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.

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