Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Battle of the Sexes - The Good, The Bad & The Notorious (MTV Preview)

Before Battle Of The Sexes kicked off, MTV ran a half-hour special on the upcoming season. I miss those. These days, there's way too much feuding and fornicating to keep track of. I'll cover that when I get to the "19 Degrees" special, which will seem so quaint when seen in 2016.

Air Date: December 30, 2002
Article Published: January 1, 2003

It's January, and reality television fans know what that means: time for Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray to pit former cast members of The Real World and Road Rules against each other for cold, hard, sponsor-labeled cash. This past Monday, MTV aired a teaser preview for Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Sexes.

First comes a plethora of clips from the show. Syrus: "We're gonna go out and kick these girls' butts." More clips. Christina: "I think the girls are gonna outshine them." Even more shots. Laterrian shots "Hoo-hah!" as he leads the other guys. Melissa curses out Julie. David E. threatens to whoop Puck's ass. There's a game of Simon Says. Building of log cabins. Puck babbles on and Ellen tries to shut him up. Rachel says that the game is getting ugly. Emily says that this is going to be the "Jerry Springer of the [Challenges]." Seeing how this is her third appearance in a row, that's saying something.

Segue to the titles sequence, with all 36 competitors. Their names will be bold-faced here when introduced, to differentiate them from other people.

Cut to the hosts of the preview: Ruthie (Real World: Hawaii) and Jonny Moseley, who will be hosting the series. We get clips of Jonny skiing, though nothing of his performance in the Olympics in the moguls. When you have a video game with your name on it and don't medal, you get to host a BMP show. Consider it a warning. Jonny introduces Ruthie as a "reformed party girl." We get clips of Ruthie drinking and dancing it up in Hawaii. I feel bad for her; she was just the tip of the very dyslexic iceberg that was her season. Jonny and Ruthie are at the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, and they're talking about the latest Challenge, which was filmed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The set-up is explained: rather than Real World and Road Rules cast members facing off against each other, this will be the guys versus the girls. At stake is $150,000 in "Chili's Cash," which Ruthie clarifies that it's not that much in mozzarella sticks.

We get clips of the guys and girls. No competition here; just looking really good in swimsuits. Lucky for me I'm not that self-conscious. Really. I'm not. I choose not to go to the beach for my own reasons.

Introduction of Dan (RW: Miami). He's got long hair, like he could star in the direct-to-video sequel to George of the Jungle. There's the fight with fellow housemate Melissa after she opened his mail. He calls her a bitch, she calls him a "flamer" - it's a classic clip. Cut to the present day: Laterrian is giving a pep talk. Dan muses that his teammates dined on a "testosterone buffet." The team receives a phone message about a "brain game." "What if we have to eat brains?" Dan asks. This ain't Campus Crawl, so don't worry. Dan hangs from his legs on a trapeze, but he falls in the water.

Ayanna (Road Rules: Semester at Sea) talks about how she graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in Theater Arts and Administration. Cut to her and Pua getting into a screaming match. I honestly can't tell what they're going on about. Surprisingly, the editors don't show her beating up Christian during Extreme Challenge. Oh, right, the cameramen missed that. We see Ayanna in present-day action.

Mark (RR: Season One) is looking to get into hosting programming, mentioning that he was the "Gadget Guru" on Donny & Marie for two years. First of all, didn't he co-host Battle of the Seasons with Eric last year? Secondly, who would admit to working on Donny & Marie? Clips of him during his season, including skinny-dipping and taking a mud bath. In Jamaica, he dives off a balcony and into a pool, and he tears a log cabin up.

How about a blast from the recent past? We see Shane (RR: Campus Crawl) getting chewed out by the Citadel drill instructors. Man, I forgot all about that. He dances in a gay bar. He smacks Darrell in the face, ticking the aspiring Olympic boxer off. In Jamaica, he reads a clue off the phone. He finishes a cabin. Puck: "Who said gay guys can't build houses?" Shut up, Puck. I'll be saying that every other paragraph this season.

Next, there's Gladys (RR: Latin America). Naturally, we get the one clip of her beating the crap out of Abe. For those who never saw it, think of it as a less bogus version of the Steven/Brynn tiff. Seriously, Gandhi would've taken a poke at Abe. In Jamaica, Jonny takes Gladys aside and tell her she can't compete in an event, even though she got the OK from her doctor. I know what her "condition" is, and I can't blame Jonny.

Back in San Francisco, Jonny wonders what a Challenge would be without missions. Um, wouldn't it be people yelling and fondling each other? In Jamaica, a military guy wakes the women up. There's intense exercising. The trapeze over water, with Jake's "equipment" poking from his trunks. The log cabins. "Simon Says patty-cake!" People staying underwater. Laterrian: "I refuse to lose this challenge!" Puck during the log cabin mission: "I know you little fillies are mad. Keep buildin'" Shut UP, Puck. Setting up for laser tag. Hey, something I know I'm good at! Guys celebrate a victory. Women win a mission. Guys chant: "RIDE OR F*****G DIE!" The girls psyche themselves up for an event. The guys kneel in front of a scoreboard.

Ruthie and Jonny do a little more pimping. They don't have chemistry, but they're not as bad as Cara and Theo in the Real World: Las Vegas preview special. Before the commercials, we get two more cast members. For Veronica (RR: Semester at Sea), this is her third Challenge. I don't count last year, since she was voted out in the first episode. She talks with Jisela about ups and downs. She tells the camera that she'd love to send Emily home. Then there's Laterrian (RR: Maximum Velocity Tour), who cusses out Emily to the camera. I don't remember him being this ticked. "My boys," he says in another interview, "We're all warriors." He shouts "HOO-RAH!" twice, getting backed up by the assembled guys. I don't know what's weirder: that he's become a field leader, or that he's using the same terms as Ian from The Amazing Race 3.

After the commercials, we meet Christina (RR: Australia), who's living in Los Angeles. She's hoping the women can outshine the guys. Next, there's Syrus (RW: Boston). Note it's spelled "Syrus," not "Sirus," as he was labeled in Eminem's video for "Without Me." He says that he's a fierce competitor, and he doesn't want to cheat, but he has before. Didn't he almost pummel James for cheating during Extreme Challenge?

Back to Jonny and Ruthie, who seem a little more relaxed. There are drinks on the table. I'll let you jump to conclusions. Jonny segues into the next profile, calling Puck the "reigning champion of trouble." Shut up, Jonny.

Profile of Puck (RW: San Francisco). He's got his face painted, saying that he comes from "[his] mother's womb." Plenty of Puck clips from his season. "I'm here to be me," he says in one clip. "I'm not gonna change me. I like me." Seriously, I hate him. Not in a "love to hate" way, but along the lines of "Dear God, why is he still here?" (Indeed, Puck was the second person inducted into the Reality TV Hall of Shame.) Next, there's David E. (RW: Los Angeles). Naturally, the editors show him pulling the sheets off Tami's bed, leading to his being booted from the show. He also throws a hissy fit about loose Styrofoam chips on the floor.

There's a cute clip of David talking into a seashell like a cell phone. He might have invented tribal council (a claim he made at the tenth anniversary reunion), but he owes Greg Buis royalties for his shtick. David talks about expecting to be a team player and enjoy himself. Cut to him yelling at Puck: "Go beat your wife some more, white boy!" Wow. Puck and David yell at each other, and then Puck spits water on him. David turns to somebody off-camera: "Excuse me? Puck just spit on my face. Disqualification!" He yells into an actual cell phone, saying that if he did that to Puck, he'd be out of there. Things get so out of hand, executive producer Jonathan Murray has to come down. Puck whines, "I gave you so much!" If Murray admits that casting Puck back in 1994 was the worst mistake he ever made, I will love him. Puck cries, shoving the camera away from him. David sits by himself, exhausted.

Speaking of people I can't stand, there's Ellen (RR: The Quest). No clips of her telling Coral to "kiss my baby ass" or her hook-ups with Adam. She calls Puck a jerk, and he responds by slipping a booger in her food. Okay, I really hate Puck. Bad enough his footage seeps into others, but he's making me side with Ellen, whom I hate. Puck says he's gunning for Ellen since she "opposed the Puck." God, shut up, Puck! She cries, telling people he threatened to kick her ass. Puck says that he's a good guy once you get to know him. Cut to Puck passing gas. Sigh.

Back to Jonny and Ruthie. Jonny admits that Puck can't be everywhere, but there are 35 others who can bring the heat, especially in sunny Jamaica.

Melissa (RW: New Orleans) is my favorite of this lot. Just thought you should know, since I'll be taking her side as long as she's there. Of course, the editors show the clip of her ready to strip. Then there's Julie (RW: New Orleans), the Mormon girl we knew before we even heard of Neleh Dennis. Happy days: Melissa hugging Julie after she bungeed in South Africa. Melissa, Julie, and Jamie on a hydrofoil. Melissa and Julie in the confessional during Mardi Gras. I got a lot of memories from that season. Think they're still friends? Melissa tells Julie that she doesn't like her, that she finds her to be dishonest. Julie asks, "Did I do anything yet to offend you?" Melissa is stunned. "Yet?" she answers. "The past two years of my life!" Melissa launches into a bleep-filled tirade. Ellen says that it's supposed to be girls against guys, not girls against girls. Melissa hangs with other girls, saying she wants Julie gone, and Aneesa says it shouldn't be personal. 

Montage of people fighting. David E. is yelling. Aneesa has a stressed look on her face. Ellen tries to shut Puck up, punctuating that with "blong blong!" Seriously, what is that? I've been trying to wrap my mind around "woo woo" (David B.) and "tanky" (Lori), and now Ellen starts babbling?

Jonny and Ruthie pop up long enough to introduce new players. For the third straight year, the Challenge is getting some international flavor. Antoine (RR: Europe) hails from Brussels, Belgium. There's an extended clip of him and Belou fighting. Yes, Belou was as nuts then as she was last year. Chris has to hold Antoine while Patrice separates the two as they yell at each other. "You're going in the water!" shouts Antoine. If you live in the New York area, you can watch that episode on WCBS at 1:05 a.m., Saturday night. Back to the present-day, he asks Syrus where in Africa he comes from. Are you kidding me? Syrus tells him that he's not from Africa. Antoine busts up a cabin, and Dan smacks him with a rubber log.

Trifecta: Tonya, Theo and Aneesa (RW: Chicago). Clips of Theo lecturing Tonya in the van. Aneesa walking around bottomless, much to Tonya's chagrin. Tonya cries and cries. Nothing about her kidney stones, though. In Jamaica, Theo dances. Aneesa dances, rubbing her butt with another girl. Tonya tries to build a cabin. Theo talks about shutting up and putting on a "mean face." Tonya confesses to doing damaging things to Aneesa. Nice to see some things haven't changed. Aneesa thinks it's nice to be surrounded by women from different backgrounds with a common interest.

More people from the Belfort Mansion. Jamie (RW: New Orleans) now has a beard. Maybe he's trying to carry the lumberjack legacy Sean started last year. Also there's David B. (RW: New Orleans), who talks about life as a competition. Back in New Orleans, Jamie calls a house meeting to talk about David being a butthole. Melissa rubs herself on Jamie (she had it bad for him, back in the day). Jamie: "David is extremely moody." Another classic clip: David and Melissa arguing at the community television station, culminating with her slamming a chair on the ground. Of course, the editors couldn't possibly not show David singing a few bars of "Come On Be My Baby Tonight." It's the official in-joke for RW fans. A plastered Melissa suggests that David and Jamie join her in a "menagerie." Melissa says that she would be okay not seeing David again because he's a jackass. In Jamaica, David chants something funny. He yells something I can't understand. Jamie calls himself an outlaw. Guys who start dot-com companies aren't outlaws, Jamie. He hangs from the trapeze and falls in the water. David's underwater. He never learned how to swim, and he thinks that could be the end for him.

More Jonny/Ruthie banter. Profile of Yes (RR: Semester at Sea), who was booted along with Veronica last year. He considers the guys a big funky frat. I used to think Eric J. (RR: Campus Crawl) was a massive tool. But he tells the camera that he's the youngest male there, and he considers himself more of a man than some of the thirty-somethings. The camera cuts to Puck and David E. Nice.

Back from commercials, Anne (RR: Northern Trail) cries about possibly not being able to do an event. She wants to do that, even if it means throwing up while she does it. During her season, she was dating the hunky Dr. Tim from Detroit. Where is he now? Jake (RR: Islands) says he's the type who will run a race assuming he'll lose, but that doesn't stress him out. "I've been losing things for so long," he says, "I have it down to a science and an art." Boy, he's a barrel of fun. Shot of him on the trapeze, his thong offering little support.

Ruthie and Jonny keep going. Eric N. (RW: New York) was on the show in 1992. Seriously, shouldn't he have moved on by now? There's a painful clip of him rapping with Heather. In Jamaica, he dives into a pool, hugs Laterrian, and has a lot of naked upper-body shots, since that's still his best feature.

Onto more recent BMP alumni, Rachel (RR: Campus Crawl) is still with her girlfriend Amy and living in New York. Alternating shots of her kissing Amy and Darrell. In Jamaica, she tells the girls that the show wouldn't be happening if they didn't have a prayer against the guys, and that the producers picked the most "bad-ass" girls. I'm not sure about that, but Rachel is still She-Hulk to me, so I'll keep my mouth shut. She says something about how she or Emily will be picked, and Ruthie is about to make a decision.

While we're on the Sapphic thread, we meet Genesis (RW: Boston), who's living with her wife Paige in Orlando. Flashbacks of her dancing with girls and a drag queen, and getting on Sean's lap. In the present day, she offers this nugget: "Any guy wants to know what hell is like, be around a bunch of women who are on their period and PMSing. Because that's hell." Yikes. She says that money can turn good people ugly.

Beth (RW: Los Angeles) is back. Two dozen stake wounds to her heart, and she still keeps coming. Old-school flashback of her bringing a cat into the house, which ticks off Dominic. She suggests he hang out on a different floor. Yeesh. In Jamaica, she gripes about how she was booted first last year, "for no reason at all." Luckily, Norman reminds us that she's a manipulator, a liar and a cheat. She hopes that people can look past her reputation. Good luck, but don't unpack.

Lori (RW: Back to New York) notes that since her season, she's been working on caring less about what people think about her. She might not want to know what I think of her dating uber-tool Kyle from Chicago. We get clips of her snuggling with Kevin, a love that wasn't meant to be. In the present, she builds a log cabin and engages in military exercises.

Jonny wonders how past and future lovers would get along. To start, there's Amaya (RW: Hawaii). We get the clips with her and Colin, including his kissing her stuffed bunny. Colin offers some post-show advice: "Don't ever date a roommate!" I'll drive him to Las Vegas so he can tell that to Steven and Trishelle. Cut to Colin telling Amaya that he can't be friends with her, and she can't believe that. Very dyslexic iceberg, people. Turns out that Colin (RW: Hawaii) is also on this show. He remarks that everybody who has been on the show is a freak. Amaya scopes a bedroom, noting there's so much she can steal. A doctor tells Colin that he sprained his ankle.

Jisela (RR: The Quest) talks about her Playboy pictorial. Actually, it was her, Flora, Veronica, and (for some strange reason) Beth. Clips of her dancing, which she does best. That, and going lip-happy in New York and the Hamptons, breaking Malik's heart in the process. But I still like her more than Ellen. There's also the confessional scene where she goes topless, making out with Blair. And guess what? Blair (RR: The Quest) is here as well. There are clips of him in the streets of Fez and skinny-dipping in Morocco. He notes that some people have "big bags of chips" on their shoulders. Jisela feels the bed sheet, labeling it "Jisela material." Jisela didn't build her cabin right, and she yells at Jonny, who has a bemused smile.

James (RR: Maximum Velocity Tour) is back for his second Challenge. Why? "Because the stock market really sucks some serious [bleep], and I need to make some money to pay some student loans." I guess being the pledge master at the Road Rules Fraternity doesn't pay much. Old clip of him arguing with Holly in the van, telling her that she treats people like dog poop. Why couldn't they show stuff with him and Theo engaged in eyebrow-raising antics? In Jamaica, he notes that the guys are "insanely competitive" and will do anything to win. Pot, meet kettle. Then there's Emily (RR: Season Two), who has been going out with James for one year and 15 days. She's been keeping count. I need to throw up. There's plenty of snuggling and kissing footage. Emily tells James that people lied to her. James tears down a clothesline as dramatically as he can.

One more love connection: Ayanna… and David B.? Really? Are they both insane? Ayanna talks about how they've been learning about each other and that he's "flipped [her] switch." There's footage of David on the piano. Run, Ayanna! He's gonna start scatting! David says that he wants to invest time to understand her. Not like anybody from her season could figure her out. Ayanna sees David as someone who could be a friend for life. They hug. I'm not completely heartless, but if they act like responsible adults, I'll have nothing to work with.

Jonny and Ruthie are almost done, but they have one more clip, this time of a wedding. The identities of the bride and groom are not revealed. I know who they are, but I won't spoil it. Eric N. says that this is "the most incredible moment in reality television." Great, now we'll have to do an RNO Roundtable to debate that. Thanks, Eric.

Jonny and Ruthie sign off, reminding viewers to play MTV.com's Fantasy Challenge, something I'll cover in another article. Remember, the season kicks off with a one-hour premiere this Monday, January 6, at 10 pm (Eastern).
One of my first impressions? "Ruthie got no highlights. Shes not going to last long." There were some spoilers I wasn't privy to, and her rewriting of the narrative was one of those things. Also . . . why did I keep referring to Eric Nies as "Eric N"? Yeah, I wouldn't be calling him that for long, but it must seem weird. Who wouldn't know "Eric Nies"? And this was back when I liked him, as opposed to the jumprope-hawking asshole who'd luck into $60,000 on Battle Of The Sexes 2.

Next: My Fantasy Challenge preview article.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Battle Of The Sexes Prelude: Once Upon A Time In Jamaica

In the beginning, Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray gave us The Real World, and it was judged to be good. A second season was made, moving the location from Nashville  to Los Angeles. To make things more interesting, two would-be roommates – Dominic Griffin and Tami Akbar (or was it "Roman"?)  – took a cross-country trip to their new house, stopping in Kentucky long enough to pick up aspiring singer Jon Brennan. A few years later, Bunim-Murray Productions birthed Road Rules, which centered on five young adults exploring America via RV. One of the "Roadies" was Mark Long, who had “auditioned” to take Puck Rainey’s spot on RW: San Francisco in 1994.

The paths of RW and RR began to cross with the latter’s second edition, where the cast went undercover to swipe the eight ball from the pool table in Miami. A year later, the casts of RW: Boston and RR: Islands faced off in formal competition. Soon, five RW alumni (Eric Nies, Jon Brennan, Rachel Campos, Cynthia Roberts, Sean Duffy) went on an adventure in Road Rules: All Stars. They wound up battling the cast of RR: Northern Trail (perhaps the finest group in the show’s history) at Lake Placid.

Road Rules: All Stars would beget Real World/Road Rules Challenge, starting with All-Star Challenge. Two teams of six fought each other to win time in a money booth. The RR team wound up winning that season and the next (Challenge 2000). In Extreme Challenge, several missions were set away from North America, and the Real World team wound up dominating for the first time. While that was happening, individual casts fought each other for prizes and pride (RW: Seattle vs. RR: Australia, RW: New Orleans vs. RR: Maximum Velocity Tour, RW: Back to New York vs. RR: The Quest).

With the coming of Survivor, BMP jumped on the elimination bandwagon, starting with RR: The Quest), where repeated mission failures would demand the vote-off of a cast member. That season, Jisela Delgado was booted and replaced by Katie Doyle. In the following edition of Challenge, BMP went nuts with Battle Of The Seasons. For the first time, the RVs that teams traveled in was replaced by a central location in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The competition increased from twelve players to 32. Real World and Road Rules were represented by eight male/female pairs. After each mission, the top three duos would vote off two of their own. The drama became apparent after the first mission, when the Road Rules Inner Circle tossed out Veronica & Yes, whom had the fourth-best score of all pairs. On the Real World side, that Inner Circle voted off Jon & Beth on the grounds that they were not the least bit fond of Beth, whom at least one person dubbed “Osama Beth Laden.” And this was being filmed in Fall 2001, which shows how low she was considered. While subsequent Inner Circles would dismiss pairs with the lowest overall scores, ousted like Chadwick & Piggy and Stephen & Lindsey led to maximum drama. The downside was that the eliminations stopped when the familiar six-versus-six format was established, and the pairs kept competing for points. In the end, Real World shocked Road Rules thanks to Mike Mizanin’s puzzle-solving prowess in the final mission, and RW won $300,000 for their efforts. While both sides engaged in collusion with each other and pairs that left the game, the format proved to be a rousing success.

Enter Battle Of The Sexes. The locale was now Montego Bay, Jamaica. The field was now increased to 36, divided by gender and show. For the first time, alumni of RW and RR found themselves pitted against each other by gender. Among the participants were the hosts of Battle Of The Seasons (Mark Long and Eric Nies), four cast members who had been removed from prior BMP shows (David Edwards, Puck Rainey, Gladys Sanabria, Ayanna Mackins), and newcomers from RW: Chicago (Aneesa Ferreira and Tonya Cooley) and RR: Campus Crawl (Eric Jones, Rachel Robinson, Shane Landrum). Also, Emily Bailey was competing in her third consecutive Challenge, which was unprecedented at that time.  The Inner Circle format remained, with the top three overall points-getters voting somebody else off. This time, the teams would be boiled down to three per side, and the winners of the final mission would share in a $150,000 jackpot.

At this time, I had been with Reality News Online for less than a year. I had come off recapping Dog Days on Animal Planet, and I wanted to shoot a little higher. With Television Without Pity no longer providing weekly recaps of the Challenge, I felt that I was qualified enough to cover Battle Of The Sexes, and I wound up with that beat. The half-hour format was also a good incentive for me, and I was eager to take shots at one asshole in particular, as he would run roughshod over the show. I would wind up feeling the highs and lows, taping each episode and spending days getting every statistic and choice quote just right. Sure, I took my sweet time, but I wanted to be accurate as well as entertaining.

With MTV Classic set to air older seasons of The Real World and Road Rules, it's only a matter of time before the Challenges are covered. In that vein, I will be retrieving my old recaps and posting them on my blog, starting with Battle Of The Sexes. Join me as we go to the time before “Johnny Bananas” . . . before the Axis of Ass . . . before the coming of “Fresh Meat” . . . before  the last stands of Coral Smith and Timmy Beggy . . . before friggin’ Beth burrowed deep within the game . . . before Mark Long and Eric Nies became "Marky Mark" and "Eric Fucking Nies" . . . and before the rise of Sarah Greyson and perhaps the worst allergic reaction in competitive reality history. Witness the fall of the “bloody axe,” the rise of underdogs, the second-best televised wedding featuring someone from RW: San Francisco, and a surprising lack of “dudes.”  And quitting. Lots and lots of quitting. Had TJ Lavin been hosting, he would have throttled players midway through the season. Instead, we got Jonny Moseley, who had won Olympic gold in the moguls in 1994, and who hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live. "Baked" was his default mode, even for Jamaican standards.

I don't know when or if MTV Classic will get to Battle Of The Sexes, but I want to be prepared. This season was ugly at times, but it would prove to be the springboard for me to recap the next five seasons. Also, I'll be providing background information before and after each recap. Has this season aged well in thirteen years? Let's find out.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Challenge Postmortem: The Decision

This is how bad John Devenanzio, a.k.a. “Johnny Bananas,” bugs me. After he won an unprecedented sixth Challenge at the end of Rivals III and screwed over his partner, Sarah Rice-Patterson, I came across this post on Stop Being Polite, which wondered if he was wrong in taking the $275,000 for himself. I called him a “scumbag,” which shows where I stood on the issue, and I wondered if the split money would still have made for the biggest payout in Challenge history. Turns out I didn't research hard enough; at the end of The Duel (where Johnny made his debut and lasted all of one mission), Wes and Jodi went home $150,000 richer. Here's where I got more upset . . . could it be possible that Johnny wanted to take the single season money record from his favorite ginger-haired punching bag? As far as Johnny is concerned, I would not be surprised.

History will show that Rivals III was one long clusterfuck of a season. Four teams wound up leaving the game without going into the Jungle. Devin & Cheyenne were the first team out, came back into the game when too many players were vacating, got picked by winning teams to be in the Jungle, and they wound up avoiding the black skull on six draws. Johnny's idiot cousin Vince didn't learn any lessons from his first Challenge stint, and he wound up getting into his share of conflicts. After a shoving match with Thomas, host TJ Lavin gave Wince a warning. True, no punches were exchanged, but one has to wonder whether his “bloodline” with Johnny kept Wince in the game. He wound up finishing second with Jenna because somebody had to place. And Johnny & Sarah went into the Jungle only once, right before the final mission. A few episodes before that, Dario & Nicole had a chance to send Johnny and Wince to draw skulls with their respective partners, but Dario didn't pull the trigger. While neither team would have been an immediate underdog facing Nate & Christina, Bitchio could have turned up the heat. He did not, and Johnny continued yet another charmed run, aided by perhaps the best partner he ever had.

Even if I had not accidentally gotten spoiled about Johnny & Sarah's win (I hit the wrong button on my iPad), I still would have bet on them in the final mission. The only suspense was which of them would earn more points in order to decide the prize split. Like I said last time, Sarah was in a no-win situation, while the toxic atmosphere of the series ensured Johnny wouldn't be raked over the coals like his partner would. The turning point came in the overnight session. One player per team would sleep in relative comfort, while the other had to stand on a stump in the cold. Whomever stood on the stump longer would get two points, while the rest of the tasks awarded one. In the finished product, TJ doesn't announce the winners, probably out of suspense. Sarah was shown to have been feeling ill, so people would have to assume Johnny outlasted her on the stump. For somebody as cynical as me, this seemed like an easy way to give Johnny the points and the ultimate decision. Bad enough that the times per task were being added up, and the final ascent wasn't staggered like the start of a leg on The Amazing Race. The possibility of producer interference was too much to ignore.

Cut to the final minutes of the episode. Johnny & Sarah had trounced the opposition, and the lead points-earners had to make their decisions. Devin faked out Cheyenne before declaring that he would split the $25,000. Wince followed suit with a $50,000 split. Then came Johnny's turn. He bullshitted about how he had forgiven Sarah for the sin of playing to win on Battle Of The Exes II. Then he figured that he probably didn't have many seasons left in him, and he claimed the money for himself. While my grip on reality television is nowhere near as tight as in years past, that still has to rank as one of the dirtiest moves in the history of the genre. I saw Johnny's relationship with Sarah being mostly 50/50. At worst, it was 60/40, but that could have applied in either direction. Neither player carried the other outright. At the very least, Sarah deserved $137,500 from her trials. She wound up with nothing, save for a stipend and/or appearance fee, which would be considered small potatoes compared to the runner-up prizes.

Sarah broke down. Hard. Since she truly believed in friendships and forgiveness, she thought Johnny would do the honorable thing. Johnny broke Sarah. It is my policy to view anybody debuting on a BMP show to already have been damaged, but Sarah wasn't the massive trainwreck like so many of her contemporaries. Sure, she had visible cracks, but most viewed her as intelligent. I don't think she was seen as totally pitiable before the decision . . . and that was some feat given how many of her past teammates let her down. She had to leave Battle Of The Exes when Vinny pulled down Mandi’s top. She was dismissed when Trishelle quit Rivals II. In the aftermath of having won her first Challenge two seasons prior, she probably thought that the show wouldn't fuck her that hard a third time. At the Reunion, she pointed out that she merely sent Johnny (and Nany) into the Dome in Battle Of The Exes II against Leroy and Theresa, and she didn't add that he had already been eliminated earlier in the season. Not that the audience would have cared anyway, given the applause Johnny's choice got in the Reunion’s opening minutes. While Sarah has never been a widely-beloved figure, you can't help but sympathize with her when she yelled at the audience for co-signing Johnny's shitty, shitty move. Even if the crowd had loaded guns pointed at them, it was still an inexcusable reaction.

I don't understand why Sarah attended the Reunion. She probably knew that she'd be sitting next to Johnny, inches away from hearing his excuses (“All’s fair in love, war and Challenges”? Fuck you, Johnny. Seriously). The cynic in me figures she was paid to show up and stalk offstage for a spell, before being coaxed back by Cheyenne. Maybe she was promised five minutes alone with Johnny and no witnesses. The best move would have been not to show, letting Johnny beat off in front of his adoring fans. Then Sarah could have delivered a taped segment, venting about how she was wronged. The camera would pull back to reveal her holding a baseball bat. Pulling back further, we would see Johnny's car. And then Sarah would channel John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, screaming about the perils of fucking a teammate in the ass. Sadly, The Challenge is where hope goes to die, and Sarah didn't say much else when she returned. Instead, host Nessa (who is probably a glaring weak link on Girl Code) moved on to Devin and Cheyenne’s outrageous fortunes, an apparent hookup between Wince and Camila (somebody who probably didn't want to be seen grinding on the same family tree with its gnarled, stubby branches), and the “Challenged Awards.” This included Thomas getting “nominated” for bailing on the game, without the context of him wanting to be with his ailing girlfriend. Needless to say, the people who put the Reunion together made black holes envious with their sucking.

I'm going to stop here. I feel that I'll need to get my act together before writing about all of my problems with Johnny. Believe me, there are many. I also have to make time to listen to Bill Simmons' podcast with him, which promises to be brutal, given the affection the one-time ESPN "Sports Guy" has for Johnny. Or maybe I'll find a way to twelve-step away from Bunim-Murray for good, and move on with my life. Fat chance of that happening, though.

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Sarah Redemption?

Sarah Rice-Patterson had the happy ending. Along with Jordan Wiseley, Sarah powered her way through Battle Of The Exes II, taking home $125,000. Even better, she had sent Johnny & Nany to the final Dome, where they lost to Leroy and Theresa (who was a last minute substitution for Nia, who was kicked off for grabbing Jordan's privates). Johnny was merciless afterward, spewing hatred on her for playing the game he had controlled for so long. Never mind that he and Nany lost to Leroy & Nia in the Dome, only to “earn” their way back through “Battle Of The Ex-iled.” Sarah had committed the sin of throwing Johnny under the bus, which was a transgression almost as great as quitting. While most people figured that Johnny would continue to suckle on  the BMP teat, Sarah's story was apparently over.

Of course, that was not the case. Two seasons later, she arrived on Rivals III, and she would be paired with the man she grievously wronged . . . at least if you believed Johnny. He would not shut up about how his one-time friend had stabbed him in the back. Never mind that he went into the season with five Challenge wins, and that he is the all-time money leader in the show’s history. He wouldn't stop whining. But after he and Sarah won a mission, Sarah apologized for her actions. On the forum that I frequent, the hatred for Sarah came roaring back. All we needed from her was an interview segment that her partner wouldn't have found out about for months.

“Am I sorry that I played Johnny? No, I'm not. I wanted to win the money. We all wanted the money. If the roles were reversed, he would have screwed me. But we're in this together, so I have to play to his ego so that we have the best shot at winning. If I have to jerk him off, I'll find tweezers to do it with, because I can't risk breaking his dick off in my hand.”

As the season lurched forward, it became evident that she was still needy for acceptance, even from a scumbag like Johnny. Needless to say, it has not been fun to watch. Also, heading into the final episode, the audience had nobody and nothing to root for.

But then came a twist. TJ Lavin told the final three teams that they'd would be completing tasks, and the best overall time would win it. This wasn't new .  . . I hated the notion when it played out in Free Agents and Battle Of The Bloodlines. I felt that the format could have been fixed by BMP to ensure the ending they desired . . . like Johnny’s last win, or Cara Maria & Jamie's triumph last season (I can't dispute Laurel’s win; I called her “Killbot” partially for her athleticism). The wrinkle: Each player would be competing individually for points. Whomever has more points than one’s partner has to decide whether to split the prize money, or to keep it for themselves. This included first place, with the potential for a $275,000 payday, the greatest in the show’s history.

Here's the question: Given how comfortable Sarah has been with Johnny's usual antics, would taking all of the grand prize redeem her in the eyes of the hardcore fans? While she has been such a doormat for him throughout the season to the point where her middle name could have been "Welcome," I would hope there's a shred of pride in her, especially after eating so much shit. The money would no doubt pay for grad school and at least one child. Who cares if she would be guilt-ridden to name it “Johnny,” even if it turns out to be a girl? And isn't it fun to see an asshole get hoist by his own petard? Look at Jon Dalton on Day 38 on Survivor: Pearl Islands, as he struggled to keep his balance on a raft, begging Lillian to make a deal as she went with the flow. Johnny would finally get his sixth win, but he'd have nothing to show for it aside from whatever stipend BMP had given him. Who wouldn't root for that?

Of course, Sarah would have to announce her retirement from the show afterward. Like, five seconds after taking the money for herself. And she would need to skip the subsequent Reunion, where Johnny would no doubt belittle her to no end. Worse yet, MTV never brings in intelligent people to make up the audience, and Sarah would be dragged through the mud again. I hate her only to the extent where I'd want bags of weak tea thrown at her for being such a pushover, while Johnny would get rocks aimed at his head. Instead, the sycophants enable Johnny, feeding his massive ego. Sadly, I think Sarah would elect to share the money with him, because she values friendship so much . . . even if it's with a complete and utter asshole.

If Johnny scores more points and gets the win, he would be embraced in either scenario. If he keeps the money, he is justified for avenging himself upon Sarah, leaving her with next to nothing. And should he continue to appear on the show, that choice would not be held against him like it would for Sarah. Once again: His ass is so tasty, he turns damn near everybody around him into people with hearty appetites for it. Should he choose to share the money, he would be seen as a benevolent Banana, able to forgive Sarah for her ultimate sin. That would parlay into suckering future players into believing he is an honorable guy, where he is usually as full of shit as a septic tank.

As for the other teams? It would take a miracle for them to prevail in the finale.

Devin & Cheyenne

These  two have made show history as being the first Are You The One? alumni to make the final mission. They lost the first Jungle, got brought back, and managed to dodge a second trip by drawing white skulls. Devin is basically a poor man’s Wes, with the superiority complex that he needs to lose, even if he is the least of so many annoyances. Cheyenne recently lost it getting picked on by Johnny and his idiot cousin, to the point where she considered leaving. After talking to her mother (whose works would've earned her all of the prize money in a better world), Cheyenne came back to play. It's a pity she's got AYTO stink on her. I may have gotten to like her.

Jenna & Vince

Of course, Johnny's cousin would turn out to be a mainstay. Wince is still an asshole, and a dim one at that. He reminds me of Mac from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, what with the bulk and mental vacancy. He truly is related to Johnny, given how he lucked into the finale. Should he receive any money at the end, I fully expect Johnny to sell him beans for the prize. He wouldn't even have to claim to have magic beans. Johnny would have found a can at a bodega and pawn it off on Wince. And while I'm thinking about it . . . "Vinny Pineapple" is not a good nickname, Wes. That is yet another reason why you will never be considered cool.

Jenna is just as dull mentally. She probably thinks devices get heavier the more material is downloaded on them, and she didn't feel insulted when a pissed-off Devin labeled the other players "sheep." Her nadir came when she found out that her boyfriend Zach may have been unfaithful to her over the phone. She has crap taste in guys. Jay was a shrimp and a cheater, and he persuaded her to quit the final mission in Battle Of The Exes II. Given Zach’s lack of stamina in finales, I see him as a “two pump chump,” who constantly pinned Jenna to the bed as he went to dreamland. And she would stare at the ceiling, persuading herself that he was the right man for her. Now I hear rumors that she rebounded with Wince. That is a downgrade. If you clog your ears, Zach would be nice to look at. Wince can probably eke out half a pump before collapsing, and Jenna would have to reevaluate her life yet again. The girl needs an intervention.

Recently, I found out that VH1 Classic has been rebranded as MTV Classic, and it will show "classic" shows from MTVs heyday. If they opt to show Real World/Road Rules Challenge, may they air episodes from The Gauntlet. At least we would get a Sarah worth rooting for. The Sarah we got today makes it so hard.