again? On opposite sides facing off each other? Brilliant!

Nicaragua: Since "Russell Vs. Rob" needed time to develop, Burnett's casting people threw twenty people into the mix, most of whom probably never watched the show. The breakaway "star" was Naonka Dixon, who surpassed Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth as the Worst Black Woman On Reality Television, EVER. Whether picking fights with Kelly Bruno (an athlete who had one leg and a prosthetic), playing the race card or breaking down, Naonka represented the shittiest tastes of the casting department. The kicker was that she wound up quitting the game along with Kelly Shinn (nicknamed "Purple Kelly" by Probst for reasons that make sense in his little mind) . . . and both of them wound up making the jury. Worse, their two votes made the difference for Jud Birza (aka "Fabio" for being an airhead) to win the big prize, and CBS never disclosed the final votes of the jury, since they thought fans would be too stupid to put two and two together.

Redemption Island: The "Russell Vs. Rob" angle got jettisoned quickly when the Zapatera tribe wound up voted off Russell after somebody else -- Ralph Kiser, a backwoods Yeti -- lucked into the hidden immunity idol. However, Russell had a safety net, since those voted off wound up on Redemption Island, where players had to fight to stay in the game, making Tribal Council -- and Probst's main line, "The tribe has spoken" -- meaningless. Sadly, Russell got beat in the do-or-die challenge, making him cry like a little girl before vowing never to come back.

With the Russhole gone, the asshole slot had to be filled. Enter Phillip Sheppard, a one-time "special agent" who proved that the casting department had no qualms with making black people look bad. He fucked up pronouncing one player's name (Francesca . . . how can that be hard?!?), played the race card during a fight over rice, and generally getting on everybody's nerves. I felt he needed Cee-Lo Green following him around singing "Crazy." Or hell, make up a song:

Here's the one who's worse than you and me
An ugly person as you can see
He's the guy you gotta hate
A certified Section Eight
He roomed with Teddy's dad in
Stand By Me

Special Agent Phil
Special Agent Phil
His attitude really sucks
And Rob's gonna win the million bucks

[Note: I only had the fourth and fifth lines worked out and the chorus, and I'm sorry if the parody was too lame]

In the end, Rob got his precious million bucks. Phillip got second place and $100,000 thanks to a sole dissenting vote from Ralph. Natalie got third place and torn apart by the jury. And a guy named Matt Elrod wound up staying on Redemption Island for 29 days broken up into two trips, showing that the "twist" was an abject failure. So, naturally, it's popping up again on the upcoming season, Survivor: South Pacific.

In addition to Redemption Island, South Pacific will bring back two past contestants. Before the rumors were confirmed, I was thinking that Naonka and "Purple Kelly" would get the call. That's how little I think of the casting department these days. Probst and Burnett have sworn up and down that anybody who had quit the show would never be invited back, but with the show spiraling into the abyss created by genre shows airing on MTV and VH1, I wouldn't have put it past them. Fortunately, we wound up with Ozzy Lusth and Benjamin "Coach" Wade . . . the former having come within one vote from winning the $1 million on his first try (losing to Yul Kwon on Cook Islands), the latter's insanity now seeming quaint compared to that of Phillip.

Will Redemption Island be tweaked to actually work? Can Ozzy and Coach not take up all of the spotlight? Will the other sixteen contestants have enough brain cells between them to at least look intelligent? We'll start finding out this Wednesday on CBS. I'm not hoping for the best, though . . . I'm estimating that production staff will have to pry Probst off Ozzy's leg by the fourth episode.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Jason Vs. The Supplemental, SkyDome & Showers

Last Wednesday, I was in the middle of writing about my experiences at Rogers Centre in Toronto, when my laptop went through the Blue Cycle of Death (Blue Screen of Death, reset, Blue Screen, reset, etc.) Since I had an interesting night, I figured that I should complete my thoughts now.

As I sat in the first row along the right field line, I was struck by how many empty seats there were. When Rogers Centre opened in 1989 (as SkyDome), it drew huge crowds. Turns out that the team hasn't been in the top five of American League teams in attendance since 1996. Also, after their last championship season in 1993, they've averaged roughly 80 wins per season, making them mediocre in a division (American League East) where mediocre just doesn't cut it (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees). To add to Blue Jays fans' woes, the team is only one of four that have not made the playoffs since 1993. My mother figures Canadians don't go for baseball, citing the late Montreal Expos and their ridiculous Olympic Stadium as proof. I'm thinking Torontonians do like baseball . . . good baseball. By the way, this paragraph was brought to you by Wikipedia and Google.

That night's opponents were the Kansas City Royals, perhaps a franchise even more woeful than the Blue Jays. They haven't been to the postseason since they won the World Series in 1985, let alone after 1993 (the other teams being the Expos/Nationals and Pirates). They're not thought of as a real calamity club like the Orioles or Pirates, but their season is usually wrapped up by June. Really, aside from their dramatic comeback from 3-1 down against the Cardinals in 1985 and George Brett's home run in the "Pine Tar Game" in 1983 (and his batshit reaction upon being called out to initially end the game), does anybody outside Kansas City know about the Royals? The only person I can remember from that team in recent years is Zach Greinke, but that was mostly because he made the cover of Sports Illustrated for battling depression during his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2009 . . . and he wound up heading for Milwaukee after the following season.

The game itself was interesting, starting with pitcher Ricky Romero plunking Alex Gordon on the first pitch. He would steal second base and score on a double by Billy Butler. Two innings later, the same thing happened, with Gordon walking, advancing to second on a ground ball, and coming home on a Butler single, giving the Royals a 2-0 advantage. By comparison, the Blue Jays weren't awake against Luke Hochevar, mustering one walk in the first three innings. In the bottom of the fourth, shortstop Yunel Escobar (not to be confused with Royals shortshop Alcides Escobar . . . and apparently, they're not related) got hit by a pitch, and then slugger Jose Bautista homered to left field to tie the game. The crowd starting getting into things, as the massive scoreboard put up his name. Incidentally, I was disappointed that the stadium's dome was closed. It had been a nice day in my time in Toronto so far. If only I knew what was happening outside.

The Blue Jays wound up taking a 3-2 lead, as Brett Lawrie hit a triple to drive in Edwin Encarnacion. But in the following inning, Gordon scored his third run of the game, and he didn't need Butler to do it, as he homered over Bautista's head in right field to tie things at 3-3. I don't really remember what was going on between innings. I know they had a power surge race (one of those deals where animated stuff happens on the screen), and the grounds crew was called the fastest in the majors as they cleaned up the infield. Also, the fans did the wave. I was a little mortified. That still happens? In the majors?!? And after the Royals bowed out in the seventh, the team played some weird song, while ladies and girls led the cheers on the foul lines. Is that a Canadian thing, or is that de rigeur in baseball these days? After that, Lawrie welcomed reliever Louis Coleman into the game with a homer to left, giving the Jays a 4-3 lead. They wound up getting two men on base thanks to a pair of errors by third baseman Mike Moustakas, but Yunel Escobar hit into an inning-ending double play.

After the seventh, I had to get up. Because I took my sweet time getting to the stadium, I barely made it to my seat before the game started. The Blue Jays are pretty good helping their fans . . . they give out pocket-sized maps of the stadium. It isn't for seat prices, but rather where the food and souvenir stands are located. I would've tried out more grub, but I have this disease where I have to keep score in my seat. So I spent the last two innings watching the game, keeping score, and trying to find dessert. I wound up settling for a soft serve ice cream cone, and I got my mother a keychain. That's what she wants . . . it used to be stuffed animals, but she's running out of room for those. As for the game . . . the Royals managed to get at least one runner on base in all nine innings, but they stranded eleven men on base altogether. After Jesse Litsch threw a scoreless seventh inning, Casey Janssen preserved the lead, and then Frank Francisco sealed the win in the ninth. It was a good game, and I had fun. But as I started out of the stadium, some stuff happened.

1. It was raining. Hard. Apparently, the dome did not retract because of the storm. Good call.

2. There was thunder and lightning, which was very, very frightening. I don't mean flashes of light in the clouds . . . I'm talking actual lightning bolts hitting the the tops of buildings, including the CN Tower, which sent the departing crowd into oohs and aahs.

3. The SkyWalk that I took to get to Rogers Centre was closed, meaning I had to walk back to the Fairmont Royal York. But that was okay, since I had an umbrella in my backpack. I always had it there. Not like I unpacked it in my hotel room and forgot to take it with me, right?

4. Oh, shit.

So there I was, my first day in town, trying to figure out how the hell to get back to the hotel, as my sneakers and socks started getting squishy. The lightning bolts reminded me that I had to hustle. I know that the odds of getting hit are remote, but I didn't want my mother to get a call about how her son defied the odds. Finally, I made it back, passing people who were underneath an awning, taking pictures of the CN Tower getting hit. But I had to get water, and I would be damned it I was going to pay $5.50 to open a bottle in my room. I was directed to Union Station across the street, but in my semi-delirious state, I settled for getting four bottles of bottle from a stand outside the station. I wound up waiting near a bunch of young guys, one of whom might have been smoking weed. I don't know what it smells like, but his friend was urging him to "hit that motherfucker like it owes you money!" You don't get that kind of talk over a Marlboro, you know?

After coming back to my room and drying myself off, I got online in my room and started to write about the day. I'd go into dramatics over the Blue Cycle of Death, but if you read my other blog entries already, you're probably sick of it. Needless to say, I wasn't taking it well. I wound up going to sleep, probably hoping that a messed-up laptop would be the least of my problems on my trip. If only I knew what was in store.

And now you know the rest of the story. To give you some idea of what I was facing as I left Rogers Centre, here's a YouTube clip of the lightning that struck Toronto, with photo stills and video . . .

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jason Gets It Together (Sort Of)

It’s 12:53 a.m. as I type this. Apparently, I made it home in one piece. Upon unpacking, I can’t say the same about a few of the toys I picked up. In other news, there’s a lot I’ll need to tackle in the coming days. For one thing, I got a laptop that might be on its last legs. Being home doesn’t help, so I can’t get online until I hit the libraries, meaning I still have to write this out in Safe Mode, save it to the flash drive, then upload it when I can get the chance. That means I’ll have to see a repair guy to figure out my next move . . . either get my laptop fixed, or pick up a slightly-used model, which is what the guy suggested the last time I got grief from the laptop.

My big adventure has been fraught with mishaps, and today wasn’t much different. I cleared out the hotel room (or I think I did . . . once again, I might be missing toy parts), took the bus to the airport, and had trouble finding the right gate. Apparently, I got off the bus too early, so I needed to take the monorail to the right terminal. I found the line for Continental, and I waited. And waited. And waited. I figured out that I was running late, and my leg started to shake. I started making the “what the fucking fuck?!?” gestures towards the few people working the lines. I know it was a shitty move, but I had this image of being told that I missed the cutoff point, that my luggage couldn’t make it on the plane, and that I’d have to stay in Toronto for one more night. I did not want that. Dear Lord, I could not take being away from home for this long. By my memory, this had been my longest trip since going to Chicago for six nights some ten years ago. Thanks to the extra night’s stay, the Internet fees (including failing to get to my favorite sites . . . no clue why that happened) and the exchange rate, this was probably my most expensive solo trip. I needed to get the hell home.

Thankfully, I got guided through the procedure and I made it to customs. The bad news? I thought that I was running out of time, so I spent about two minutes in a duty-free shop before legging it towards the long corridor. At Newark Liberty, the gates aren’t isolated from the shops and the restaurants. Pearson is another story . . . because I was convinced that the plane would start boarding soon, and because I didn’t check the damn departure board, I wound up having to pay $10 for a turkey sandwich with Doritos and soda. Also, not only I couldn’t pick up a t-shirt for myself, I failed to buy a cap for my grandfather. In my defense, when I was at the duty-free shop, I couldn’t find anything with “Toronto” on it. “Canada,” sure, but not “Toronto.” The only bright side is that Grandpa probably won’t remember that I told him I’d pick up something.

The plane ride was a little nerve-racking. I know it sounds silly, but I was thinking something bad would happen between the airport and home. Not like I kept seeing a pale man arguing with a security guard about checking in a scythe, but I was on guard. It was weird to go between paranoia and napping. I kept seeing a light in the reflection of the window across from me, and I was convinced something was in the overheard compartment. Turns out that it was on the wing outside, and I couldn’t tell the difference. I wound up landing later than I had figured, but I wasn’t ready to rest yet. I almost went out of my way to exchange my currency, until I found out that the booth was near the baggage claim area, which means the guy I asked was probably full of crap.

And now I’m home. I got a laptop to get examined. I got a temp agency guy to call and let know that I’m home. I got recorded stuff to watch. I checked out the Rivals finale, and I was right . . . nice guys don’t win on The Challenge. The douchebag team of Johnny & Tyler beat the douchebag team of Kenny & Wes. Also, Paula finally won a Challenge, but she needed to hook her wagon to a fug athlete like Evelyn to pull it off, so you gotta put an asterisk on that. I forgot to set up for a few programs at home, but they’re no big loss. I also missed the premiere of Ridiculousness, the new video clip show featuring MTV personality Rob Dyrdek. On the bright side, I can record it while I’m out tomorrow. Rob is better than any Guido, teen mother or any other idiot on MTV’s primetime, so I need to see it ASAP.

To sum up: I had fun. I got slammed around by petty misfortune, and my sanity got a little shredded, but I managed to get through it. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to see, so I have incentive to go back in the future. For anybody who’s put off by the ever-expanding Comic-Con International in San Diego or can’t fly out there for any reason, Fan Expo Canada is probably the way to go. As for me, I gotta get my ass in gear and look for a life of my own . . . at least until October, when New York Comic Con invades the Javits Center in Manhattan. It’ll be good to have home-field advantage this time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jason Vs. The Crappy Hotline

I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.

Had I committed some sort of heinous wrong to be punished? If I had sinned, it was probably just a recreational sin. All I knew was that anytime I thought my trip to Toronto was going well, something would punch me in the teeth and kick my ass. I started thinking maybe it’s the CN Tower. In 2005, I stayed with Stephen way out in Scarborough, and things went well enough. Two years later, I stayed at a hotel. I don’t remember where I went, but I’m thinking it was closer to Toronto proper, and that’s when I lost my camcorder and sketchbook. Now, my laptop went bust, I missed out on attractions, and then there was this morning.

I woke up around 9:30, watched the news, and then slipped back into sleep. Such is the life of a person who does not have a convention to visit anymore. I talked to my mother, and she dropped another bomb on me. The flight that I was supposed to take today . . . the one I had assumed would be canceled due to the damage Irene dished out . . . the one that an employee at Pearson Airport told me would probably dump me off in parts unknown should I take it . . . the flight was on as scheduled.

To say that I did not take it well was an understatement. I kept calling Continental, but thanks to high call volume, I wasn’t going to get any information from them. I went online in the business center. First of all, there was a confirmation e-mail that was sent to me last night. Why didn’t I know about it? Because my laptop went bust at the worst possible time, and the fucking business center shut down last night at 6 p.m. I tried to see what a one-way trip to Newark would cost. The answer: a lot. Over $500, in fact. I went with a new plan . . . hitting Expedia for their rates. Expedia wouldn’t fuck me, right? Yes, they would . . . over a grand for one-way service, AND I’d have to make at least one stop along the way. Honestly, I’m lucky my head didn’t explode from the rage. Some of the misfortunes could be tracked back to me, but the rest was out of my control. Unfortunately, I wasn’t handling it very well at all. I didn’t even get to have breakfast until after noon . . .and they wound up being Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts sold as “Timbits” from Tim Horton’s. So much for getting something unusual, though I did like the apple fritter flavor.

My mother’s plan for me to get home: go to the airport early tomorrow morning and fly standby. The front desk guy’s plan: take a 12-hour bus ride back to the New York area. I went with my own plan, the only plan that made any sense in my slowly boiling brain: go to the airport, talk to a human being. Simple. I got a round-trip bus ticket and silently hoped for the best. It took me a while to find the counter . . . at one point, I saw a bunch of machines, and I thought that talking to anybody was never going to happen. But I went further and told my story in detail, sparing her the four-part harmony. I walked away with a ticket to fly out tomorrow after 5 p.m. It was a victory. As I type this, I’m not about to exhale just yet. Between Toronto and Staten Island, there are still so many misfortunes that could happen to me, in all sorts of degrees. Most of the time, I can’t blame one person for my woes and smash their car with a hammer, yelling about the dangers of fucking a stranger in the ass. Okay, I’m not that rabid, but I do feel like John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski, minus the delusions of Vietnam.

The bad news was that thanks to all the time I wasted brooding, raging and settling, Casa Loma was out of the question. I had a few alternative plans, but I wound up going to the CN Tower. It had been six years since I last gone up there, but I figured that it was nearby, and that I should go. My brain conjured up a bizarre theory that it was the source of my misfortune, that as I stayed closer and closer to it in my trips up north, it was broadcasting bad luck that I could receive. It’s the same stupid superstitious crap that prevents me from putting on Pearl Jam in my car, because I skidded on a wet road once and messed my car up as “Jeremy” was playing. I know A and B aren’t related, and I should know better, but my brain is stuck.

I don’t think the CN Tower has changed much. The new thing is that you can pay $175 to take a trip on top of the pod, way the hell in the air. I’m not squeamish about stepping on the reinforced-to-hell glass-bottom floors, but I’m not that brave. Should The Amazing Race return to the Tower in the future (three teams in Family Edition went up there in the final leg), I’m betting dangling on harnesses will be involved, as the contestants search for a part of the city with the show’s traditional colors. I got the full value ticket, good for all of the main attractions.

The first two experiences were kinda meh, to be honest. The first one revolved about the creation of “supertrees” in the year 2020, hybrids of flora from the Himalayas and the Amazon. Hence the title: “Himalamazon.” After the somewhat boring infodump, I wound up going on a simulated ride, as a log got transported between the two locations. I have to say that while I’m not the least bit into roller coasters, I do like the notion of a simulation, especially since the danger was more than minimized. The water splashing us was a nice touch. Sadly, the trip to the Maple Leaf Cinema wasn’t as fun. It was based on surfer Kelly Slater, and I was fighting the urge to nod off. It was in 3D. I hate 3D. I think that since my eyes are different kinds of messed up, the glasses needed for the experience seldom work for me. On the bright side, I save about $5 a shot anytime I go to a “regular” movie.

Next stop: the Look Out. They say you can see Niagara Falls on a clear day. It would’ve been nice if I knew where to look. A lot of my time was peering down on Rogers Centre, where the Rays/Jays game was getting started. I had thought of going there, but I had spent too much time online before I left the hotel for the Tower. With the roof retracted, I could see the field . . . and the vast emptiness several sections of the stadium. When the laptop fucked me, I had been looking up attendance stats, because I noticed a lot of empty seats the night that I went there. I actually called the ticket office to find out when the game was being played, thinking maybe I was looking down about a half-hour before game time. Nope . . . it was on schedule. This is what happens when you build a state-of-the-art stadium before the boom in retro ballparks, and your team is in the same division as the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.

I also went to Sky Pod, which was 100 meters above the observation deck. I didn’t see much of a difference, to be honest. The cars looked like toys from 1,815 feet in the air (yes, I have the brochure in front of me), and the players on the field in Rogers Centre looked so tiny, even as I could make them out in their designated positions. The outdoor observation deck took out the view of nearby structures, but it did provide a feel for the wind that far up. And yes, they were lots of people on the glass floors, posing and styling for cameras. I swear, there was one guy dressed in monk garb, in a traditional meditation pose on the glass. “Trippy” would be my best word for it. Sylvia told me that she could never stand there. I could . . . even though I’m not into heights, I felt safe on the glass, as I took pictures of the base. I think the Tower could make a few bucks if they took a few of the $2 and $4 viewers from the observation decks, and put them on ground level, giving a good view of the people above the glass.

With time waning, I wound up having dinner on the observation deck. It’s kinda weird to walk through a restaurant and look out the windows as others are eating. I had a small pasta dish, and I paid a little too much for it. Afterward, I hit Dairy Queen in Union Station, and I got my second Oreo Blizzard of my trip. Hey, why mess with what works?

To call my trip to Toronto “eventful” would be an understatement. There are places I should have visited, but I ran out of time. Once again, I’m not going to feel safe from problems until I get home. And I was feeling blah when I got back to my room. But I found out that I can check out late, some of the bad vibes left my body, and I just discovered a show called Pick a Puppy that had to be imported into the U.S. Who the hell doesn’t love puppies? Even better, the opening credits end with a wrinkly English Bulldog puppy sliding into a spread-eagle position. So. Fucking. Adorable.

Right now, all I want to do is get home, relax, and then I can deal with my laptop on Wednesday and see whether it can be salvaged, or if I need a new one. I can call the temp agency to see if I can interview for the gig at Long Island City. I can see all the crap I recorded at home, happy that I got ready in case I couldn’t see it in Toronto. I can get on for my life. Right now, though, I can take the good with the bad, remember the fun I’ve had, and be happy that I was able to have so many new and unique experiences. All I have to remember is this: even at my lowest ebb, I still have it better than so many people in this world. As long as I can keep perspective, I should be fine.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jason Vs. The Unruly ATM

It’s Sunday, 11:22 p.m. as I type this. I just emerged from a mild coma. I knew it was coming . . . most of the time I’m away from home going to a con, the energy drains from me. I just missed most of the VMA’s. Then again, aside from the tribute to poor, poor Amy Winehouse, I probably didn’t miss anything. Did I see Lady Gaga pose as a guy, performing “You & I” with gusto? Check . . . and damn, who would’ve predicted she’d wear a t-shirt and jeans to open the show? Did that make “Joe Calderon” Lord Gaga for a few minutes? Also, I saw Katy Perry win Best Video honors for “Firework,” which was as predictable as Gaga winning last year for “Bad Romance.” She wore a yellow cube on her head, because she needs to be quirky 24/7, and damn it, being married to Russell Brand isn’t enough evidence of that. I still feel the VMA’s are long past their prime, and the voting is probably dodgy. For instance, I suggested to Sylvia that Britney Spears won Best Video honors a few years back on account that the voters thought she was going to die soon, and they awarded to reward her while she was still breathing. Sylvia thought that was hysterical. And there’s the logic that Beyonce can have the best overall video of the year, and yet she gets beat by Taylor Swift can beat her in the “Best Female Video” category. I should stop, lest I get derailed or worse . . . turn into friggin’ Kanye West.

In other major news, I am officially staying in Toronto for one more night. I tried calling Continental, but I didn’t get anywhere. I called Toronto Pearson . . . turns out flights are being redirected to other places, on account of the volume of people trying to get to Newark. Basically, the choice was either fly out to Cleveland (one of several cities) and possibly stay in a hotel on the airline’s dime, or stay in Toronto? No offense to Cleveland, but the latter option is less complicated, even if I might suffer post-con letdown in the process.

I kept rolling with the punches. I managed to wake up later than I had wanted, since either my phone’s alarm didn’t go off, or I slept through it. I dawdled as usual, watching coverage of Tropical Storm Irene hit the Northeast. Thankfully, my mother was okay in the end, though I wouldn’t know that until I got back to the hotel. The stores under the hotel were closed, so I had to trudge to Union Station. I was going there anyway, but I could’ve saved myself about five minutes. The good news was that my feet did not leave my body while I slept last night. The bad news was that my left foot decided it was far better vengeance to stay on and produce great pain. For half of the con, I had to go at half speed. With my body, that’s pretty damn slow. The only panel I wound up hitting was a sketch duel between Francis Manapul (whom I got a nice Barry Allen-as-Flash sketch from) and David Finch. Most of the day is a blur, as I was buying stuff and getting sketches. I wound up with seventeen sketches. It’s three short of my four-day record, but it’s impressive. It was one of the last ones that started my latest complication.

I get to Sara Richard’s table. She does kickass sketches, and I wanted her to do a color head sketch of Sarah Jane Smith, played by the late Elisabeth Sladen on Doctoe Who. Thanks to a miscommunication, she thought I wanted it on a separate page, independent from my book. We laugh about it, both of us figuring I should get glue dots and paste it into my book (this has come up twice before for me). The fee was $40. I had $15. Bad enough I was spending gobs of colored dough, but I lost track on how much I had. Oops.

I go for Plan A: use an ATM at the convention center. I figure that I can wait on line and get back into the action. So I wait for some time, and when I finally get up there . . . nothing. The machine couldn’t access my records. I try my credit card. Nothing. I’ve had bad luck in the past Up North with ATMs in the past, but I thought that I could press my luck. I ask for help, and I’m told that the machines are the worse. Super.

Plan B: get out and find a bank ATM. I wind up partnering with another con-goer on this quest. Her name was Raquel. She’s from Niagara Falls (Ontario, not New York), this is her one big convention trip for the year, and she’s carrying a picture of Bishop from Alien signed by Lance Hendriken. I want to try Simcoe Place again and hope the ATM where I got money yesterday is still working. She wants to go in the opposite direction. Because I am an idiot, and I’m still thinking about the lack of dancing and hobnobbing from the previous night, I decide to tag along with her. On the up side, I don’t think I came off as too annoying to her, and I wound up having my first experience with Orange Julius. On the down side, I waste more time, and I miss a panel for anime voice actor Vic Mignogna. This especially sucks, because I had to miss him at AnimeNEXT a few months ago.

In the end, the Canadian National Expo was a fun experience, even with the flaws that smacked me in the face. One example: at the bigger cons, I saw that there were places where you could get a massage. When I went to Wizard’s show in Philadelphia, there were girls in costume doing that. I would’ve killed for relief to my feet, but I wasn’t that lucky. I didn’t find too many deals, and I spent $15 on my third One Piece “Logbox,” only to find that it was something I got at AnimeNEXT. I spent $60 on four Logboxes, and only two worked out for me (remember, I dropped the first one). In other news, I’m grateful my digital camera was working for me, because I am the sort that needs a few thousand shots that I can delete due to any imperfection. I don’t whip it out for every cosplayer, but damn, I find a shitload of them interesting. I think the highlight of the day was seeing a guy who was obvious a huge Pokemon fan. He built a Team Rocket getaway balloon around himself, with the visage of an inflated Meowth above him. On his hands: little puppets of James and Jesse. I should have hugged the dude, because that shit was inspired. That’s what you have to love about conventions: just when you think that you’ve seen everything, somebody comes up dressed up as a character you never would have guessed.

After trudging around Rogers Centre and having dinner at Wayne Gretzky’s (hey, it was in the official Toronto guide), I managed to crash and burn in my room. With no convention to hit anymore, I can wake up sometime after 9 a.m. this time (on purpose, I mean) and figure out my plan of attack. Casa Loma and Sneaky Dee’s are on the table, as is Rogers Centre, since the Blue Jays will still be there tomorrow night. When I get back home, I’ll probably either check my laptop checked out right away, or I’ll plop on the couch and stay there for at least twelve hours. As fun as Toronto has been, and as nice as it has been to have kept my wits as I kept getting smacked in the face, it will be good to get home.

Update: Monday, 1:08 p.m.

Guess what? The flight that I thought would be cancelled or rerouted? IT WAS STILL SCHEDULED TO LEAVE ON TIME, TOWARDS NEWARK. Even better, I can't fucking get through to the airline to reschedule my flight, or to find out far up the ass I'm going to pay for doing that. If I don't assault somebody by the time I get home, I'm calling it a victory.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jason Vs. Poor Planning

Written Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

New day, new problem. I’m making myself run late because I got in the mood to stay in bed while my cell phone’s alarm kept going off. I figure that I’d go into the business center for online time . . . but now they’re open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. How is that convenient for guests? So I wait a few minutes, get online for as short a time as I can (especially because the guy at the desk is now charging me), troop down to Union Station, wait several minutes on line to satisfy a muffin craving (where I could’ve just gone under the hotel for a quick trip to Tim Horton’s), and then I head off to the con. One of my biggest flaws is my ability to do stuff that goes against me, where I have the ability to use common sense.

I’m still trying to have fun, going with the flow when I can. I get shut out of the panel for DC Comics’ 52-book relaunch? Well, the panel for Dragonball Z voice actors has some open seats. I haven’t seen the series since Dragonball GT wrapped up in the States. The abbreviated version of DBZ -- Dragonball Z Kai doesn’t interest me, but I am a fan of “Dragonball Z Abridged.” This is a group of YouTube folks who squeeze several episodes of the series in neat packages at or around ten minutes. Also, it’s funny as all hell. Naturally, I’m not the only fan of that series, because the talent – Chris Sabat, Colin Clinkenbeard and Mike McFarland – is inundated with “Abridged” questions. They do try to play along as much as possible . . . I’d go into it, but it requires lots of context, so stuff like “Are you a Yoshi?” and “Naaaaaaaaiiiilll!!!” should be researched by going to or

Aside from the “Abridged” stuff, the fan questions can get wacky. One person asked what male characters the actors would involve in yaoi . . . guy-on-guy romance. MacFarlane suggests two characters – Vegeta and Piccolo – for some sweet Sabat-on-Sabat action. A few of the actos have met their counterparts in Japan, and it turns out the character of Chi Chi was renamed “Milk” in Mexico, because “Chi Chi” means “Boob” in Spanish. It was a good panel, and I wasn’t that bummed I missed the DC panel.

I continue wandering the aisles aimlessly, acquiring sketches whenever I can. I wind up getting my “ROM at ROM” sketch from Greg Hyaland. I wound up paying $3 for an issue of Power Man & Iron Fist with ROM in it. I probably could’ve gotten a cheaper issue of ROM’s title, but it’s an issue where ROM blows away a bunch of Dire Wraiths (his enemy) posing as New Yorkers, including one resembling a prostitute. Hilarity follows. I mean it . . . it’s from 1981, and the vengeful pimp looks like a total stereotype of a pimp.

Anyway, I started running out of money, so I sought out an ATM and a place to eat. I’m desperate enough to actually think of getting overpriced food. But the lines for food and money are long no matter where I go. I wind up going to Simcoe Place – a mall of sorts that I’ve hit both other times I’ve been in Toronto – to get filled up.

Really, I can’t think of a standout moment from today. I wound up acquiring five sketches, running my total to twelve after three days. I don’t think I’ll reach my four-day record of 20 (Comic-Con International, 2009), but it won’t be for lack of trying. I also had to leave again, this time to head back to the hotel to squeeze in some computer time. Yes, I am an addict, but at least it’s cheaper than drugs. Happily, I manage to catch the latest episode of DBZA, and it was some fun stuff as usual.

After a long day of walking, I had another box from the Scott Pilgrim books to check off: Sneaky Dee’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant, that’s frequently visited in the fourth book (Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together). In my morning online session, I loaded the relevant info into Google Maps, and I wrote down directions. Turns out I could have done a better job. I got off the train around Carlton Street, and I was assured that it was the same as College Street. So I walked. And walked. And walked. I had gotten a transfer at the train station, thinking I could use it on the streetcar. It turned out that I couldn’t. Eventually, I got lost. And lost. And even more lost. In one stretch of time, I passed by a cemetery as the light dimmed; in other, I was walking in almost total darkness through a residential neighborhood. I kept thinking that I was going to pull the plug, but then I would figure that I was on the right track. If I had infinite endurance, I would have wound up either at the US/Canada border, or in the Arctic Circle. Eventually, I gave up and plopped myself down at a random restaurant. Conceding total defeat, I followed that up by taking a cab back to the hotel. Expensive option, I know, but I wanted to get back before dawn, and I was damn tired. I will not be surprised if I wake up to find my feet missing with a crudely scrawled note reading “FUCK YOU!!!!!”

I would’ve gone back to my room and lapsed into a mild coma, but there was one more event I wanted to see. Turns out the Fairmont Royal York was playing host to “Ultimate Fan Expo Canada Party.” Basically, it had a DJ dressed as a Highlander, a cash bar, and enough people dancing and having a good ol time. I’m serious . . . off the top of my head, I can’t remember the last time I saw so many geeks – many of whom were still cosplaying – getting down so hard and funky. I didn’t really interact much, and I don’t dance, since I’m still a little too neurotic for my own damn good. I’m more into taking pictures, especially if the costumes are interesting (“Holy shit, is he dressed as Captain N the Game Master?!?”) I kept mostly to myself, save for when I convinced myself to play a few hands of a card game that involved trying to trade cards to other players to get a hand of all of the same kind. I wound up lucking into winning once, and I got a set of Star Wars action figures. I mentioned that a. I haven’t collected that stuff since around the time Return Of The Jedi was in theaters, and b. I actually saw the Ewok Village playset on sale at one booth, which was something I had as a kid. Before I knew it, one guy at the table was telling me that he had that as a kid as well, and I showed him the picture I took with my digital camera. I wish that it was easier for me to interact with people like that on a regular basis.

What am I forgetting? Oh, right . . . fucking Irene. My mother told me that it’s on the way, hitting the area on Sunday. Before hitting the party, I called the front desk. Turns out staying one more night here at the relatively cheaper convention rate wouldn’t be out of the question. Where I hate the idea of paying for an extra night, I’d rather not comparison shop with places near the airport. Plus, if my feet haven’t revolted, I can try and make up places I didn’t have time to see. The main problem is that I tend to suffer letdowns once a convention ends, and I try to get the heck out of town the following day. But with a cosmopolitan city at my disposal, maybe it won’t be such a bad thing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jason Vs. Irene

Last year, there was an episode on South Park titled “Poor and Stupid.” In it, Eric Cartman (the show’s go-to teen-year-old asshole) gets it into his head that he wants to be a NASCAR driver. He winds up going to a race, commanding a vehicle, and immediately crash it. As he’s airborne, he exclaims, “Well fuck my ass!” Eventually, he managed to get his own car and race for real. Just as he’s about to win (after committing a few acts of vehicular manslaughter along the way), he gets bumped and thrown into the air. His final words before hitting pavement? “Well fuck my ass again!”

It’s early afternoon at the Metro Centre. I’m waiting on line to ask Ty Templeton if he could sketch on a blank cover of Daredevil #1. Thinking myself clever, my idea revolves around Daredevil (known as “The Man Without Fear”) riding on top of Man-Thing (tagline: “Those that know fear BURN at the Man-Thing’s touch!”) I get a call from my mother. We exchange words, and then she hits me with the news. Apparently, Hurricane Irene might be heading for the New York area on Sunday. Turns out that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is shutting down the transit system, and the city is getting ready for the worst. That means that there’s a good chance that the airport in Newark might be shut down on Monday. That’s the day I’m supposed to fly back home.

Well fuck my ass again.

I can’t believe it. New York City isn’t a magnet for hurricanes. They’re not as rare as earthquakes, but if one swings by the area, it’s usually classified as a tropical depression. Aside from hoping my mother and grandfather will be okay, I face the grim prospect of having to spend at least one more night in Toronto. Granted, there are worse places to stay, but out of all the possible outcomes, three bad ones keep popping up in my head.

1. I wind up staying at the Fairmont Royal York, but they decide to charge me the full rate for the extra night, as opposed to the affordable-by-comparison convention price I have right now.

2. I call Continental Airlines, and I wind up having to pay full price for a hotel room near the airport. Even if I get a discounted rate, there’s no real tourist stuff I could do without throwing in a long bus trip into the city.

3. Here’s the worst scenario I can think of happening within reason . . . after getting stiffed by the hotel and airline, I wind up being forced to stay at least one night in the airport. Alone. I can nap while sitting down, but I can’t imagine sleeping overnight. I don’t even camp out for real. Would I have to use my full backpack as a pillow, or should I swipe some from the hotel before checking out?

I know that there’s a chance that everything might work out all right, and that I’ll get home to an undamaged house and uninjured mother, but I tend to make mountains out of molehills . . . . then the enlarged moles go in for the kill.

The Mixed Bag Project continued apace, as I wound up paying a little too much for waffles and orange juice at one of the hotel’s restaurants. On the bright side, the OJ didn’t cost $7, or whatever the price of that was at the place I stayed in San Diego two years ago. The convention experience went okay today, though I did do some aimless wandering later in the day. I wound up going to just one panel, centering around DC Comics’ Flashpoint miniseries. I also hit what I thought would be a panel for Supernatural: The Anime Series, but it turned out they were just showing episodes from the DVD without any back-and-forth, and I already saw those episodes. On the sketch front, I got the Daredevil/Man-Thing concept fulfilled by Ty Templeton. I also got sketches of the Face of Boe and Lady Cassandra (from Doctor Who) by Katie Cook, Hawkeye by Valentine DeLandro, Captain Britain by Leonard Kirk (who drew the character in the short-lived/critically acclaimed Captain Britain & MI:13, and Matthew Patel (Ramona Flowers’ first evil ex) by Adrian Alphona (best known for his work on Runaways). Truth be told, a lot of today was a blur. I do remember coming within three seconds of running smack into Nichelle Nichols. In the second I saw her, I recognized “Uhura” by her hair and what I think was a Starfleet insignia necklace.

I did hit one snag, sketch-wise. I came to Greg Hyland (creator of Lethargic Lad) with the concept of the Spaceknight known as ROM in front of the Royal Ontario Museum. In other words, ROM at ROM. Hyland didn’t know what ROM (the character) looked like, but I had the reference ready . . . or I thought I did. Two minutes of rustling in my backpack and totebag (newly acquired for $3, with the Fan Expo logo on it), later, I had to bail. It’s either in my room, I missed it in my bags, or I lost it. Worst case, I’ll find a cheap back issue, and Hyland could work with that.

After getting lost trying to get to the hotel (the Skywalk shuts down at night, which complicates matters), I got to go online in the business center and post my first two blog entries from my flash drive, as well as pictures of the sketched I acquired so far. Going out, I got turned off at the prospect of paying out the butt for dinner. After two restaurants displayed high prices, I wound up wandering to Union Station, where I committed what I believed to be a sin: going to McDonald’s. I mean, I’m in another country, and I’m going for a fast food joint that’s commonplace back home. Granted, going to McDonald’s in Canada isn’t as sad as, say, hitting one in Italy, but I should know better. Worse, I was prepared to get Chicken McNuggets and fries, one night after I had chicken wings and fries at a sports bar. But then I saw that they had the McRib sandwich, and I got that meal instead. I don’t know if that made things better or worse.

I can’t believe it’s after 11 p.m. now, and I’m getting ready to shut down the computer. I didn’t get any calls from Sylvia, though from my brief time online, I saw that she understood why I dropped my would-be rescue plan without telling her first. Between the laptop and the impending hurricane, I’m pretty sure I can’t take much more. Still, I should have a good time in the second half of the convention . . . and here’s hoping that statement doesn’t bite me in the ass.

PS: It's Saturdy morning, and I found out that the damn business center is open from 10-6 . . . meaning if I want optimal online time, I'd have to bail out of the convention and beat feet back to the hotel. In other news, I should probably check myself for bleeding in really inconvient areas.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jason Vs. The Laptop

Written on Thursday, August 26. Saved on a flash drive and posted from a hotel computer the following day.

This is Night Two in Toronto. I think the running theme so far is “Mixed Bag.” Right now, I am not typing this in my Blogger account, but rather on my laptop’s Microsoft Word program. Why? Funny story . . . yesterday, I was in my room, tapping away about yesterday. As I’m starting the part about the Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre and how it ain’t what it used to be, I get a blue screen with writing on it. A fraction of a second later, it reboots . . . and then I get the blue screen.

Oh. Fuck.

I had this problem before. I think I managed to wave it away by using System Restore, but now it’s back with a vengeance. As a result, I can’t get online anymore. Oh, I can go on the Net from somewhere in the hotel lobby, but I only found out tonight after it shut down. The good news is that by tapping F5, I can get into Safe Mode. The bad news: I can’t get online. I don’t know if it’s not possible to do that in Safe Mode, or if I haven’t checked the right boxes in terms of Firefox and proxy services. Last time that happened, I went to the library, got online, and did all sorts of searches for over an hour. I can probably get about 30 minutes in the hotel . . . and even if I can get on for longer periods, there is a matter of a comic book convention happening nearby. You know, the one I decided to hit as part of my yearly big solo trip.

Also, I can’t seem to get the DVD player to work. Check that . . . EVERY player doesn’t work. The gameplan heading north was that I’d bring one movie I got from the library (Black Dynamite . . . gotta see that before I go to Adult Swim’s website to check out the animated pilot), and a DVD I never got to watching at home (Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks). But I can’t see either one. Sure, there’s a TV set in my room, but there aren’t channels that I would really want to see. For instance, without MTV Canada, I can’t find out who won The Challenge: Rivals (my guess . . . not Leroy & Mike, because they’re good people, and good people don’t win on that show). No Space means that I have no chance to see the midseason opener for Doctor Who. One bright side is that I’m recording lots of stuff at home that I might miss up there (including the new episodes of Children’s Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV that are airing on Adult Swim now, which I reckon might pop up on Teletoon, another station I can’t get here). Also, if I’m in my room on Sunday night, I can watch the MTV Video Music Awards, which air on MuchMusic. I actually caught most of that when I was staying with Stephen way back in ’05. Yeah, it would be nice if I gave as big a crap about it as I did in the seemingly-distant past, but it’s a good way to kill three hours. I forget all of the nominees for Best Video, but I’m thinking Katy “Lookit Me, I’m Pretending My High Heel Is a Phone In My Proactiv Commercial!” Perry gets the honor for “Firework.” To beat out “Born This Way” (Lady Gaga) and “Raise Your Glass” (Pink) in the Best Video About How Things Really Do Get Better is a pretty big achievement.

I’m thinking that when I get online tomorrow morning, I’m just going to post whatever was saved on my blog at the time, explain the massive fuck-up, then finish it up with details about Wedneday – the Royals/Blue Jays game, the massive storm that awaited me as I left the Rogers Centre, the lightning hitting the top of the CN Tower at least twice to the awe of onlookers, the fucking honor bar where I’m expected to pay $5.50 if I open a damn bottle of Evian – when I get the time. Right now, I want to talk about today. Once again: Mixed Bag. For instance, I decided not to get an all-day pass, opting for tokens instead. Now I know how the government gets most of their money . . . they cost $3 per, and they are friggin’ teeny and look easy to lose.

I wound up getting to the Royal Ontario Museum. I actually bought a discount ticket from Expedia back in ’07, but dummy that I was, I left it in my hotel room (I just remembered that . . . I told Sylvia that I couldn’t find it, but I remembered the lobby). I wound up paying extra for their big exhibit about . . . water. Yes, for real. They said live animals were involved, and I basically decided that was enough for me. Yes, I am a dope. Worse, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I can’t scan through my camera to jog memories. There were a lot of interactive exhibits, though most of them had kids from camp frantically fooling around with them. It’s not their fault, but that gets annoying fast, especially when you’re grumpy already.

The rest of the trip wasn’t a complete waste. I haven’t been to the Museum of Natural History back home in a long time, but ROM would compare nicely. The textiles exhibit was a snore, though some of the stuff was picture-worthy. I got to see coffins made in Ghana that resembled a Mercedes-Benz and a giant fish. I saw interested work involving Buddhism, ancient Egypt and Rome (including high-quality busts) and lots of stuffed animals. I got to feel a raccoon and a beaver. Back home, seeing a raccoon would bring on a call to Animal Control. I couldn’t take pictures of an exhibit that had Bollywood posters and cards, but I liked it a little more than the one for water. And I checked out the dinosaur and extinct mammals skeletons. You know what I saw? An ancestor of moose. Only in Canada.

As I was running close to the opening of Fan Expo, I figured that I wasn’t going to have time to properly explore Casa Loma, a massive castle in the city. Going into my trip, I wanted to see at least one locale in the city related to the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Unbenowest to me at the time, Casa Loma was the place where Lucas Lee (Evil Ex Boyfriend #2, played in the movie by future Captain America star Chris Evans) beat the shit out of Scott. Scott wound up defeating him by tricking the one-time skateboarding star to grind the rails of the long staircase outside. Lucas wound up over 300 kph/hr and killed himself in the process. Yes, that did make the movie . . . but I forgot about that. What did I remember from the books? Honest Ed’s.

In a scene that didn’t make the movie, Scott and Todd Ingram (Evil Ex #3, psychic powers coming from vegan lifestyle, played in the movie by Brandon Routh, who would be considered the worst Superman ever if not for Tom Weilling) did battle at Honest Ed’s, a way-too-big discount store. Both guys were struck at the existential horror that was the overwhelming deals. The fight ended when Todd’s psychic mojo overloaded, imploding Honest Ed’s on top of them. In real life, it’s still up, and it is insane. While I only got some Gummi Life Savers, I can see how it became popular. Apparently, “Honest Ed” Mirvish was a local celebrity, given that the area in Toronto was listed on the map as Mirvish Village. Loads of pictures dotted the walls, with A-list celebrities checking the place out back in the day (one example from 1970: “To Ed, I love your Warehouse! Please come and see mine! [signed,] Liberace”) Signs dot the inside and outside, such as “DON’T JUST STAND THERE!!! BUY SOMETHING!” and “HONEST ED’S HAS HOLES IN HIS SOX! BUT HIS BARGAINS ARE DARNED GOOD!” And for the Scott Pilgrim diehards, there’s the clock hanging over a flight of stairs with a very disturbing deer head on it. I don’t know if it’s real or fake, but it was enough to scar Scott senseless in the book.

After taking a breather in my room, I set out to the Metro Convention Centre. I wound up taking a few detours along the way. On the plus side, not only did I not hit any lines, but I managed to get in before the 4 p.m. opening. I think it was because I paid for my ticket in advance. Sadly, I was too slow to jump on the deluxe package, which includes a badge (wound up getting a bracelet I’m supposed to keep on my wrist until Sunday), a deep carrying bag, use of a VIP room, and other goodies. Once again . . . I’m an idiot.

So far, it’s been a more positive convention than not. Marvel and DC Comics have presences there, meaning that they’ll have talent to sign and sketch for free, which I always like. The Warner Bros. area had the “corpse” of Abin Sur that was used in Green Lantern. As a fan of the superhero (Kyle Rayner, not Hal Jordan), I would’ve had my picture taken of the alien, but I thought that was too morbid. On the downside, the video game booths don’t have demos of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and I managed to pay $15 for – and immediately lose -- a “logbox” from the anime One Piece. I bought three at AnimeNext a few months back . . . the deal is that you get a random set of parts that you put together to form a diorama from the show. I paid $10 for something similar involving South Park. I think I hit the jackpot . . . I wound up with a what I think is a rare figure of Butters as Professor Chaos with a smaller version of his main minion, General Disarray. Ironically, I printed references of both characters out back home, because I had been getting sketches of characters from the “Coon & Friends” arc (Cartman as The Coon, Kenny as Mysterion, and Mintberry Crunch). I wound up giving the references and figures to Agnes Garbowski, who churned out a really cute sketch in under an hour . . . with color! Before that, I got a good deal from artist Niall Eccles, who did a nice watercolor of Blue Jay (a seldom-seen knockoff of Ant-Man used by DC) with the CN Tower and Rogers Centre in the background. Yes, I thought of that weeks in advance, and I think it’s pretty clever.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention what happened not five minutes into the con for me. My cell phone rings, and I see a familiar number with a Manhattan area code. Turns out it’s the temp agency where I’m registered. The guy found a customer service gig in Long Island City. While it would be a long commute, I would stand to make the most money per hour than I’ve ever gotten. My resume is being sent, so I have that going on for me.

That’s about all for tonight. I’m a little chafed, and the laptop problem is aggravating the hell out of me, but I’m hanging in there. If I can make it without the laptop exploding in my face or getting struck by lightning, I will be in good shape. Here’s hoping, right?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jason Vs. Toronto: Day One

Today was very interesting.

After spending last night printing out too many references for sketches, I wound up getting less sleep than I should have gotten. I got up before 6 a.m. and I managed to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight itself wasn't eventful, though it was raining a little as I stepped off the plane outside. The first hiccup came when I picked up my luggage and was getting ready to exit the airport, when I couldn't find the document I had to fill out on the plane and show to the customs agent. Where was it? Right . . . in the men's room, inside the book I put it in.

The cab dropped me off at the Fairmont Royal York . . . or what I thought was the Fairmont Royal York. Turns out I blundered into the Toronto underground, passing the guest elevator in the process. By the time I figured that I screwed up, I had to carry my backpack, laptop bag and luggage up a flight of stairs because the escalator going up was out of service. By the time I got to check in at the lobby, I was a sweaty mess . . . and that's where I met Sylvia.

Sylvia is a regular on the Television Without Pity forums (screenname: keeptrying). We met in the "Meet Market" in the forum devoted to [i]Heroes[/i], and we stayed in touch off the board as well. She's originally from the Pacific Northwest, and she's been in Toronto for about eight years. Her husband is originally from France. Somehow, I think they make for an ideal yet quirky Canadian couple. Anyway, she had seen enough pictures of me to know what I looked like. I managed to get to my room in time to unload a little and change shirts, because I was that sweaty. It wasn't that hot out, but I had done a lot of walking while carrying some serious weight. I'll talk about the room a little later.

We wound up doing a lot of walking and talking, where we compared life stories, views on reality television, and all sorts of other stuff. We had lunch in a market that kind of reminded me of the Reading Market in Philadelphia. I stupidly wound up with tuna sashimi with no rice and an expensive bottle of Diet Coke (gotta remember it's "pop" up here). The original plan was to hit the Royal Ontario Museum (which was on my itinerary in 2007), but I brought up the Silver Snail comic shop, and we took a detour there. By the time we arrive at the ROM, it was about 90 minutes to closing. We wound up chatting outside before walking back to the hotel, where she decided that she had to head for home. I wish we got to spend more time together, but I did enjoy her a lot. Given what would happen later, I'd say she made the smart move.

I wanted to explore Rogers Centre, but I just had to sit in the lobby and read my comics. By the time I got away from losing a game of line roulette, a lady was singing the American and Canadian national anthems. There were a lot of options for food, but I wound up paying $9.75 for a mutant foot-long hot dog cover in baked beans and crumpled bacon. Cheddar cheese was also involved, but I didn't want that. I wound up paying $46 for a front row seat . . . and when I asked the ticket lady for the best possible seat, she delivered. I wound up in the first row. I haven't been that close to the field since I went to see the Staten Island Yankees play. Granted, I paid about a fourth of what I shelled out in colorful Canadian dough, but it was a good seat. First thought: "Wow, I could get a foul ball!" Second thought: "Shit, I could get killed by a line drive!"

Rogers Centre (the complex formerly known as SkyDome) ain't as imposing as it used to be. Sure, the retractable roof set the golden standard (and shamed the hell out of Montreal's Olympic Stadium), but then came Orioles Park at Camden Yards and the other new stadiums that embraced the retro vibe. I was a little cramped in my seat, with no cupholder to put my soda. There was a narrow ledge where I could put my camera, but it was too small for the hot dog and soda. I could've put stuff on the barrier in front of me, but I think that would've been frowned upon.

Writer's Note: It's Friday. Why did I stop here? Because my damn laptop went ka-fucking-blooey, and this was what Blogspot could save. I'll write about my Rogers Centre experience once I get things straightened out at home.

Jason Vs. The Toronto: Prelude

This afternoon, there was an earthquake in central Virginia. The tremor hit 5.9 on the Richter Scale, and could actually be felt in New York, a major city that isn't used to quakes. How did I react? I didn't I left home, went to Walgreens, picked up a box of chocolate, drove to the nursing home, signed in, walked up a flight of stairs, met my grandfather, and then I heard about the quake at 2 p.m. At no point did I feel anything was up. Neither did Grandpa. Some of the residents and workers, however, did feel it, as well as my mother working in Manhattan.

Why am I talking about this? Tomorrow, I am flying out to Toronto for my annual major comic book convention trip, and I reckon that I lucked into getting the heck out of Dodge at exactly the right time. May that last sentence not bite me in the ass in the next six days.

Granted, going to Fan Expo Canada wasn't my first choice. After getting a round-trip airline voucher for my birthday, I set out to hit Geek Mecca: Comic-Con International in San Diego. Or is it San Diego Comic-Con? Anyway, getting into the show has gotten even more problematic since I last went there in 2009. Four day passes with the Wednesday "Preview Night" sold out at the convention in the previous year, so I tried to get the Thursday-Sunday package, and that ended with me staying home on a Saturday, hitting F5 over and over, trying my damnedest to get through the online traffic. Needless to say, it didn't work. It was probably for the best, because last time, my batteries died out around Saturday, and I would up wandering the aisles like a zombie on Sunday.

What were my other options? I could go back to Chicago for C2E2 for the second year in a row, but that was in March . . . too early in the year for my tastes. That also disqualified WonderCon in San Francisco, hosted by the CCI guys. I went to HeroesCon in Charlotte back in 2008, but I didn't get to do much in the city. Also, while the con strikes a good balance between big names and indie talent, it was too mellow for my tastes. Wizard has several cons scattered all over the country, including one in Chicago in August . . . but it's become more about popular media and less about comics and comic talent. The logical choice? Fan Expo.

I've been there twice. The first time, I stayed with my friend Stephen in the suburbs and wound up having a good time at the con and doing the tourism thing. I came back two years later, but I didn't do any real sightseeing. The big kicker that year came on the final day, where it dawned on me that I lost my sketchbook. A short time later, I realized that I lost my camcorder as well. I was a broken mess getting from the Metro Convention Centre back to my hotel room. I wound up getting my sketchbook back about a week later . . . lucky for me, I put my e-mail address there. I never did get my camcorder back, but that was a small price I was willing to pay.

Here's the gameplan: I'll be flying out tomorrow around 10 a.m. Sadly, that means getting up before 6 a.m. and getting car service around 6:30, since international flights require getting to the airport three hours in advance. Getting to Toronto early means playing tourist for a bit, followed by taking in a Blue Jays game. Before the con starts on Thursday (it's been extended by a day this year), I'll see some more stuff. I don't have any set schedule . . . I'm going to make it up as I go along, and I should have fun along the way. And I'll be going over the adventure here as well. Here's hoping I keep all of my stuff where I can find it this time around.

PS: Did I mention I'm wrapping this up around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday? Looks like I'm going to see if a terminal is a good place to catch a few z's.

Adventures In Toronto 2005

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four & Conclusion

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Island of No "Redemption"

Have you ever meant to do something, only to put it off over and over until it was too late? I kept meaning to write an essay on the carwreck that is Survivor: Redemption Island, firing salvo after salvo at perhaps the worst idea the show has ever had. But as I start to write this, it's less than 90 minutes until the finale starts up, so I'll just cover the bare bones.

If Rob Wins, The Show Is Broken

This is his fourth time on the show. Now, you're probably thinking, "Dude, you're the one that watches Real World/Road Rules Challenge. What's the difference between Rob and another Boston-born troglodyte like CT?" The difference is that with each season, Bunim-Murray Productions switches up the format . . . Gauntlets, Infernos, Duels, Battles of the Sexes, etc. Survivor is still the same game, even as its DNA continues to mutate. If you take Richard Hatch from 2000 and plop him in the current season, there's no guarantee that he would win. But I feel that Rob has been on the show long enough to know what to do, and the people around him are too stupid to make a move against him. Of course, there's probably a thought balloon above each player's head with he/she in a final three alongside Rob and Phillip, but I don't think it's a guaranteed win like it would have been if Russell was crammed into Rob's place. Basically, Rob playing the game is like watching a .290 hitter in his mid-30s destroy a Little League team. It's just not fun to watch. And since he's still considered popular, not only would I not rule out him returning to this show, I fully expect CBS to send large men named "Rocky," "Knuckles" and "Tiny" to the producers of The Amazing Race, in order to "convince" them to have them on the next all-star season, which I expect to happen in its twentifh

(Tangent: Turns out Rob will be starring in Around The World In 80 Ways on History Channel, where he and Dennis Anderson (creator of the monster truck Gravedigger) will be taking eighty modes of transportation without repeating a vehicle. Here's my question: What about Amber? She was roughly seven months pregnant when Redemption Island was filming, and now she'll be alone with her two daughters for a few more months. Can't Rob get any kind of job that's close to home? I'm not asking him to work construction again, but it just seems like grounds for divorce, even if Amber still loves the big dope.)

If Somebody From Redemption Island Wins, The Show Is Broken

We went through this years ago with Pearl Islands, when Burton and Lillian got back into the game and got far, with Lil finishing runner-up to winner Sandra. I just don't care about Redemption Island, in the sense that we don't spend enough time seeing how they cope with minimal rations. A win from Andrea, Grant or Mike might not get as many asterisks as Rob, but there's the stigma of being voted out that would still remain. It would've been on Lil even if she had taken Jon into Day 39 with her and won (since that guy was basically pralines 'n' dick), though that would've been a happy ending. Instead, she took Sandra, and most of the jury members took turns whacking her fragile ego like a pinata . . . including Rupert, who's supposed to be a loveable lug.

If Matt Wins, The Show Is Really Broken

He got voted out of Ometepe on Day 5, got sent to Redemption Island, wound up beating six people to stay in the game, got sent back into the game on Day 19 . . . and wound up getting voted off on Day 21. But since "Redemption Island" is in the show's title, he got sent back there, where he slowly began to lose his sanity, relying on God more and more. How back was it? Put it this way: when the RI inhabitants got the sponsor phone with pictures of their loved ones, I wouldn't have been shocked to see Jesus popping up for Matt. But seriously . . . he got voted off. TWICE. Not only should he have gone straight to the jury after the second vote, he should have been forced to wear a dunce hat until Day 39. Even though Burton and Lillian were granted one-time immunity when they got back in the game in time for the first individual immunity challenge, they had to wheel and deal to stay in favor with the others. Matt went up to Rob and told him that he was getting his vote. As Shii Ann Huang (or cartoonist Jeff Smith) might put it: "Stupid Matt! Stupid, stupid Matt!"

If Phillip Wins, The End Of The World Might Be Nigh

Here's what passes for logic in Phillip's head: He plays up acting like an asshole to the point where Rob decides to use him as a surfboard to coast towards a win. And apparently, on Day 39, he will convince the jury to give him the million bucks. Short of dousing the jury with a gas that makes people lose an entire month's worth of memories, how the hell can he pull it off? He has pissed off everybody at one point or another. He turned an argument about rice with Steve into a race issue, dropping The Word White People Should Never Ever Use over and over again. Phillip is even more delusional that Benjamin "Coach" Wade, and I didn't even think that was possible. And it has nothing to do with race. If the NAACP or another like-minded organization urged people to boycott Survivor because of the casting of Phillip and Naonka, could you blame them?

(Tangent: I can't believe that Phillip's sister was normal. Given his penchant of wearing a feather on his head, I expected her to come out with a headdress made up of pigeon feathers. In retrospect, another possible look would have been her wearing a stained straitjacket, with an oversized Napoleon-style hat that had a giant "N" emblazoned on the front.)

If Anybody Else Wins, The Show Is Broken

I can't see anybody but Rob winning, because that's how the editing has gone. I will say that I thought Kisha & Jen would be the last team eliminated from The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business because they didn't get enough airtime, so I could be wrong on this. I also figured Zev & Justin would win, and that the editors would cram in a Katy Perry song into the final episode for the third season in a row. My reasoning about things sucking should Natalie (who was ten years old when Rob first played) or Ashley winning is that the game has been less about being the best, and more about sucking the least. Remember Natalie from Samoa? Even with Russell being the big kahuna, his lack of social graces (he's probably allergic to grace) turned the show into one long game of Hot Potato. Last season yielded the same result, with a goober nicknamed "Fabio" winning the $1 million. Whatever happened to the epic Ozzy vs. Yul finale, or Tom and Ian staying on posts for twelve hours? People complain about TAR going downhill in quality, but I feel it's a genre-wide problem, and Survivor is far from immune. No matter what happens, Mark Burnett and his crew should go back to the drawing board.

Before I go, I posted on Television Without Pity on what I expect from tonight's reunion special. Last season, we bottomed out with Jeff Probst giving lap dances to Jimmy Johnson and Terry Bradshaw. What will we see tonight?

1. Probst gives love to Rob for his win, giving scant attention to the other two finalists. The name "Susan Lucci" will be brought up, even though she did win a Daytime Emmy years ago.

2. After commercials, Probst gives love to Rob again, as he finally wins a million bucks. Amber gets camera time and a few lines. One or both daughters will be shoved in front of the camera.

3. Probst gives love to Russell. Members of the Zapatera tribe are given a token chance to explain why they voted him out, but Probst will favor Russell no matter what, and it will be embarrassing. Russell will embarrass himself a lot, since this will be the only camera time he will get this evening.

4. Probst gives love to Phillip, calling him "one of the most controversial players we've ever had" or "one of the most colorful players we've ever had." Phillip doesn't get booed that much (maybe by three percent of the crowd), and he fails to explain the crazy. Steve is brought into the conversation to "defend" himself in RiceRaceWarGate, but Phillip will not back down. His sister will defend him, but it will be for naught.

5. Probst reluctantly starts pointing out the other players, spotlighting those stuck on Redemption Island. Matt gets the most time, since he's spent forever in limbo. Over/Under of mentions of God: 4.

6. Probst reveals the winner of the $100,000 fan vote. Rob wins in a landslide, because hey, why not? Rob fails to thank the casting people for stacking the deck so heavily in his favor, or Mark Burnett for the sweet appearance fee, which Russell also got.

7. Getting the "Wrap it up quick, we gotta get plowed at the nearby bar and get the taste of this shitty, shitty season out of our mouths" signal, Probst halfheartedly goes over some of the players. Over/Under of how many people get ignored: 6. Over/Under of how many jury members get ignored: 3.5.

8. Probst "previews" the next season. It will be big. It will have surprises. It will turn out to be slightly better than this season. Barely.

9. Probst wraps it up with the "we're auctioning off stuff for charity" spiel, and bids us goodnight.

Will things play out the way I've said? I'd say no, but in this predictable season, I wouldn't rule it out. Also, I feel that it might be a matter of time before an EMS crew is called in to pry Probst's lips from Rob's buttocks. His buttocks if we're lucky.