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.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Finishing "Unfinished Business"

When people look back on the eighteenth season of The Amazing Race, they probably won't rate it as one of the best editions in the show's history. Oh, it's far from the worst, ranking better than TAR6 (the first full-on "Season From Hell," where the good guys went out early, the bad guys stayed on, and the detestable Freddy & Kendra lucked into a win over the awesome Kris & Jon), TAR8 ("Family Edition," or "The Season With Good Intentions," filled with watered-down challenges and Linda Weaver and her awful, awful kin) and TAR11 ("All-Stars," which I'll get to a little later). For me, it's been one heckuva ride, which will lead to a happy ending this coming Sunday night, with the first two-hour finale in nine seasons.

I don't mind the criticism. Everybody has a right to their own opinion, no matter how ludicrous it may be. And there have been a lot of flaws from "Unfinished Business," where eleven teams of two returned for another shot at the $1 million grand prize. I would have to be unbelievably naive to overlook them. Among the problems:

  • The casting of Amanda & Kris (TAR14), which seemed odd until you realize that they ran four legs in their original season, the same number that Zev & Justin (TAR15) -- a far better "story" for redemption -- ran in their first go.

  • The casting of Mel White (TAR14) , father of teammate/acclaimed director Mike White. Those two made for a good story (finishing fifth the first time), but Mel was 70 years old, which isn't the right age to strip down and search for a toy frog in a mud pit in less-than-optimal temperatures. The other Detour choice involved standing in a waterfall for a full minute, which might have broken Mel's body in half.

  • The casting of Jamie & Cara, the mouthy cheerleaders of TAR14. They came in second in their first race . . . seems impressive, until you realize that after Luke self-destructed on the final Roadblock, the girls helped him out, and he and Margie (his mother) basically gave them second place in gratitude. Also, they were the only team where you needed to learn how to tell the duo apart, which is always annoying for me.

  • The casting of Ron, the overbearing father of Christina (second place, TAR12). It seemed that he had mellowed out in the first few episodes, but he soon fell back to his old, obnoxious ways. I think once all the promotion is over, Christina will run away with Azaria (ran TAR12 with his sister Hendekea; married Christina after TAR18) and not bother leaving a forwarding address for daddy.

  • The leg which was so heavily sponsored, it made some fans feel like they were being waterboarded with Snapple.

  • The meddlesome Double U-Turns. While it is a clever gimmick to make teams handicap others by forcing them to complete the other Detour option, it still needs fleshing out. It was awesome to see the cheerleaders scream at dating goths Kent & Vyxsin (more on them later) to U-Turn Flight Time & Big Easy, the Harlem Globetrotters team (apparently, the really cool nicknames like "Curly" and "Meadowlark" were exhausted by the late Nineties), only for the goths to U-Turn 'em instead. But then Jamie & Cara U-Turned the Globetrotters, rather than being forced away to do their task. Also, the second Double U-Turn was positioned in a leg between a Detour and the episode's finish, killing any suspense as to who would survive to race another day. The Globetrotters wound up getting to the U-Turn stand first, forcing cowboys Jet & Cord (whom I recapped way back in 2004) to choke down some cheese fondue. And since father/daughter team Gary & Mallory were saved by a non-elimination leg in the previous episode, the cowboys wound up whistling "Happy Trails" on their way out of the game.

  • The deteriorating relationship between Kent & Vyxsin. They weren't quarrelsome in their first race (TAR12), though they were probably picked for their unique "look" than their racing skills (finished fifth). But then things got heated, and Kent (who changed his name back from his Goth moniker of "Kynt" -- hey, at least it wasn't "Azrael Abyss" or something like that -- after his father passed away) began to get pissier and pissier, while Vyxsin got nasty herself. It was as if they were slowly transforming into TAR6's Adam & Rebecca, the wussy boy/possible closet case and his castrating shrew "girlfriend." Needless to say, their elimination in last Sunday's episode (they violated Race Commandment Numero Uno: "Thou shalt always READ. THE DAMN. CLUE.") was a relief for most fans.

  • Some of these glitches and others have irritated a few critics, particularly Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred, who hasn't been that happy in a long time about this show. The worst of it came when TAR got renewed for a nineteenth season, when he suggested the show should be temporarily canceled. He keeps whining about whether being a fan or not. If you think a show should be taken out, even just for a while, then you're not a fan, period. Also, he had been slinging praises for such relevant shows like WWE Tough Enough and Celebrity Apprentice, I wouldn't take much stock in anything that guy says.

    So why is it that I've been liking this season for the most part, and that I'm looking forward to tonight's finale at TARCon?

    1. There Are No Headache Teams Left

    Normally, there's usually at least one team in the finale that you can't stand. Last season, it was Jill & Thomas. Granted, they weren't as annoying as the bickering Chad & Stephanie, or the dumb-as-tat-ink Nick & Vicki, but they did bug. I know that Flight Time & Big Easy rely on the kindness of other teams, and that they are loud enough to not require microphones. I know that Zev kvetches a little too much, and that he lets Justin do more of the heavy lifting. And I know that to some people, Mallory acting like a dog that's always happy even though the owner pretends to throw the ball ten times in a row can be annoying. But between those racers, along with Gary and Kisha & Jen, we have a good field for the final leg or two.

    2. This Season Is A Lot Better Than TAR11

    Seven seasons ago, we had The Amazing Race: All-Stars, a well-meant, probably-insisted-upon-by-CBS season where too many things went wrong. As a Staten Islander, it hurt to see John Vito & Jill (who were no longer a couple . . . and Jill has since gotten married to someone else) run themselves out of the first leg, followed by an ailing Drew stomping off the mat after his elimination with frat buddy Kevin in the following episode. Perpetually overexposed Rob & Amber wound up winning the first three legs (the first team to pull that off without using a Fast Forward), only to get eliminated on a needle-in-haystack Roadblock, where the always annoying Mirna beat Rob, and she and cousin Charla (her diminutive cousin who isn't a complete pill) beat them to the Pit Stop. The finale was a disaster. Charla & Mirna had lucked into the finale leg, though they did win two legs (two more than they did in TAR5). Beauty queens Dustin & Kandice recovered from getting eliminated in TAR10's penultimate leg to win four legs. Finally, they was Eric & Danielle, perhaps the worst team ever to get that far in the show's history. The deal was that they were both on TAR9 with different teammates. They flirted a lot, and that was enough for the producers to pair them off, even though it was an open secret that Eric was deep in the closet. The bickering between him and Danielle (did I mention she finished eighth with teammate Danni?) didn't help matters, and they went into the finale having not won a single leg. The three teams wound up running into a task that was a glorified version of The Newlywed Game. One team member would answer a series of questions relating to the game, while the other would try to guess what the partner said to open a safe. The only missing visual was Charla beating Mirna in the head with a cue card. Anyway, Eric & Danielle lucked their way into finishing the task first, and they got a million bucks that neither of them deserved. Also, Danielle became the first Staten Islander to win on a reality show, which was a black stain on the borough . . . or it was, until Jersey Shore and Mob Wives were created.

    3. It's The Best Reality Show Around

    Okay, I don't really know that for sure, especially since I'm not watching the high-end cable reality programs these days. But take a look around the networks. You can't trust phone-vote shows like American Idol and Dancing With The Stars, where a bloc of voters can easily wreak havoc. Celebrity Apprentice was pretty irrelevant until Donald Trump started taking shots at President Obama, to the point where the Commander-In-Chief interrupted last week's Boardroom climax with the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden. All right, maybe it was a coincidence, but I would think that the news could have been posted earlier. I have this image of Obama watching the show, waiting for a crucial point in the episode, then instructing his staff to get the networks to break into their coverage. Sometimes, in my mind, he's dressed as a Starfleet Captain, sitting in a replica of the captain's chair, giving the command with a simple "Engage." My points are that 1. I wouldn't be surprised if the timing of the news was intentional, and 2. I am a weird person.

    Oh, and Survivor: Redemption Island could have been settled if Mark Burnett had just given the million dollar grand prize to Rob Mariano on Day One and be done with it. Never will one so overrated win so much with the help of those so very, very stupid. Yes, I'm aware that there's a chance that some of the remaining players will grow enough brain cells to throw Rob over the top rope by next Sunday's finale, but I doubt it.

    4. The Rise Of Zev & Justin

    The team's hook in TAR15 was that Zev suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, and Justin was his best friend. They hung in there, and they managed to win the fourth leg . . . only to realize that they lost their passports. After a frantic search, Justin found his, but Zev had managed to drop his in a monastery (as detailed here), and the pair was eliminated. This season, they've gone from lasting four legs to winning four legs, not only being the most improved team, but also have the most leg wins this season going into the finale. Yes, Justin has been doing more of the heavy lifting, and Zev does tend to get frustrated easier, but they are both the best story of this season. The prime example came when the boys elected to chow down on cheese fondue for a Detour in Switzerland. They could have bailed out like Kisha and Jen did after seeing the enormity of the task, but Zev kept talking Justin into sticking with it. And even after Justin had to throw up and Zev gave a look where he looked seconds from dying, they finished the task, and wound up finishing in first place. I don't have any diagnoses of autism, but I do consider myself having enough "loose wiring" to emphasize the most with Zev than any other Racer, and I hope the boys pull it off in the end.

    As I type this, I'm hours away from driving to Manhattan for my seventeenth consecutive TARCon. There hasn't been much of a response this season (probably due to it being held on Mother's Day), so it's been moved to a small location. There probably won't be as many past and present Racers dropping by on account of a huge TAR party for the show's tenth anniversary on Saturday in Miami hosted by Snapple (yeah, those guys again). Also, I don't see the winning team doing a "victory lap" with television appearances beyond The Early Show. After The Bonnie Hunt Show got canceled and Live! with Regis & Kelly didn't bother inviting Nat & Kat over last year (which was a blessing, since neither host looked like they even watched the show, given past interviews with previous winners), whomever wins Unfinished Business won't be as hyped as victors from other reality shows. Still, I feel like this has been one of the best seasons in a while, and enough to bring the Emmy back to TAR. Here's hoping the finale validates my hopes.