Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The JVJ Article: Supplemental

As I promised in my last post, I'm providing background into my article on John Vito Pietanza and Jill Aquilino, who ran The Amazing Race in the show's third season. You'll need one of two things in order to really get the most out of this:
  • A DVD of the third season. You can find this on Amazon, ready to go. I didn't get it, since it's a bare bones DVD with no extras, commentaries, etc.Where's the fun in that?
  • Recaps of the episodes. My go-to source is Television Without Pity. Just click here, scroll down to episode 3-1, and work upward from there. Or you can just click the links I provide. The recaps came from Linda Holmes, better known on TWoP as Miss Alli. She might have been hell as a forum moderator, but she was an excellent writer, packing enough detail for anybody who missed the episodes.
[ADDENDUM 3/28: Turns out Television Without Pity is going under, so it looks like the links are going to die soon. Lucky me for taking the time to throw in the links, right?] 
"On December 4, the duo took their final bow as they were booted from the show for finishing in last place, but not before outlasting seven other teams."

Their elimination was brutal to watch. In the previous episode, JVJ finished last in the raucous eighth leg, but it was a non-elimination leg, meaning they got to stay in the game. In the following leg, they went for the Fast Forward, a task that teams could perform in order to skip all other tasks and go to the Pit Stop. Since the other teams had exhausted their Fast Forwards, JVJ went to a cheese-making cabin in Kandersteg, Switzerland, and they had to eat blocks of cheese in order to uncover a clue. This was hysterical to watch, since both John Vito and Jill had managed to excel in all sorts of physical tasks, yet eating the cheese was a bit of a problem. They managed to finish it off, get the clue, and they wound up finishing first for the only time, winning a Caribbean vacation in the process.

Anyway, that leg was shown as the first part of a two hour-long episode. Since I was an idiot, I thought a team would be eliminated. Non-elimination legs had always alternated, at least in the first two seasons. But this time, there would be consecutive non-elimination legs, and "friends" Flo Pesenti & Zach Behr wound up getting saved. Now . . . I'm sure Flo is a nice person. I would have to reconsider the phrase "pain in the ass" in regards to contestants in future seasons, particularly the nightmarish sixth edition. However, in the duration of the Race, Flo quit approximately twenty thousand times, give or take a few hundred. And she was loud about it, especially in the penultimate leg. At TARCon that December (where I got to meet JVJ in person for the first time), at least two people were wearing "Shut Up, Flo" t-shirts. And she and Zach wound up winning. It was the first bummer ending in the show's history. Sadly, it wouldn't be the last.

To make a long story mercifully short, JVJ wound up losing their lead during the tenth leg in Singapore, fell behind the other teams, and they finished last again . . . and this time, they were eliminated. It would mark one of only three times I almost cried watching a reality show. The other times: Sarah Greyson surviving and winning in Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet ("Who would've thunk it? Sarah just won a Challenge!") and JVJ getting eliminated in The Amazing Race: All-Stars eight seasons later. More on that later.

"Jill and John Vito were competing with others in mind -- the firefighters lost from the Concord-based Rescue 5 unit of the Fire Department." 

The other acknowledgement of law enforcement on TAR was the inclusion of firefighter Andre Plummer and his friend Damon Wafer, who was a police officer. They wound up finishing sixth overall, getting eliminated in the seventh leg. Over on Survivor: Thailand, which was airing at that time, Brooklyn cop Ken Stafford finished eighth, making the jury of that forgettable season.

"In total, they competed on four continents and in 10 countries."

In brief: North America (Mexico), Europe (England, Scotland, Portugal), Africa (Morocco), Europe again (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and Asia (Malaysia, Singapore).

"Although they were seldom among the front-running teams, they managed to keep a safe distance away from teams that were close to elimination."

 Here were their placements: fifth (out of 12), seventh (11), seventh (10), sixth (9), tied for fourth (8), fifth (7), third (6), fifth (5), first (5) and fifth (5). I didn't start getting really concerned for them until the eighth leg.

"John Vito . . .  played goalkeeper against junior soccer players in Lisbon" 

It marked the only time either participant got a quote that would wind up being an episode's title. In John Vito's case, it was "Did you see how I stopped it? With my face!"

 "Jill took part in traditional Scot games in Aberdeen (including hefting a [caber] twice her size) and sold snails in Marrakech, Morocco."

For some reason, the word "sword" was there instead of "caber" in my article. I don't know if that was me or the editor who put that in. That leg was memorable for me, because JVJ had to wrap up a Detour, and they wound up making a bus from Cambridge, England to Aberdeen, Scotland with little time to spare, putting space between them and the trailing teams. Next thing I know, Jill is carrying a caber that's way bigger than her, and it was awesome. As for the snails . . . it's worth noting that was the only Roadblock that Flo performed out of a possible eleven. Two seasons later, the top three teams (Chip & Kim, Colin & Christie, Brandon & Nicole) would have women completing one Roadblock apiece, forcing the show to put up a maximum number of those that team members could perform in subsequent seasons.

"Given the lack of tension . . ."

I wasn't kidding about this. Most of the male/female teams had bouts of static between them. The only other team I can think where that wasn't the case was siblings Trammel & Talicia Raggs, and they only lasted two legs. While JVJ weren't the best Racers, they kept their cool for the most part. When they came back as "formerly dating" on The Amazing Race: All-Stars, I was flabbergasted. If they couldn't make it work, what chance did the rest of us have?

"After their elimination, they received a 94 percent rating on CBS's website, the highest any team has attained during the current season."

This was back when people could go to the site and rate the teams. At the time, the other two popular teams were twins Derek & Drew Riker (finishing fourth; running a great Race bookended by crappy legs) and mismatched brothers Ken & Gerard Duphiney (third overall; "Ken's liberal, tall and gay! Gerard's conservative, short, and married!") The least popular team at the time was Teri & Ian Pollack, the bickering older married couple that staved off elimination in most legs (including beating JVJ to a Fast Forward in Marrakech), finished second behind Flo & Zach (which was as perplexing to watch as seeing Flo win the damn race), and got a berth on The Amazing Race: All-Stars (which was even more perplexing, in my opinion). They wound up finishing seventh overall after six legs.

"John Vito and Jill have also set up a website, johnvitoandjill.com, which is currently in its earliest stages of development."

The site is defunct, which was one of the reasons why I reprinted the article on my blog. They had copied my story on their site, as well as other articles. At least one of them -- John Vito -- has my story framed. Over a decade later, I am still flattered by that.

*sigh* I guess that I should talk about All-Stars. For Staten Islanders like myself, it was a nightmare to watch, and I can't be bothered to do the proper research, because it was too painful to fully remember. John Vito's high point came when he talked about how some people had their fill of fellow contestant Rob Mariano, who was vying for his fourth shot at a million bucks (which his wife/partner, Amber Brkich, had already done on Survivor: All-Stars.) All I remember was that JVJ took a lead in Ecuador, got lost, and finished last . . . all in the first episode. Meanwhile, fellow Islander Drew Feinberg took a fall, and he and fellow frat brother Kevin O'Connor (hailing from nearby Bayonne, N.J.) beat JVJ to the Pit Stop. In the following leg, the Frats (the most popular team from the show's first edition) wound up getting eliminated. Oh, and it wound up taking Rob six tries before he won a million dollars on his own . . . on the highly dubious Survivor: Redemption Island, which I already went over.

If you're a fan of the show, you're probably wondering, "Say, wasn't Danielle Turner from Staten Island? Weren't you happy when she and Eric Sanchez won?" To which I say, "Oh, hell no." You see, Eric and Danielle were on separate teams in the ninth season -- Eric with his buddy Jeremy, Danielle with her BFF Danni (another Islander) -- and there was some sparks between them. Even though Danielle & Danni finished eighth in a field of eleven, the producers thought that was good enough to pair Danielle with Eric as a "couple." I have to use quotation marks because I've heard many rumors about Eric's sexuality. It didn't help that they bickered most of the race, to the point where I labeled Danielle and Eric as "The Pink and The Stink." Yet they managed to survived through the final leg, where they became the first team in the show's history to win only one leg while "earning" the million bucks. Worse yet, it was off of a Roadblock seemingly ripped from The Newlywed Game, where one person set up a safe combination, and the partner had to guess the correct one. Needless to say, it left a bad taste in my mouth. 

Jill wound up getting married, and she gave birth to a baby boy in September 2013. His name is Maddox FT Walton . . . the middle initials coming from her brother, Frank Thomas Aquilino.

Thanks to Wikipedia for filling in some of the gaps I couldn't remember. If you want to read another reality TV profile from me, check out this unpublished article I did on Sophia Pasquis (Road Rules: The Quest) I wrote in 2001. Also, take a look at this recent AV Club piece where Mark "Abba" Abbaattista describes his time on TAR21. I hope you've enjoyed this history of one of TAR's most beloved teams, and I hope you keep watching the show.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

FLASHBACK: The John Vito & Jill Article

As the latest season of The Amazing Race rolls out, I thought that we can take a trip down Memory Lane. In this case, an article I wrote in 2002 on one of the show's most popular teams, John Vito & Jill. I wound up finding a copy of the story -- cover date December 24, 2002 -- and I figured that I could reprint it, given that the Staten Island Register has been defunct for years. I made minor corrections where needed.

I'll try and follow up with annotations in a future entry, elaborating on some of the material in the article, as well as go over their ill-fated turn on the original version of The Amazing Race: All-Stars back in 2007.  

Island couple in 'Amazing Race'
They dedicated their appearance to the victims of 9/11
by Jason Borelli

This fall, Staten Islanders found a little local color mixed into a major reality series as a borough couple competed on The Amazing Race.

John Vito Pietanza, a bond market strategist from Eltingville, and his girlfriend, Jill Aquilino, a business consultant originally from New Springville, appeared as a team for nine weeks on Wednesday nights. On December 4, the duo took their final bow as they were booted from the show for finishing in last place, but not before outlasting seven other teams.

The Amazing Race is a CBS reality series where teams travel around the world in a race for $1 million. Each team is made up [of] two people who have a relationship with each other (Jill and John Vito were listed as "dating.") Along the way, the teams must perform certain tasks before finishing a leg of the race. The last team to arrive at the end of a leg gets eliminated.

Last year, Jill had sent an application along with her older brother, Frank Thomas "F.T." Aquilino. Jill had been looking for information on Survivor (the premiere reality series from CBS) when she found a fledgling reality series that was looking for contestants.

"I thought it was cool, and I constantly thought of my brother," she said of The Amazing Race. "So I called him and told him we had to apply."

Jill and F.T. never got a response from the show. On September 11, Frank, a vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed during the attack on the World Trade Center.

In memory of her brother, Jill reapplied for the show's third season; this time with John Vito, who had been F.T.'s best friend, and whom she had been dating. After sending in the application earlier this year, they found out they were going to race in June.

 In addition to F.T., Jill and John Vito were competing with others in mind -- the firefighters lost from the Concord-based Rescue 5 unit of the Fire Department.

"They had these memorial patches, and we wore them on our backpacks to pay tribute to the people on Staten Island who were lost on September 11," John Vito said. "We were hoping that some of the people who had family to Rescue 5 noticed when we were on the Race."

Jill and John Vito's trip lasted for 10 out of 13 legs. In total, they competed on four continents and in 10 countries. Although they were seldom among the front-running teams, they managed to keep a safe distance away from teams that were close to elimination.

In each leg of the Race, they came across a Detour, the show's parlance for a choice of two tasks, each with its own pros and cons. "We tried to choose the adventurous options in the Detours just because we were there," said John Vito. "We had the opportunity of a lifetime to do things we would never ordinarily do."

To that end, they made to most of their trip. They skydived over Mexico City and rappelled from a cliff in Cabo da Roca, Portugal. They delivered wine in Lisbon and went bobsledding on an Olympic track in Innsbruck, Austria. They also had to complete Roadblocks, tasks that only one person per team could complete. While John Vito swam with dolphins in Cozumel and played goalkeeper against junior soccer players in Lisbon. Jill took part in traditional Scot games in Aberdeen (including hefting a [caber] twice her size) and sold snails in Marrakech, Morocco.

At the end of each leg, teams stayed in Pit Stops, where they rested until the start on the next leg. During an extended rest period, they enjoyed the scenery in Gridelwald, Switzerland.

"We were able to really walk around and enjoy this town and the beauty of it," Jill said. "It's 70 degrees out, and yet there were these snow-capped mountains that we were staying at. It was like being in a fairy tale."

Their trip ended in Singapore, where they were the last team to arrive in the 10th leg, short of the finish line and the ultimate prize. "We wanted to win, but our main goal was to complete the Race," said John Vito. "We're very upset we didn't get to Vietnam [for the next leg]."

Given the lack of tension and gutsy moments (including Jill falling down hard and popping back up without losing a step), the couple has been one of the most popular teams on the program. After their elimination, they received a 94 percent rating on CBS's website, the highest any team has attained during the current season.

As Jill put it, "We may not have won the million dollars, but we're so happy people like us and got to see our true colors."

The two-hour season finale of [The Amazing Race] aired Wednesday, December 18. John Vito and Jill have also set up a website, johnvitoandjill.com, which is currently in its earliest stages of development.