Friday, February 26, 2016

Looking Back: The Eltingville Club

When you hear the name Evan Dorkin, what comes to mind? There's his run on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures and the adaptation of Big & Ted's Bogus Journey for Marvel Comics (collected in black-&-white by Slave Labor Graphics, color by BOOM! Studios).  Pirate Corp$, was his ska-fueled space adventure series that would evolve into Hectic Planet. He co-wrote episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Superman: The Animated Series with his longtime partner, Sarah Dyer. More recently, he has teamed up with artist Jill Thompson to create Beasts of Burden, a critically-acclaimed series of stories involving pets dealing with the supernatural. Of course, he created Milk  Cheese, the "Dairy Products Gone Bad" that have cut a violent and hysterical swath through the comics scene. This past week, Dorkin and Dyer revealed their new series, Calla Cthulhu, for the Stēla digital comics platform.

Somewhere near the top of that list dwells the Eltingville Club, Dorkin's response to the dark side of fandom. While a lot of things have changed since their debut in 1994, the toxicity prevalent from so-called "fans" has remained constant. The Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club was made up of four boys that took their chosen passions too seriously, even by today's standards. The Club consisted of four teenaged members: Bill (Secretary of Comic Books), Josh (Secretary of Science Fiction), Pete (Secretary of Horror) and Jerry (Secretary of Fantasy/Gaming). There would be no other members, probably because no one else could stand them. This month, Dark Horse Comics released a hardcover collection of all eleven of their stories.

In the hands of another writer, the Eltingville Club might have been a coming-of-age story about a quartet of outcasts who would be find comfort and solace in each other's company. With Dorkin, the Cub became a cautionary tale to fans of all ages and genres. Had those boys went out to find a dead body like the kids from Stand by Me, the journey would have been over in about an hour, probably over an argument about whether Mighty Mouse was stronger than Superman. Or they might have just stayed home and read their comics. Another difference: nobody in the Club ever held a gun. On the other hand, they did cause three fires. The boys were presented as persecuted nerds, but the degradation from others was implied. Their relatives was shown off-panel, with only one appearance in the Club's eleven stories. Truth be told, the Club members were their own worst enemies. On the cover of the collection, the boys are presented as a bizarre four-headed entity, forever squabbling amongst itself. Their stories were 90 degrees removed from Milk & Cheese. When those two had an adventure, violence and humor would follow, and they would always be victorious. With the Eltingville Club, violence and humor would also follow, but they would always lose. Sure, Josh and Bill drove a home shopping host over the edge in "As Seen On TV," but that was a hollow victory at best.

This sounds depressing, but it was also very funny. Maybe it was because readers knew fans that went over the line. Maybe it was because readers were the fans that went over the line. Once, I caught hell for revealing the death of Ryan Choi in Titans: Villains For Hire #1 without labeling it as a spoiler. Club members frequently griped about stuff they knew would suck . . . much like I "hate-watched" all ten seasons of Smallville. The stories mostly followed the same formula: the Club would meet up with good intentions, but something would go wrong, and they would turn on each other. Nasty words would be exchanged along with the pop culture references, as well as fisticuffs. And the chokings. Seldom was there a story where somebody wasn't being strangled. The boys would inflict collateral damage in their fights . . . like a Toys R Us that got set ablaze after Pete tried to light up an action figure display. Or shelves of bread that Josh ripped open to search for a card to complete a set (something Dorkin copped to doing as a kid in the afterword). Or dozens of injuries at a "zombie walk" when Pete tripped a participant that insisted on going fast. In The Eltingville Club #1 ("This Fan . . . This Monster!"), the boys wound up destroying the local comic shop, and effectively terminated their friendship. In their final adventure ("Lo, There Shall Be An Epilogue!"), the Club reunited years later while attending Comic-Con International in San Diego. They caught up with one another, showing the progress they made in their respective lives, while incorporating their passions. But one thing led to another, and they wound up ruining Comic-Con. Actually, that's not entirely true.

They destroyed Comic-Con.

One thing led to another, a fistfight ensued, and things got worse when Bill tried to cover it up by inciting a riot. Truly, the Eltingville Club (and those like them) was the reason fans couldn't have nice things.

Looking back on the stories, I would say that Jerry was the only Club member that could be considered "normal." I don't think Dorkin was making a statement about fantasy gamers being the best kind of fans. No, he probably thought there was a 1-in-4 chance that anybody that hardcore wouldn't be a complete dick. Jerry's faults laid mainly in his constant impressions of Twiki from Buck Rogers and trying to play peacemaker during Club fights. On the other side of the spectrum was Bill, the group's unofficial leader. Bill was at the forefront of most of the stories, which always turned to crap in the end. In "This Fan," he got hired by the surly comic shop owner (who never respected the Club and who was not respected, if the amount of shoplifting was any indication), and the power went to his head, leading to a fight with his friends. "Epilogue" was a story that brought forth the misogyny that was just below the surface of the stories. Bill gave a tirade so vile, a stunned Pete responded with, "Wow. I mean, I'm someone who thinks women ain't much more than receptacles an' even I'm offended by that shit." If that doesn't clinch Bill's status as an asshole, try this: he would win arguments by rolling loaded percentile dice. Clearly, he would never learn his lesson.

But at least Bill wasn't as pathetic as Josh, the token fat boy of the Club. He served as the punching bag for the others. In "Bread and Suck-Asses," he cries about his lot in life, leading to Bill telling him, "God doesn't hate you, Josh! WE hate you! God hates your parents!" Even in his solo story (the two-page "Captain's Log"), he proved to be the saddest of sacks. He applied for fast-food jobs to get first crack at their giveaway toys. He hid merchandise in Toys R Us in a stash to keep away from other customers. He spent his night downloading geek-friendly x-rated pictures. And for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Josh ate Macaroni and Cheese because he needed the proofs of purchase to obtain DC Comics balancing toys. Unlike the rest of the Club, it never occurred to him to throw out the pasta instead of eating it. The story ends with the gruesome sight of a naked Josh on the toilet, private parts covered by his notebook, suffering painful diarrhea filled with the symbols of DC characters. Thankfully, we only saw Josh describing that.

While Dorkin is not a fan of his own cartooning style, it did serve him well in Club stories. The boys would typically descend into madness, and the art reflected that wonderfully. In the aftermath of "Epilogue," I would not be surprised if Dorkin took time off from drawing. The finale had plenty of crowd scenes, portraying the chaos of Comic-Con. Readers could make out individual cosplayers (including lots of obligatory Deadpools), especially in the carnage brought about by the Club. In addition, Dorkin has won three Eisner Awards for Best Short Story. All three tales had the passage of time prevalent in them, which served Dorkin's style well.

"Bring Me The Head Of Boba Fett!" (1995) Bill and Josh try to claim a treasured twelve-inch Boba Fett. Their method for settling the matter: a "Trivia-Off," a back-and-forth duel fueled by geek minutia.

"The Marathon Men" (1997) The Club stays at Josh's house to view an epic Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci Fi Channel. What starts out as a fun jaunt highlighted by frenzied anticipation of the Return Of The Jedi rerelease and their first hour-long episode turns into a struggle to stay awake and sane. And then Josh tries to make things better by handing out his mother's medication.

"The Intervention" (2001) After a disagreement with the other Club members, Bill is kidnapped by two ex-geeks hired by his mother to "cure" him of his fannish ways. Bill engages in a battle of wills with his captors, and you have to wonder how such drastic actions aren't more commonplace.

While The Eltingville Club is dead and buried, the collection serves as an indicator on how little fandom has progressed, even as it has been absorbed into mainstream culture. The collection comes with thoughts from Dorkin, his seven-page "The Northwest Comix Collective" one-shot (focusing on late-Nineties alternative comics snobs trying to slack their way towards making their own magazine), and sketches from Welcome To Eltingville, the television pilot that aired on Adult Swim. While it was not picked up, the episode is worth watching even after fifteen years. While the pilot took out the constant swearing prevalent with the Club, it managed to adapt the first two stories rather well. I'll end this post with Welcome To Eltingville. Keep an eye out for Milk & Cheese and Myron the Living Voodoo Doll. Don't worry . . . you won't be seeing Lidsville or The Hair Bear Bunch.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Rivals III: First Impressions

Believe it or not, MTV is still invested in Bunim-Murray Productions. I would have figured the network would cancel The Real World and The Challenge and post Teen Mom reruns in their place. But the network is going to start airing RW's season #31 -- Go Big Or Go Home -- next month. And during the reunion special for Battle Of The Bloodlines, host Nessa (no clue) encouraged people to tweet in order to get a teaser for the upcoming season . . . which never came. At least Abram didn't kill anybody on the set. That counts for something, right?

Luckily for fans, Wikipedia has set up a page for the new edition, which is scheduled to air in May. It's good for me because it has casting spoilers, but no results. Aside from an early elimination spoiler, all I know about Rivals III is that two production people got killed in a helicopter crash. For some shows, that would be a harbinger of immediate cancellation, but I feel that BMP would not stop churning out their two main shows until somebody dies on camera. Remember RW: D.C.? If Ty drunkenly pushing Andrew off a balcony had led to Andrew's death, I wouldn't be writing about The Challenge. If you think I'm crazy, consider this: why else would BMP cast a person with a compromised immune system alongside some dope who looked like he had seven diseases at any given time?

As the title suggests, it'll be the third "Rivals" season for the show. As usual, it will feature folks plucked from past seasons of The ChallengeThe Real World, and Are You The One? This time, the contestants will be paired in male/female teams, which will be a first for "Rivals." I figured that I should provide my snap judgments to the cast. If you want to wait a few months until MTV officially announces the season, bail out now. Don't worry . . . I understand wanting to be surprised, and one person in particular baffles me in coming back to the show.

Still with me? Cool. First, let's go over some folks who won't be on the show:

Cara Maria Sorbello: She wound up winning $125,000, and it might have been the toughest road to the grand prize for any past champion. She got into a love/lust triangle with Thomas and Abram, got torn to shreds by the usual suspects, and tried valiantly to keep a brave face. Oh, and she said "cousin" almost as much as Balki on Perfect Strangers. In the reunion, she said that she wanted to open a gym with obstacles alongside Jamie, which means we might see her "raising" contestants for American Ninja Warrior down the line. That wouldn't be a bad thing to watch. I like that show.

Chris "CT" Tamburello: I'm happy he's not showing up, because I feel he got overexposed. He wound up popping up on Battle Of The Bloodlines twice; first demonstrating a mission with Faith (Diem's sister), then taking up the role of combatant that he played in Cutthroat against Jamie. Also, he didn't knock Vince's head off when the wanker tried to puff his chest at a club. Good for him.

Aneesa Ferreira: Eleven Challenges. ELEVEN. Her record: 0-11. I remember her back when she was a rookie in 2003 on Battle Of The Sexes, when I regarded Puck as the worst person ever and saw most cast members (i.e., Rachel, Veronica, Eric Nies) as human beings. On three seasons, she came within one episode of making it to the finale. Aside from the showmance with Cory (isn't she a lesbian?) and her fight with Cara Maria, she didn't bring much to the table, other than a cousin (Rianna) who might as well not have made the trip. I hate being a "GET A JOB!" guy, especially since I have trouble finding one on my own, but seriously . . . stop coming back, Aneesa.

Abram Boise: Even if Cara Maria didn't give Thomas a hand, I'd still be worried about somebody hitting the wrong button on Abram. I hadn't seen him since 2012 (Battle Of The Exes), and I was okay with that. I keep imagining him strangling hobos and drifters, burying them in shallow graves all over the state of Montana. And that was before I saw the tattoos on his arms and head. Looking back, I'm amazed he only got kicked out of two seasons of Road Rules (South Pacific, Viewers' Revenge) for beating the hell out of somebody. Did I mention the part of BOTB where he got so worked up pumping up his brother Mike for the Pit, his nose started bleeding? Yikes.

Zach Nichols: He was brought in alongside CT to challenge Jamie and Mike in the Pit. He also reunited with his girlfriend Jenna . . . and at the Reunion, she revealed they broke up. I'm good with that. She can do better. Hell, she could go back to that schmuck Jay, and he'd be an upgrade over Zach. I'm good without a season of misogyny and calling women "swamp donkeys," as well as his lack of stamina. And I'm still waiting for Sam to bust his head open for his treatment of her in Battle Of The Seasons. Then she could move on to Frank.

Laurel Stuckey: I'm guessing she has better things to do. With the ever-changing social dynamics of the show, it's hard for somebody to go 4-for-4 in completing Challenges, but the woman I dubbed "Killbot" managed that feat, and she won her first Challenge in Free Agents. It probably would have been easy to pair her up off with a guy she pissed off in a past season, but I guess she doesn't take BMP's calls.

Jason Hill & Nicole Zanatta: They would have been perfect for this season. Jason and Nicole were tight through most of RW: Skeletons. Then there was an altercation that didn't get filmed, where he apparently manhandled her, and he became dead in her eyes. So why aren't they competing in their first Challenge? In my opinion, it's because Nicole is way too normal for BMP's tastes. She could probably complete a season easily, having been trained as an EMT, but she wasn't as exciting as most of her castmates. That's a pity, since I consider her to be in the upper tier of reality folks to hail from Staten Island.

With that out of my system, we can move onto the contenders.

Brandon Tindel & Briana LaCuesta
Devin Walker & Cheyenne Floyd
Nathan Siebenmark &Christina LeBlanc
Nelson Thomas & Amanda Garcia

Apparently, Are You The One? is still a thing on MTV. I don't follow it. I'm good with cast members leaving The Challenge. I'm not compelled to track down episodes from past seasons. The extent that I'm familiar with the show comes from a skit on Robot Chicken with Archie characters in the cast, and that paled compared to the Archie/Final Destination mashup from an earlier season. It might be interesting to see eight rookies band together to force the BMP folks out, but that won't happen. Here's hoping the Go Big Or Go Home kids can fill the void in future seasons, especially since it seems like a half-hearted Road Rules rehash.

(While I'm at it, I might as well go over my definition of canon Challengers. Those who got their start on The Real World, Road Rules and The Challenge are canon. Camila hails from a week-long Spring Break Challenge, and I don't consider that canon. "Fresh Meat" contestants are canon, but not the exes from Ex-Plosion or "Skeletons." Ditto for AYTO. I'm on the fence when it comes to "Bloodlines." This is just my opinion . ..  your mileage may vary.)

Dario Medrano & Nicole Ramos
Thomas Buell & Simone Kelly

And apparently, BMP is good with bringing back AYTO alumni Dario and Simone. Dario & Nicole's beef is not stated, but I'm guessing it'll be pretty flimsy when revealed. If you'll recall, Dario's twin brother Raphy almost beat Mitch in the Pit, but he wound up celebrating prematurely, giving up the win. Thomas and Simone got into a fight on Battle Of The Exes II, to the point where she dumped a cup of water on his face. Sound familiar? It was in teasers that season, but didn't make the cut. This will be the third Challenge for Thomas. After fooling around with Abram's girl, here's hoping he'll live to see more.

Wes Bergmann & Nany Gonzalez

Nicole will be joined by her cousin this season, and Nany is paired with the ginger jackass from RW: Austin. This will be Wes' tenth season. According to Wikipedia, he's won $248,000, placing him second all-time on The Challenge. Why he doesn't stay away, I do not know. I expect the same thing for him: grandiose alliance schemes that fall apart in the opening episodes.

Cory Wharton & Ashley Mitchell

Had to look online to remember Ashley as the girl I dubbed "Smashley" on RW: Ex-Plosion. She was a one-woman disaster area in her short time on the show. She got drunk one night and told Cory that she could buy his family. Did I mention Cory is black and Ashley is white? If Ashley can remain upright at the clubs on Rivals III, I will be amazed. And I don't know if she would be as good at math and puzzles as Mitch was.

Johnny Reilly & Jessica McCain
Leroy Garrett & Averey Tressler

With three cast members from RW: Portland (Averey, Jessica, Johnny), I think we should be grateful Nia didn't get an invite. Johnny and Jessica had beef in Portland which spilled into Free Agents. Leroy teamed with Nia in BOTEII to defeat Johnny & Averey in the Dome, and he called her a liar on The After Show. My biggest concern with Averey being on another Challenge is wondering who is taking care of Daisy. The Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix was the cutest member of the Portland cast, and she was probably the smartest. Part of me thinks Johnny dated Averey to get closer to Daisy.

Tony Raines & Camila Nakagawa

Ugh. Tony was such a jackass on RW: Skeletons and BOTB, getting into a drunken fight with his brother Shane, who came off a lot better. Tony wound up rupturing his spleen, forcing him and Shane out after four episodes. Thankfully, he's the only cast member from the car wreck that was Skeletons to appear on the Challenge. As for Camila? Despite a few moments of obnoxious behavior, I'd say she was a better reality TV personality from Brazil than Abi-Maria Gomes on Survivor: Second Chances. With that said, I fully expect Camila to take back the drama crown on Rivals III.

Jamie Banks & KellyAnne Judd

COUSIN! Looks like Cara Maria's "bloodline" got such a good taste for competition, he re-upped for a second straight stint. According to Wikipedia, Jamie and KellyAnne had a "verbal scuffle." KellyAnne will be looking to avenge her loss in the Pit to Jenna in BOTB. And speaking of whom . . .

Vince Gliatta & Jenna Compono

Jenna is not going away, is she? For the second straight season, she wound up finishing third. Unlike BOTEII, she managed to win money. The bad news is that she's stuck with Vince, who could have been partnered with any woman from BOTB because he was that annoying. Besides hanging onto his cousin's star, Vince played a big part in Blue Team's 0-6 record, and he got the nickname "Creepy Uncle Vince." I think we can come up with something better. In her recaps for, Lilit Marcus kept referring to Vince as "Plantains." I'm volunteering "Wince" to the world at large. What a pantload.

Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio & Sarah Rice-Patterson


First, let's focus on Sarah. Like I said in my last post, I expected Sarah to retire from the show after she won BOTEII with Jordan. There have been precedents for long-suffering Challengers to go out on top (Brad in Cutthroat, Paula in Rivals and Rivals II), and I wanted her to follow that path. After all, $125,000 isn't chump change. But I'm guessing that Sarah wants to supplement her income. Or maybe she's like CT and Wes, in the sense that they need the drama and the competition in their lives. I'm guessing that she was kept in the dark about the format of the latest season, because she probably wouldn't want to team with Johnny, especially after he tried to tear her down for sending him to the Dome.

As for Johnny? I hate him. This will be his thirteenth Challenge since his initial run on RW: Key West, which aired in 2006. By comparison, Aneesa has been knocking around the circuit since 2003. At least she takes some seasons off. He has won $409,043 in his "career," tops among Challengers. Can you imagine what would happen if MTV pulls the plug on this show? Johnny would be fucked. He'd wind up on the streets of Los Angeles, waving a "WILL ANNOY FOR FOOD" sign. And Puck would be pissed that he'd be on his turf. But BMP continues to enable him, giving him strong partners that allow him to coast to victory. I didn't like the finale of Free Agents being cumulative, because it would have been so easy for the times to be fudged in order to give Johnny an unprecedented fifth Challenge title over Johnny Reilly. And yes, I think Cara Maria & Jamie's win over Cory & Mitch might have been determined by the production staff to be a better finish, but not as much as with Johnny.

There is so much to loathe about "Bananas." There was the clique he was with over the course of several seasons, where he'd join assholes like Evan and Kenny (along with other questionable people like Derrick and Susie) to overwhelm the competition. If Tonya had pointed the finger at Johnny along with the other two members of the Axis of Ass for violating her, I would not have been surprised. There's the lawsuit Johnny filed against Entourage for allegedly swiping his "Johnny Bananas" shtick, while wound up going against him. There are the times where he didn't have to face an endgame because of his manipulations against an overmatched field. There are the occasions he doesn't win, where he carries on like Russell Hantz from Survivor. Speaking of which, Russell merely has his hat as his signature item . . . Johnny's got the bobblehead doll. And the "Johnny Bananas" t-shirts. And the stupid banana costume. But lots of people -- including Bill Simmons -- have partaken in the Kool-Aid when it comes to Johnny, and he's not going away anytime soon. And that pisses me off. Here's hoping Sarah tanks the missions for the purpose of having somebody stomp the Banana for good.

According to Wikipedia, Rivals III will air in May. With any luck, I won't feel compelled to blog about it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Challengers In The Spotlight: From Julie To Cara Maria

The Challenge: Battle of the Bloodlines is ending this week. Some have seen it as a misfire, as alumni from The Real World, The Challenge and Are You The One? brought in their siblings and cousins to compete. I blame the decision to separate the group into two teams three episodes into the season, which led to the Red team defeating Blue for six weeks, until the "Bloodlines" were reunited. One thing is for certain: this has been the season of Cara Maria Sorbello.

Cara Maria was first introduced in Fresh Meat II, another attempt to increase the field of contestants by Bunim-Murray Productions. She lasted one mission before losing the Exile with her partner Darrell. Since then, Cara Maria has competed in seven seasons of The Challenge. She has only made it to the finale three times. This season, she came into the game with her cousin, Jamie Banks. In the penultimate episode, they wound up finishing second in the grueling first part of the final mission, placing behind Jenna (Jay's ex from Real World: Ex-Plosion) & Brianna (her cousin), but ahead of Corey (another Ex-Plosion cast member) & Mitch (his cousin).

Throughout the season, Cara Maria has been front and center. To start, she got flirtatious with rookie Thomas (Ex-Plosion), to the point where she gave him a handjob in the van. This was scandalous since she had a boyfriend: Abram, the guy I covered in four Challenges (including Inferno II), and whom I dubbed "The Bozo From Bozeman." After two teams (Leroy & Candice, Tony & Shane) were released due to injuries (Candice's broken toe, Tony's ruptured spleen), Abram and his brother Mike were brought in as replacements. Needless to say, the drama thickened. "Johnny Bananas" (who has long outstayed his welcome) wound up bursting the bubble, sending his idiot cousin Vince to tell Abram about the incident. This not only led to painful moments on the show, it also spilled over to an After Show on MTV that was hard to watch. I'm convinced that the producers had to give horse tranquilizers to Abram to prevent a catastrophe.

Cara Maria was placed in jeopardy when Jamie had to compete in the Pit (this season's endgame format), since "Bloodlines" had to accompany each other from the show upon a loss. To make things more interesting, Jamie and Mike did not face each other, but rather CT and Zach, who were brought in as muscle. Jamie lasted longer in the Pit against CT than Mike did with Zach, and Abram & Mike left, leaving Cara Maria to focus on the game.  In the following episodes, the "Bloodlines" were reunited, and Cara Maria and Jamie teamed up again . . . only for them to finish last in the mission, forcing them into the Pit. They wound up beating Johnny & Vince, which made me happy because fuck "Johnny Bananas." After that, Cara Maria was sent into the Pit to take on Aneesa (another long-time veteran unable to win the big one), and that spilled into on-the-bus drama. Cara Maria won the Pit, but added Aneesa to its "Comprehensive List of People Who Don’t Like Cara Maria."

I figure that a win by Cara Maria & Jamie in the finale would lead to her retirement from The Challenge. Her constant presence does raise a question: Has a season of this show ever hinged that heavily on a particular person? Yes, it has. Because I have spent too many years watching this dreck, I can point out other cast members who have shined brightly on the big stage.

Julie Stoffer (Extreme Challenge)

At the dawn of the modern era of reality television (2000), Julie was at the forefront alongside the celebrities spawned from the original Survivor, becoming the show's most memorable ingénue since Julie Oliver from the original season in 1992. She was presented as a sheltered Mormon girl exploring her boundaries on RW: New Orleans. She was the one most viewers zeroed in on, which was a feat given that three other cast members could be consider breakout stars (gay/loveable Danny, playa/egomaniac David Broom, neurotic/hilarious Melissa). Back when Real World/Road Rules Challenge was a traveling circus, Julie's inclusion was more than likely a slam dunk, especially after she was kicked out of Brigham Young for living with boys.

But something bad happened on Extreme Challenge. Julie wound up getting more bratty with each passing episode, and some viewers figured the second "m" in "Mormon" was silent. She got into a blood feud with Emily (who started her three Challenge career here). Watching a Real World team uncharacteristically get the better of a Road Rules squad became painful to watch because of Julie's involvement, despite the inclusion of nice people like Kameelah, Syrus and Dan Renzi. When a frustrated James wound up pelting her with paintballs past his allotted time during a mission, you couldn't totally blame the rugby-playing sore loser. Julie wound up winning a $110,000 pool with her team, as well as a new car, but her attitude left a bad taste in viewers' mouths. It also was her peak as a Challenger. Two season later, in Battle Of The Sexes, she was pulled into a feud with Melissa, who wound up convincing the Inner Circle to vote her out first. Needless to say, that made me a happy camper, because like Melissa, I couldn't stand the bitch.

Sarah Greyson (The Gauntlet)

Sarah was the weak link on Road Rules: Campus Crawl. She struggled in missions, and she was eventually voted out by her castmates, most of whom didn't give her a second thought afterward. The following season, she was part of a team to face the current edition (RR: South Pacific) in a marathon of missions. Midway through that, Sarah was shown covering her eyes, leading to her ouster. Campus Crawl wound up winning, but the "Sarah as scrub" narrative had been strengthened. So when the first episode of Gauntlet included two of her teammates (Darrell and Rachel Robinson) scheming to get rid of her, most viewers weren't surprised.

This was the season of BMP's experiment of giving outcasts a chance to stay in the game by winning in the Gauntlet, and Sarah was the mouse most frequently in the maze. In the first mission, she withstood a freezing pool longer than Road Rules teammate Laterrian, but the team voted her in the Gauntlet. In the inaugural elimination round,. she had to hang by her legs from a trapeze (Dead Man's Drop), and she outlasted the heavier David Broom to win. She would go two-for-two in the same Gauntlet five episodes later, dispatching Matt. Three episodes after that, she defeated Trishelle competing in the puzzle-assembling A Perfect Fit, prompting Theo Vonkurnotowski to proclaim that she should take the Gauntlet home with her. But sides had been drawn when it came to Sarah, and an alliance led by Rachel, Veronica and ADD-addled douchebag Adam Larson seemed hellbent to lose Sarah before the final mission, lest she hold the team back.

Things got ugly in a log-balancing mission (Rolling On a River), as Laterrian caused Sarah to fall off early. In the ensuing vote, Sarah was declared to be a weaker link than her underachieving teammate. Worse, she was pitted against her best friend, Rachel Braband (the overgrown pixie from RW: Back to New York). Sarah barely outlasted Rachel on the bull-riding Gauntlet to stay in the game. Coral felt for Sarah to the point where she comforted her and bitched out Adam for his poor treatment. Two episodes later, Abram and Sarah tied in the voting format set up by the team, and Abram was sent in by Theo, who had been given the Aztec Lifeshield for finishing the mission (All or Nothing) better than his teammates. Abram wound up losing to Mike Mizanin in the Gauntlet, but he wound up having a steamy threesome with Rachel Robinson and Veronica. Worse, the girls dubbed "Butterface" and "Kleptronica" by the forums dwellers bitched out Sarah for her illicit romance with Theo (which was elaborated on in the Inferno II preview special). My belief is that Sarah and Theo didn't do that much in comparison to other "showmances" at that time (Mike/Trishelle, Dave/Cara). They certainly tried to hide it from the cameras, as opposed to some people. Yes, I'm still bitter.

In the following episode, Sarah flamed out of a rappelling mission (Vertical Sweep, according to Wikipedia), and she was sent into the Gauntlet for the fifth time. She wound up competing in Dead Man's Drop with Irulan. On her (now-defunct) blog, she said that she was in agony from hanging on the trapeze in prior Gauntlets to the point where the production staff gave her painkillers. She wound up outlasting Irulan, much to the delight of the staff, many of whom likened Irulan and teammate/boyfriend Alton to Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.

In the final mission, Sarah did not provide to be an albatross to the nine-person Road Rules team. At one point, Adam actually gave Sarah a piggyback ride. While some people figure Road Rules won due to Real World's coping with an ailing Coral (who had been bit by a spider and suffered an allergic reaction), I think they would have triumphed anyway. Against all odds, Sarah won her Challenge. . . and unlike the rest of the people on this list, she would never come back. While her 5-0 endgame record has been equaled, I don't think her example will ever be surpassed.

Katie Doyle (The Inferno)

It took me a while to warm up to Katie in general. She made history as the first substitute on Road Rules, replacing the more exciting Jisela on The Quest. In The Gauntlet, she got into a feud with Veronica and was sent into two Gauntlets, where she defeated Montana, but lost to Rachel Braband. In The Inferno, she was once again on the Road Rules team, and she was seen by her side as a weak link.

Unlike Sarah, Katie was a lot more mouthy about her team's dislike of her. The Real World would not choose her to go into the Inferno because she was a crap player. After one mission where Real World won (I don't remember which one), a few of the guys lifted her on their shoulders in celebration. Road Rules came up with a plan to send her into the Inferno by letting their Inferno nomination win the Aztec LifeSaver, which would allow that person to pick a replacement for the endgame. The first effort failed in Don't Yank My Chain, where Katie wound up outlasting Christena in the mission. Four episodes later, Veronica was in a similar situation, and the team sacrificed a win to Real World in order for her to get the best time on the rappelling mission, Balcony Swing. The low point came when Abram made a mockery of the mission, whooping it up and dropping flags, rubbing the plan in Katie's face. She wound up replacing Veronica in the Inferno, where she faced Julie (who had rubbed a lot of people -- Coral in particular -- the wrong way). In one of the dumbest elimination rounds ever devised, Katie endured a three-hour trek on a treadmill covered in itching powder, and she wound up outlasting Julie while jumping rope. This made me a happy camper, since I still hated Julie, and she had challenged Coral to a wrestling match in the previous episode, leading Coral to declare, "I don't wrestle! I fuckin' beat bitches up!"

Road Rules was not happy. Despite the following Inferno nominations being male-based, the team schemed to send Katie in again. In Saturn Valet Ballet, most of the team tried to make sure nominee Timmy got the best time in the mission. They only won because a faction of the Real World side (led by CT) was throwing the mission to send in Leah to replace David Burns. In the ensuing chaos, Kendall (who was not in on the plan) got the best time on Road Rules, and she elected to go in Timmy's place. Kendall won, but RR was upset that Katie was still in the game.

In the final nomination process, Veronica was once again placed in peril. Katie gave it her all in the penultimate mission (Window Washing), and she wound up with a decent time. The problem: Veronica got the best time on her team's side, and she sent Katie to the Inferno to face David. Katie had to endure four hours being in a Plexiglass coffin with foul-smelling items (once again: the endgames were so lame), and she wound up winning the tiebreaker against David when she stayed submerged in the gunk longer than David.

What turned me around on Katie? It came in the penultimate episode, showed after she beat David, but actually taking place following the Kendall/Leah Inferno. Katie had a massive figurative diarrhea attack, she lost her shit so much. She cursed out Veronica, referring to her as "Verantula" in an interview. It got to the point where Katie had to be restrained from strangling her rival, as Mike had to carry her out of the room. It was a delightful scene, starting with the uncharacteristic show of a cameraman's hand in frame pushing a door open, and including background shots of Mike and Syrus getting a huge kick out of her tantrum. Between that, Veronica's treatment of Sarah in Gauntlet and the threesome, I didn't regard her as human anymore, and I came to be on Katie's side.

Road Rules wound up winning the final mission, scoring a $260,000 pot. While Katie would appear in subsequent seasons, she wound not be as dramatic or as spotlighted as she was in Inferno.

Tonya Cooley (Inferno II)

After a rocky stint on RW: Chicago, Tonya came across as normal on Battle of the Sexes (where she lasted eight rounds before being voted out by her team's Inner Circle) and The Gauntlet (three missions before Real World sent her to the Gauntlet, where she lost to Steve in A Perfect Fit). She became unglued in Battle of the Sexes 2, where she ruffled feathers,. completing twelve missions before being voted out, and allegedly wound up going out with Mark Long afterward . .. and this came following his showmance with Robin on BOTS2.

Tonya was cast in her fourth Challenge as a member of the Bad Asses team. With Robin on the Good Guys, sparks wound up flying, as Beth (who will be covered soon) fanned the drama flames. After Tonya and Robin argued, Tonya had it out with Beth, and that ended with Tonya dumping some of Beth's bags in the pool, and throwing the rest off the roof. Beth wound up bailing out of the show two episodes later. The good news for the Bad Asses was that their weakest link was gone. The bad news: the remaining women on the team -- Rachel Robinson, Tina and Veronica -- would form a clique for the purpose of harassing Tonya to no end. Without Beth as a potential punching bag, they turned on Tonya . .. particularly before, during and after Never Ending Climb. She would eventually be nominated by the Good Guys for the Inferno, and she was unable to get out of it in the subsequent mission (best known as "The One Where Julie Kept Muttering 'The Road To God Is Straight And Narrow,' Then Immediately Went Into The Water")., but she saved herself by defeating Julie in the Inferno. Naturally, I liked that development, because I still hated Julie.

The penultimate episode was not fun for Tonya. It started with harassment by Tina and Veronica while she tried to go to sleep. In the Inferno deliberation prior to the mission, those two girls joined Veronica in questioning Tonya's choice of Jamie Chung over potential weak link Shavonda. Then came the mission, where contestants had to get their heart rates below 100 beats per minute before performing a 125-foot tandem bungee via trapdoor. Paired with CT, she tried to ignore the taunting by Shavonda and Jamie (who never struck me  as a "mean girl"), but she couldn't break the 100 bpm barrier. She wound up going to the Inferno, stuck on a spinner for fifteen minutes before Shavonda tapped out, giving Tonya a spot in the final mission for the first time in her career.

Sadly, Tonya did not get Katie's happy ending. The final mission pitted a seven-strong Bad Ass team against a quartet of Good Guys. Tonya lagged for most of the finale, to the point where Rachel bitched her out to the camera during the mission. From what I heard, Tonya had been partying the previous night, and that led to her subpar performance. I figured the Bad Asses might have won had the Rachel/Tina/Veronica troika had bothered to treat Tonya like a human being. Also, Tina's performance was lackluster, but apparently Rachel and Veronica did not seem to notice. Typical, especially since Tina was (and will always be) a scrub. While the final Good Guys team was notable for their lack of numbers and various stages of development (Mike Mizanin's second win and his swan song before taking up pro wrestling; Landon's first Challenge win on his way to three; Darrell's third win out of four; Jamie's sole win before becoming a starlet), it was Tonya who was the star, for better and for worse. She would wind up winning on the Bad Ass team in Inferno 3, but she came back for The Island and The Ruins. It was in Ruins where she was kicked off for attacking Veronica, and where she would accuse two other Challengers of violating her in her sleep. May Tonya be living the peaceful life denied to her on television.

Beth Stolarcyzk & Derrick Kosinski (Gauntlet 2)

I know, this is a bit of a cheat, but Beth and Derrick had a few things in common. They were both on the Veterans team. They're both Polish-American. But man, did they take different paths in Gauntlet 2. Beth was old-school . . . annoying the shit out of viewers and cast members since 1993 (RW: Los Angeles) and coming up with very little in four previous Challenges. Derrick was part of the last conventional Road Rules season (X-Treme), debuting in Battle of the Sexes 2 where he only lasted five missions before being voted off by his team. He did gain distinction in Inferno II as the only male on the final Bad Ass team who didn't need to be throttled.

Derrick's path to notoriety began roughly, as the Veterans lost their first mission, which forced them to send a male to face teammate Adam Larson in the Gauntlet, since he was the captain. Derrick got the most votes from the group, setting up the first endgame, which turned out to be Name That Coconut, a cross between a trivia contest and full-contact football. Adam and Derrick wound up tied 3-3, but Derrick won the last two rounds to eliminate Adam (which thrilled me to no end) and assume the male captain's position for the Veterans. The bad news was that Derrick would have to fight for his position when the Vets lost on a male elimination day. In addition to having an episode-long conflict with Brad, the undersized scrapper wound up having to fight in three more Gauntlets, dispatching Ace, Syrus and Brad. The Veterans wound up losing the penultimate mission, and they were unable to decide between David Burns and Timmy to send against Derrick. The captain responded with a dramatic monologue where he straight-up murdered a table. Eventually, Timmy volunteered, and he beat Derrick in Reverse Tug-Of-War, ending his season. Derrick would have similar luck on subsequent seasons (Fresh Meat, The Duel) before joining the Bad Ass team in place of the ejected CT in Inferno 3, scoring his first win. And then he turned into an asshole, hanging out with the "cool kids" while winning on The Island and The Ruins. Pity.

As for Beth? Put it this way . . . had I not been fired by Reality News Online for my increasingly negative recaps in Battle Of The Sexes 2 (brought about by the men curb-stomping the women and Eric Fucking Nies and his stupid jump rope), I would have been booted for my treatment of Beth in Gauntlet 2.. She had been her usual annoying self, but she was spared a date with female captain Ruthie in the Gauntlet when Jisela volunteered (and lost). The Veterans lost two episodes later, and Beth was selected by the team to face off against Ruthie. Host TJ Lavin spun the wheel, and it came up "Challenger's Choice," which let Beth pick Reverse Tug-Of-War for the Gauntlet. Ruthie was strong, but she gave up a lot of weight against Beth, and she wound up succumbing in one of the most painful endgames ever aired. As experienced viewers suspected, she was not a gracious winner, getting snitty with Derrick and Montana.

Two episodes passed. The Veterans lost again, in part due to Beth's lack of performance. Beth wound up getting Montana in the Gauntlet, which was an interesting contrast, given that Montana was an older woman who proved that you didn't have to suck on a regular basis. The wheel came up "Captain's Choice," allowing Beth to pick Reverse Tug-Of-War again. Needless to say, Montana fared no better than Ruthie, as the captain cackled about her position in front of the camera. My final thought on her that week: "She can go fuck herself, because nobody else will." What can I say? She brought out the worst in me. I wasn't alone . . . in one episode, several males had a good laugh at the prospect of one of them having to "bang Beth."

The madness of "Bad Beth and Beyond" (coined by Timmy) last four more episodes, including her underachieving in two missions. After another loss, the Veterans voted in Aneesa to face Beth. This time, the wheel came up Beach Brawl, which was basically a wrestling match with oil thrown in. And Beth . . . wound up taking the coward's way out, opting to quit rather than get beaten in a humiliating manner to Aneesa. While the Veterans would wind up losing the final mission, they managed to unite in their unyielding hatred for Beth. Viewers would have to wait for her to be eliminated in The Duel (by Svetlana) and Gauntlet III (Coral) to satisfy their bloodlust. Thankfully, she has not reared her heinous head since then.

(Note: At this point, my recollection of the show gets hazy. I'm going by vague memories and suggestions from the forums. And Wikipedia, which is the lazy man's best friend.)

Evelyn Smith (The Island)

It may not be obvious, but there are a lot of parallels between Evelyn and Cara Maria. Both debuted on a "Fresh Meat"-themed season. Both were the top picks in their respective drafts, and they both lost in their first Exile. The big difference is that Evelyn would rebound and have success, winning Inferno 3 with the Bad Asses and completing Gauntlet III with the Veterans. With Rachel Robinson appearing less frequently (she would also star on The Island, as well as Battle Of The Exes with Aneesa),  it looked as if Evelyn took her place as BMP's go-to lesbian with an attitude.

The Island was a bizarre season, where three contestants at a time competed for one of four keys to a treasure chest filled with $300,000. The losers would be subject to a vote by the rest of the cast, with the leading vote-getter being booted. Evelyn became a sympathetic character by clashing with Johnny and his clique. After winning the fifth mission, Evelyn called out Johnny, punctuating that with "Fuck you, and fuck your alliance" before taking Johnny's key, which he threw on the ground, making her pick it up. It was glorious to behold. But since this is The Challenge, a show where karma often goes to die, Johnny won the mission in the following episode, and wound up taking the key back from Evelyn.

In the penultimate mission, Evelyn defeated Dan Walsh, Johanna and KellyAnne, guaranteeing herself a shot at the big prize. Given her choice of keyholders, she elected to take hers from Dunbar (who was given a key by a departing Abram) instead of Johnny. TJ Lavin ordered the final eight players to split into two teams of four, and Evelyn . . . threw in with Johnny, Derrick and Kenny (another scumbag who kept getting lucky in Challenges). Selling out rather easily, Evelyn sailed to an easy win over Jenn, Robin, Ryan and Paula (who could not believe her ex-roommate from RW: Key West could throw her under the bus). Needless to say, it was an ugly end to an ugly season.

Chris "CT" Tamburello (Rivals)

To say that CT's Challenge history is checkered is an understatement. He competed for the grand prize in The Inferno and Inferno II, coming up short each time. In The Duel, he kickstarted a romance with Diem before losing the final Duel to Brad. The cast members had barely settled into Inferno 3 before CT was kicked off for drunkenly punching Davis before the first mission. He was on the Veterans team in Gauntlet III that lost because Eric "Big Easy" Banks could not complete the final mission. And he repeated his feat from Inferno 3 in Duel II, getting into a brawl with ex-housemate Adam King (RW: Paris), which led to another dismissal. Obviously, he needed time away from the spotlight, but BMP brought him back as a glorified gladiator in Cutthroat, sent to face Johnny and Tyler in the Gulag. That led to one of the greatest moments in Challenge history: CT utterly humiliating Johnny by carrying him like a backpack. Let's see that again.

Once it was determined that CT was capable of showing up without killing and devouring everybody, he was cast in the following season, Rivals. He would be reunited with Adam, and he would often try to bury the hatchet with his one-time adversary. While the cynical part of me thinks he might have been playing for the cameras, CT was more fun to watch that the trio I dubbed the "Axis of Ass": Evan (paired with Nehemiah), Johnny (Tyler) and Kenny (Wes). He ran afoul of that clique, but he and Adam managed to win two missions as well as one Jungle, sending Evan & Nehemiah home. In the last Jungle, CT & Adam faced Johnny & Tyler, with a spot in the final mission on the line. They played T-Bone, where they had to move balls from one end of a hall to another. The two halls intersected, which led to collisions. CT tried valiantly to win, often running interference for his partner by slamming violently into his opponents. It was as if he was attempting to cremate Johnny & Tyler without using fire. In the end, Tyler outraced Adam, and CT found himself losing yet another Challenge. Still, he managed to be a good sport about how things shook out, as opposed to the tantrum he threw after his elimination from The Duel.

CT's story has yet to end. He would team up with Diem in Battle Of The Exes and place second behind Johnny & Camila.  Two seasons later, he wound up winning Rivals II, teaming with Wes to defeat the noxious duo of Johnny & Frank. He lasted through most of Free Agents before falling to eventual winner Johnny in the final Elimination. And he reunited with Diem for Battle Of The Exes 2, only for her to succumb to the cancer that would take her life. While CT may not escape his thuggish past, his time on Rivals is proof that an irritating contestant can be redeemed and embraced by the audience as a heroic figure . . . something freakin' Johnny Bananas has yet to do.

Sarah Rice (Battle of the Exes II)

Unlike Sarah Greyson, Sarah Rice was a BMP lifer. Hailing from RW: Brooklyn, Sarah had competed in seven Challenges. She completed three seasons (The Ruins, Cutthroat, Battle of the Seasons), but couldn't get the big win. On two occasions, she was dismissed from the show due to the actions of her partner (Vinny in Battle of the Exes after he exposed Mandi's breasts; Trishelle in Rivals II after she quit the show).

Sarah cut a break in Battle of the Exes II, as she was partnered with Jordan,  whom she had  a showmance with prior to leaving Rivals II. Unlike many of Sarah's past teammates, Jordan was a capable partner, whose only handicap was being born with no fingers on his left hand. He was itching to settle the score with Johnny Bananas, especially after he took him out in Free Agents. Five missions into BOTSII, Johnny and his partner Nany were defeated in the Dome by Leroy & Nia. What the remaining contestants did not know was that eliminated teams were battling it out in the "Battle of the Ex-iled," which was run on Johnny & Nany wound up beating three other ousted pairs before they were revealed to the surviving field, where they beat Zach & Jonna to get back in the game. With their greatest enemy returning, things did not look good for Sarah & Jordan. But they won the last two missions before the finale, and they sent Johnny & Nany back into the Dome. In a bizarre twist, Leroy saw his partner Nia removed for the game for grabbing Jordan's package, but she was replaced by one-time fling Theresa, who had been eliminated with Wes in the previous episode. Amazingly, there was no reaction shown from Sarah, who had been left in the lurch twice in the past.

Fate would smile on Sarah & Jordan. The new Leroy/Theresa team managed to take out Johnny & Nany, earning their way into the final mission. Johnny would whine about being sent to the Dome in The After Show and the reunion special. In the end, Sarah got her first Challenge win alongside Jordan, as Leroy & Theresa finished second, and Jay & Jenna got disqualified for failing to complete a task. It felt like the end of an era for Sarah, as she got married in May 2015. While she has been rumored to be appearing on the next season of The Challenge (Rivals III), Battle of the Exes II would be a fitting finale for her. Well . . . that and this sketch from Robot Chicken:

Aside from Johnny being in the sketch and the lack of tattoos on "Sarah's" arm, I think the show did a good take  on The Challenge.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why I Watch The Amazing Race

I am a pessimist by nature. It takes a lot for me to see a glass half-full. It's probably why I titled this blog "Closet Optimist" . .  . because, deep down, I want to be positive.

If you're reading this, odds are you were drawn in because this post is about The Amazing Race. It might be hard to believe that a show with thirteen Emmys would need support, but TAR (gotta love the punchy acronym) hangs on a precarious precipice, airing on Friday nights; a timeslot seen as a graveyard for dying programs. And with the recent  demise of two long-running competitive reality shows (America's Next Top Model and American Idol), fans of TAR are a little on edge.

The big news about the upcoming 28th season is that it will consist of eleven pairs of online personalities. While there have been premises that have gone awry (Family Edition, the dating couples format from last year), I'm trying to keep an open mind. If this season succeeds in the ratings, it will be because CBS had tapped into diverse online fanbases. But many see this format as base pandering by the network, and that would-be viewers would be out on Friday nights. Once again . . . I'm trying to be optimistic about things.

What frustrates me is that CBS's other major reality shows are not screwed with much as TAR, Survivor is the jock of the network, often renewed far ahead of time, even though it can suffer from diminishing results and it is a shell of its old self from the series' debut in 2000. Still, CBS gives it a cushy timeslot (Wednesdays at 8), and throws in a reunion show after season finales, where host Jeff Probst (a certified alpha male-sniffer) routinely whitewashes events and ignores those who don't earn his love. On the other side of the spectrum is Big Brother, hosted by Julie Chen, who is married to CBS President/CEO Les Moonves. That show airs during the summer, and frequently showcases the lowest common denominator as far as casting is concerned, often ending up with trainwrecks on par with The Real World and The Challenge. Like Survivor, Big Brother isn't going away anytime soon. When CBS's new president of entertainment Glenn Geller gushed about Survivor and Big Brother and didn't mention TAR once, two emotions stirred inside me: dread and "it figures."

Why am I bothering to write about this? Because I like TAR, having been a regular viewer since the second season. With all due respect to Ringling Bros, I think TAR is the greatest show on Earth. There are many reasons I feel this way, but I can boil it down to three.

1. The Travel Porn

I'm willing to say that I'm not the only person out there who hasn't left North America. It just hasn't happened for me. When I tune into TAR, the show can take you anywhere in the world. For instance, I didn't even know there was a country in Africa called Burkina Faso until TAR12. Even when you subtract the obvious problem areas, we're still dealing with a sizable portion of the world. Sure, there are smatterings of ugly Americanism, and Japan-centered legs often delve into unfortunate stereotypes, but I don't think any other major network show takes advantage of its settings like TAR. On Survivor, locales are often recycled (the 31th and 32nd seasons were filmed in Cambodia; seasons 33 and 34 are to be set in Fiji), and interaction with the locals are limited to reward challenge wins. With TAR, contestants have to interact with the citizenry for guidance. One side effect takes place when Racers bumble in tasks and locals have a good laugh. It never fails to get a chuckle out of me.

2. The Host With The Most

For the life of me, I cannot understand how Jeff Probst won  four Emmys for his "work" on Survivor, while Phil Keoghan has to do without. After finishing runner-up to hosting Survivor, the eyebrow-popping New Zealand native was snapped up by the producers of TAR to host the original program. While Probst often dictates how the story goes on his show, Phil acts as a narrator, giving viewers the lowdown on locations and tasks. Recently, he has been doing this while the game unfolds behind him, adding a unique dimension to the show. In the first season, he only showed up at the end of legs to eliminate last-place teams, but he wound up greeting teams alongside a local. Unlike Probst, I can probably count the number of times Phil has pissed me off with one hand. Also, he seldom has a mean streak. In TAR22, when John ran himself and girlfriend Jessica out of the game (long story), the episode ended with Phil throwing up his arms and exclaiming, "Oy, vey" to the camera. When Phil has fun with contestants, you don't need to shower afterward like with Probst.

3. The Thrill Of Victory, The Agony Of Defeat

With the kinetic nature of TAR, a viewer's adrenaline can spike along with the competitors. This leads to epic highs and lows. One example I can tell you took place last season, centering on the penultimate leg and ex-cheerleaders Tiffany & Krista. Krista was a native of Staten Island like myself, and she didn't behave like a brat through most of her time on the show, so I grew to like her. Anyway . . . Tiffany & Krista had found themselves in a three-team pack ahead of alpha duo Justin & Diana, a team that could be boiled down to "superfan and fiancé/accessory." The Racers took a Roadblock where participants took part in the world's largest water-based stage production, based in Macau. They had to dive 30 feet from a ship mast and find a clue below the surface of the water. Krista took the Roadblock for her team, but she failed to find the clue on her first attempt, while the others were able to move on. Justin & Diana arrived on the scene, but they came too late for the restart of the show, where Krista failed again. Diana took the Roadblock, and she and Krista dove and looked for the clue. Diana found it, Krista didn't. As the lead teams arrived at the Pit Stop, it looked like the final leg was set up. But it turned out Justin & Diana had taken the wrong ferry from Hong Kong to Macau, incurring a 25-minute penalty for the time saved and a separate thirty-minute penalty. Suddenly, there was still hope for Krista. Most fans didn't feel much sympathy for Justin (who had made Diana run a mock race leading to his proposing to her), as he collapsed in tears, unable to grasp that his chance for a storybook finish had slipped through his fingers.

With the penalty counting down, an unknowing Krista got encouragement from Tiffany, and she eventually found the clue. They were still alive. But then came miscommunication with their cabbie, and they arrived at the Pit Stop behind Justin & Diana, resulting in their elimination. The only bright side from the ensuing finale was that Justin & Diana failed to win the final leg, finishing second to Kelsey & Joey. While you can find better examples of suspense (Chris & Alex rallying past Tara & Wil in to win TAR2), despair (teams passing Lena on the hay bale Roadblock in TAR6) and humor (Claire taking a watermelon to the face in TAR17), Krista's struggles, triumph and eventual elimination sticks out in my mind.

If you're reading this, you're probably a fan of one of the new teams, and you're looking for reasons to watch the show. I hope that I was able to persuade you to tune in to The Amazing Race in the weeks to come. In all likelihood, you will be as hooked to it as me.

Thanks to Nicole Rivera and John Seavey for their feedback. You can read John's recaps of The Amazing Race on