Saturday, February 24, 2007

TAR Stars: The First Cut Is The Deepest

Happier times: JVJ & Me, TARCon4 (2003)

While I was writing my post on Sunday, I was aware that something could go wrong with the first episode of The Amazing Race: All-Stars. In each season, there's never a team that you knew you could do without. We had somewhat blah pairs (Matt & Ana, Scott & John), nice folks who probably would've been toast if they lasted longer (Deidre & Hillary, Gina & Sylvia, Debra & Steve), and fun duos whose absence in subsequent legs made their seasons a little less fun (Avi & Joe, Ryan & Chuck, Vipul & Arti). Also, there were Dennis & Erika (the formerly engaged couple, she liked to skydive naked), the Black Family of Family Edition (perhaps the most unfortunately surrnamed team in reality show history) and Bilal & Sae'ed (cut out of TAR10 in the middle of the leg).

So there I was, painfully aware that a team I had liked in the past might be the first to be sent packing. I had the Frats, the Chas, the Guidos (had them to win) and Uchenna & Joyce (they did slay Ramber two years ago). The team that got eliminated first? Naturally, it was John Vito & Jill, the ones closest to me. And the worst part? They basically went out the same way as they did in their last outing

Here's the thing about JVJ: they showed strength in TAR3, as well as mental stability (looking at you, Flo), but they constantly bled time throughout the race. Some of it wasn't totally their fault, but they had lots of navigational problems. The biggest turning point came in the ninth leg. After finishing last in the previous episode, they went for the Fast Forward. You could see the wheels turning in their minds: Get the Fast Forward, win the leg, and don't worry about elimination for another two legs. Up until that point, there had never been back-to-back nonelimination legs.

JVJ broke off from the other four teams, hit a cabin in the Swiss Alps, and ate blocks of cheese to uncover the location of the Pit Stop. It seemed like everything was going to plan...until Flo & Zach got the break they needed when they didn't get eliminated. In the following leg, the teams went to Malaysia, JVJ struggled with the Detour, and couldn't catch up to Teri & Ian to the Pit Stop. As a result, JVJ got eliminated, and it was the start of the fall of TAR3...but that's another story.

Back to the current season: JVJ reached their bags first. They got to the ticket counter first, and they figured out that the flight that departed second would arrive in Ecucador first. At the end of the day, they managed to be in the front of the pack. Even better, in the "other teams talk about Rob & Amber" segment of the show, John Vito gave us this: "I've had enough of Rob & Amber, and I think that America may have also." As if I couldn't love the big fella any more than I already did.

The next day, the teams were let go in three groups, fifteen minutes apart. They had to go to Cotopaxi Park and make it to Hacienda Yanahurco...ideally at the north entrance. Rob & Amber and Oswald & Danny (the eventual top two teams for this leg) went for the same tact: speak Spanish and get taxis for themselves to follow. JVJ found a guy for him and Jill to follow. Eventually, JVJ finds out that they've been going the wrong way. While this is going on, every other team makes it to the park, and JVJ hit the south entrance. It came down to a race between JVJ and a struggling Kevin & Drew to not get eliminated...and since three people in there are Staten Islanders and proven fan favorites, I get depressed. If the editing is to be believed, the Frats managed to get to the Pit Stop before JVJ even got to the Detour. And just like that, my heart gets shattered every bit as bad as when they got eliminated the first time.

On Monday, I forced myself to watch Reality Remix, with commentary from unfunny and bitchy gay couple Lynn & Alex. They claimed that JVJ was the only team they didn't know about. So they knew who Teri & Ian were, but not JVJ? How does that work? They likened JVJ to the expendable slutty girl that gets killed off in horror movies. Then then declared that Kevin & Drew will be eliminated next, labelling them "the fat guys" and, according to Lynn, "they're going to roll themselves right off the track." As you can tell, I love to make myself suffer. Happily, the producers didn't want to punish their viewers by casting those twits, so they're stuck on Fox Reality where they belong.

It's been tough rooting for John Vito & Jill. First came the heart-breaking elimination in TAR3. Then came the news that they were no longer a couple. I mean, if the lovey-doviest couple around couldn't make it work, then what hope did the rest of us have? When I saw John Vito at TARCon9, I couldn't ask him for details. It wasn't any of my business, and I didn't have the stomach to ask if JV was dating Erika, or if he brought her to the party as a friend. And now, I have to settle for watching JVJ on "Elimination Station" on, where viewers can check out eliminated teams as they're sequestered. Seeing them wander the grounds by themselves was painful to watch, and I'm pretty sure they're not going to become a couple again. It's like have a favorite aunt and uncle divorce; they're cool as singles, but you can't imagine them apart, and you wouldn't want to do that. As a heterosexual guy, I should be thrilled that Jill is on the market (as far as I know), but she looked so much better with John Vito than she would with me.

There was a lot more to the first episode, but I'm not in the mood to going over Rob & Amber coming out in front yet again, Teri & Ian finishing in the top three (something they needed eight legs to achieve on their own merits in TAR3), David & Mary freakin' fawning over Ramber and finishing behind eighth-place Charla & Mirna (didn't finish below fifth until their elimination in TAR5), and poor Drew getting banged up as he and Kevin finished in tenth. Right now, JVJ is gone, and The Amazing Race: All-Stars is poorer for it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Return

I'm back. Not that anybody cares. Hell, I didn't care for the longest time. I never wanted to be somebody who would blog every day, regardless of how crappy I felt at the time.

I guess apathy played a huge part...I started this blog after I was tossed out by a certain reality-based website, and the need to recap faded away over time. Meanwhile, those really noxious ogres still chug along. When I read their yearly recap and saw they rated Will Kirby and Mike Malin over the likes of Survivor superstars Yul Kwon and Cirie Fields, I almost threw up. Then again, in last year's edition, not only did they not put Tom Westman -- the ass-kicking silver fox who dominated Survivor: Palau -- in their top 40 personalities list, they inserted Wanda Shirk. Remember her? Lasted about 36 hours on the show? So at least the dopes running the site are improving.

I've been keeping busy. For one thing, I'm freelancing for a free bimonthly magazine whose head honcho loves my work. Also, I'm gearing up for next weekend's New York Comic Con. You might have heard about their disasterous debut last year, when the fire marshall shut the place down for an hour or two, where people who had their tickets paid in advance were turned away, and where I found myself in a pissed-off mob, pressed against a wall, wondering if it was worth it to have gone to McDonald's before the proverbial fecal matter hit the fan. The good news is that there will be more room in the Javits Center to manuever. The potential bad news? The plans were made before folks like Stephen Colbert and Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet from Heroes) signed on. All it takes is for Masi Oka screaming "YATTA!" in a panel room, and everybody gets locked out again.

The real reason I'm writing is because the latest edition of The Amazing Race debuts tonight. This time, it's an "all-star" season, which doesn't bode well, given the past history of similar editons of established CBS shows. I'll ignore Big Brother, since that's the Special Olympics of the genre. Any show where a grown man who asks people to call him "Boogie" wins $500,000 is not that important. Survivor: All-Stars was crap from beginning to end, what with a naked Richard grinding on Susan's ass, Susan's subsequent freakout about it followed by her departure, and Amber and Rob taking on the likes of Jenna, Tom and Rupert. Look at those last three names. Do any of them strike you as the least bit intelligent? For me, the season peaked with Shii Ann holding off elimination by winning immunity, followed by her rubbing it in the other contestants' faces and calling them "stupid, stupid people" in an interview. Even if she wasn't the snarky "Shii Devil" I grew to love on Survivor: Thailand, I couldn't argue with her.

Anyway, it took months of speculation before the offical cast list was announced. It was like waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents, with Kevin & Drew represented by the Wii, while the likes of Eric & Danielle and Teri & Ian were the tube socks with premade holes. A lot of teams rumored to be in the race missed the cut, such as Kris & Jon (brightest spot of the abymisal TAR6), Kelly & Jon (rumored to have passed) and Dave & Lori (the nerds from TAR9). The biggest guns missing were Colin & Christie, since she was pregnant. Chip & Kim didn't get invited, provoking the usually mellow Chip to have a snit fit (justified in my opinion). Don't get me started on the exclusion of Ken & Gerard, two of the funniest guys who still had hair on their heads, fleeting as that may be.

So who do we have to contend with starting tonight? Let's run down the Racers...

Dustin & Kandice: Easily the strongest all-female team in the show's history. Sadly, these beauty queens were bratty last season, and I can't tell them apart unless they're wearing their "NY" and "CA" shirts.

David & Mary: Everybody's pick to be the first team eliminated. While their "rural couple meets new people" storyline was cute, their racing skills were very poor, and Mary had a tendacy to crack the whip on her husband. Also, I saw a clip on The Early Show where they're at an airport book store, and they freakin' fawn over Rob & Amber. Dammit, didn't Roise O'Donnell get you some dignity to go along with your new house?!?

Eric & Danielle: They're the weird "mixed" team, as Jeremy and Dani sit this one out. While Eric & Jeremy did a decent job in TAR9, I do remember that Danielle & Dani didn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of other teams. On the other hand, at least they got an invite that BJ & Tyler may have recieved instead.

Uchenna & Joyce: The only winning team racing this season. While they're very athletic and focused, it took a small reality show miracle for them to win TAR7, and that was probably the result of Joyce getting her head shaved in India for that to happen. If Ramber ends up getting eliminated, the pressure will be off this couple.

Rob & Amber: Why? Okay, they did dominate TAR7 with a vengeance, and they deserved the spot. But I am so tired of seeing them. I'm tired of hearing stuff like "reality royalty" to describe them. And I am tired of Rob bitching and whining about how he was robbed of a million bucks the last time. Guess what, Robby? Second place looks so good on you! Deal with it!

Charla & Mirna: Another team that gets in on "popularity." Look, I have no beef with Charla's lack of size. Problem is, she keeps going on about how she can do stuff normal people can, and doing stuff like biting into hundreds of chocolates to find one with a white center isn't my idea of normal. But Charla's even more lovable compared to her cousin, who had half of the teams in TAR5 ready to kill her at the drop of a hat. I did hear about a new strategy of theirs: Charla has those kiddie shoes with the wheels in them, and Mirna will drag her whenever possible. That alone would be worth seeing them in action.

Teri & Ian: What galls me about these two is the revisionist history CBS is willing to teach about these two. The official site on calls them "one of the fan favorites from all the seasons of Race." Really? These two basically bickered their way through TAR3, lucked out in surviving each leg only when another team did worse, and managed to finish second, which was as big of a bummer as Flo & Zach winning. If I hear Ian yell "Time to hump!" or Teri break out the paper underwear, my head will make an appointment with the nearest wall.

John Vito & Jill: My people, and not just because I interviewed them way back in 2002. The team that didn't race well enough to thrive, but looked classy (and hot) doing it. However, these two are no longer a couple, and I'm not sure how that will affect them. All I hope for is that they remain civil to each other and to the other teams. And if they're still cool at the end and make the final episode, I might go to TARCon wearing the camo pants they love to sport.

Oswald & Danny: Better known as Team Cha-Cha-Cha, these fabulous gay guys ran TAR2 well, killing locals with kindness and managing to freak out their opponents with their zen-like racing tactics. Apparently, there was a falling out between the pair (not couple...never a couple), but they're back on good terms. They're probably going to bow out in the early going, but isn't that what some people thought the first that around? Besides, Amber came from the second season of Survivor and she won All-Stars, and Mike Malin also hailed from the second Big Brother...and Oswald & Danny are the only team from TAR2. Something to think about.

Joe & Bill: Am I crazy for thinking that "Team Guido" will win? I know they're the oldest team running this season, but their extensive travelling experience has to be an asset. With bunching more prevelant than in TAR1, the odds of a "Guido edit" (stranded in Alaska as the top two teams finished in New York) happening again are slim to none. Also, I don't think they'll be as evil as their first time out. I've met them a few times, and they don't seem to be mean-spirited and opposed to Richard Hatch, who's probably keeping that attitude up even in the slammer.

Kevin & Drew: The biggest "no-brainer" selection. The bald frat brothers parlayed their fame into guest spots on Rosie, their own reality show on the Discovery Channel (which I recapped), and handing out clues to teams on TAR8. These two weren't slouches in TAR1, winning three legs and staying in contention for most of the way. They're also responsible for some of the funniest lines in the show's history. I can't say how far they'll get this time around, but it should be a fun trip.

Hopefully, I'll get motivated enough to write about the new season as it runs. Also, I should go over my time at the NYCC, as well as the upcoming trip to The Colbert Report next Wednesday. Who knows...maybe I'll get to recapping the Challenge again. Yeah, right. Don't hold your breath on that.