Sunday, June 06, 2010

Reality Rant: No Sympathy For The Devils

As I begin this essay, I'm at a Burger King in Manhattan. I managed to kill a half-hour on my own, but now I face about an hour's worth of time left on this computer. All this because I was on a date that ended early (long story), and I'm just passing time until the latest DWNY event. So I reckon this is about as good a time to talk about The Real World/Road Rules Challenge and what pisses me off about it.

I realize that it has to be all drama, all the time. The days of somebody like Roni, an athletic girl who got little camera time during The Gauntlet, appearing on the show are over. And we'll never have a heroic figure like Sarah and her five Gauntlet wins ever again. So we get stuck with mental midgets and scumbags galore. Bunim-Murray Productions managed to invite CT to two Challenges where he got into fights and had to leave before the first mission was even played. At the heart of this discord: three assholes who have made the game theirs.

It started with Fresh Meat, where experienced BMP hands were partnered with new recruits. One of them was Kenny Santucci, a Guido from New Jersey. He was paired with the noisome Tina (who hasn't been back since she smacked Beth in Gauntlet 3), and they managed to walk away with second place at the end of the season. Also new was Evan Starkman, who seemed to be a likable Canadian boy at first. It helped that he was teamed with BMP legend Coral, a chick who can't do wrong in my eyes. However, Evan wound up getting a hernia, and Coral hurt her knee, so they had to bow out midway through the competition, opening it up in the process. In subsequent Challenges, Kenny remained a woman-hating dick, while Evan crawled toward the dark side, culminating with turning his back on Coral in Gauntlet 3, joining the forces of evil that I labeled the Axis Of Ass. While most headaches from the past several Challenge seasons have been Fresh Meaters (Evelyn, Casey, Diem . . . Ryan and Eric to a lesser extent), there came a third loser who became a major player: John Devenanzio from The Real World: Key West . . . or, as viewers came to know him as, "Johnny Bananas." It's bad when one of them is on. It's another when all three appear at the same time, which happened in the previous season, The Ruins. They trashed the competition, ridiculed others, and sailed off with an easy win.

What bothers me is that there's never comeuppance for people like Kenny, Johnny and Evan. Things break their way, they manage to top the winners' list in money earned (toppling four-time Challenge winner Darrell), and they never get shit for treating others -- particularly women -- like crap. I keep expecting somebody . . . ANYBODY . . . to boo them at the post-season reunions, but that never happens. All I can do is impotently put the hammer down on them in the Television Without Pity forums and make insinuations about their sexuality. Other casts are in on the joke; they referred to Kenny and Evan as "Kevan" during The Ruins. I honestly believe that Kenny cannot have sex with a woman unless he tapes a picture of Evan on the back of her head. Am I wrong for saying stuff like that? Probably. I do not consider myself homophobic, but I get so angry seeing Kenny talk shit on Fresh Meat II, I drift off into my darker side, like I did with Beth when I recapped Gauntlet 2. He winds up with perhaps the strongest Fresh Meat girl from the stable (Laurel), they win one Exile endgame, then he engineers the destruction of Wes and Evelyn's alliance. And it's not that I like either of those headcases, but I get an earful of "Mr. Beautiful" (yes, this is what Kenny calls himself) pat himself on the back about it, doing everything but whip it out and yank it during interviews. And the worst part is that the others kowtow to him. There were times where Kenny and Laurel didn't win a mission, and they were vulnerable to going into Exile. Guess what? It didn't happen, because nobody had the brains or the spine to pull off the maneuver. Even worse, I find myself reading other forum posters' messages, where they stop looking at Kenny at his rotten core and notice how good-looking he is. So's most of the cast of Jersey Shore, but would you want to spend any time with those people?

This Wednesday is the season finale. I'm pretty certain Kenny will wind up winning $100,000 when it's all over. Of course, he'll get applauded for his actions at the reunion. When I found out about the date of the reunion at TARCon, I considered waiting to see Kenny come out, but I decided against it. Even if he knew he was a scumbag, getting told that he is one probably wouldn't affect him. And the next season will feature Johnny, so that's going to be painful to watch. Sooner or later, whether it's on-screen or off, karma will catch up to the likes of Kenny, Evan and Johnny. I'm hoping for "sooner" and "on-screen" myself, but I seldom get what I want.

PS: I managed to kill over a half-hour. I should visit Burger King more often for my blogging needs.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reality Rant: The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

As the title of this blog entry suggests, the finales for The Amazing Race and Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains were as different as night and day. And surprisingly, I actually liked the ending of Survivor a lot more than TAR.

What happened with TAR16 that made it a bit of a failure and unworthy of winning an umpteenth Emmy? Too many engineered rivalries (Narcs vs. Heidi & Joe, Lesbians vs. Brett Vs. Caite), easy Speed Bumps for teams that finished last in a prior leg, and a crappily-designed leg that caused Linda Holmes, the former Television Without Pity recapper known as Miss Alli, to declare that she was done with the show. Oh, and it turns out Jet, one of the beloved cowboys, isn't fond of gay people, to the point where he allegedly used a three-letter word to describe Jordan in front of Dan & Jordan's mother at the CBS finale party. After hearing that, I felt the need to take a shower. I'm not gay, but I don't want chinks in the armor of people that I root for.

Back to the finale . . . I watched at my usual destination: Stitch, a bar/restaurant in the fashion district (or is it garment district?), for TARCon. I miss the days of the Play-By-Play near Madison Square Garden and goodie bags (which were repealed once some asshole put a few up on eBay), but I honestly cannot imagine spending a TAR finale anywhere else, let alone at home. I paid $50 cover to get in around 7 p.m. as opposed to $75 and 6 p.m. because I was going to spend money at Who York (more on that later), and I already spent $55 on Custom Quest. I did find a seat, although I mostly stood up to watch the episode. Basically, there was no room for teams to maneuver. Dan & Jordan managed to butt ahead of Jet & Cord on line at the airport since the Cowboys were lollygagging near the ticket counter. Then the brothers wound up jumping to first class, which bent the rule of buying economy/coach tickets only. From there, their trip through San Fransisco was about as easy as it gets. The teams went through an ascender for a Roadblock and wound up at LucasArts for a fancy virtual reality task. How poor was the design? At one point, Jordan had finished his task (walking around a virtual environment) and had to stand around while Dan, watching on a monitor, had to read a clue circling around Jordan's avatar . . . and meanwhile, Jet (with his cowboy hat-wearing avatar) stood in front of Jordan, waiting for him to move out of the way so he could complete a level. Given that the fan favorites wound up losing on one of these turning points, I imagine the designers won't be getting bonuses this year.

Anyway, the brothers got their clue, did an all-too-easy "remember the legs?" task (putting up posters of teams in order of their elimination), and went to Candlestick Park (which I thought was torn down when the Giants moved out) for the finish line and the $1 million that they were lucky to get. Like I said, the brothers were like pond scum because they managed to rise to the top despite some shaky legs. The Cowboys came in second, followed by Brett & Caite, who got done in by a crappy cabbie and their leaving their fanny pack behind. Brandy then began to eviscerate Caite for the use of the U-Turn several legs ago. Never had a TAR finale gotten that ugly, and I've seen Eric call up his dumbass ex-partner Jeremy five seasons prior.

The difference between the TARCon crowd and the reaction on the TWoP episode thread could not have been more different. Most of the people posting hated the win, thought the brothers to be unworthy winners, and pissed all over Brandy. The TARCon crowd cheered the win. Yeah, I couldn't believe it, either. I thought the Cowboys would be the out-and-out favorites of the crowd, but when I talked to others, they said that they were pulling for the brothers. I think it's because Jordan was a fan of the show, and that he lived the ultimate dream. I wouldn't say that past winners were recruits that wouldn't have known TAR from Big Brother, but Jordan's pressuring of Dan to apply must have struck a cord. Also, most of us cheered on Brandy ripping into Caite. It's not that Brandy was right in doing so, but Caite and her partner (and ex, if I've heard correctly) were just another in a long line of irritating couples. It didn't matter that Caite could laugh about her "The Iraq" blunder by appearing in the meme-tastic video for Weezer's "Pork & Beans." Caite still sucks, and I wish TAR would stop casting pageant contestants altogether.

Almost two weeks after TARCon, I have to say that most of it was a blur. First came two former Racers in Mark from TAR13 (wearing a Villains t-shirt from Survivor) and Drew from the original season and the only other Staten Islander besides myself that I can recall (John Vito used to come to TARCon, but I haven't seen him in a while). Then came a mix of past and present Racers, including Dan & Jordan, Jet & Cord (and their black and white cowboy hats, respectively), Caite, Louie & Michael (the latter without his trademark mustache), Heidi (without Joe; he was promoting a book), Monique & Shawna (the "Momtrepreneurs") and Dana & Adrian (the first team eliminated, whom I met at the Quest). Off the top of my head, there was also Ken (TAR3), Tom & Terry (gay team from TAR10 with matching hairlines), Joe (TAR6, who I briefly bumped into and didn't realize it; I usually recognize his diminutive partner Avi on sight), and some others. It got crowded, and I didn't get to chat up many people that much. I saw Heidi laugh it up with the Narcs, showing that Louie & Michael's Blind U-Turn of her and Joe was water under the bridge. I did get to talk to Jordan, who was thrilled not only to win, but to be the first gay Racer to triumph since Reichen & Chip from way back in TAR4. I also chatted with Murtz Jaffer from Reality Obsessed. He told me that the reunion for Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat II was filming that Tuesday. I think I'm getting old, because I didn't get the gumption to go up to MTV's headquarters and hassle some of the idiots involved . . . especially Kenny, whose superiority complex is eclipsed only by Russell's. I honestly wish I brought a tape recorder, because it's so hard for me to remember some of the other conversations that I had. I did see a woman breastfeed her baby, though. Took me about two seconds after I was shooed away for me to realize what I had seen. You can check out my pictures here. It was a good time had for such a lame finale.

One week later, there came the finale for Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains. And for the first time, I had to miss a final episode. I'm into Doctor Who New York, a local fan club of sorts dedicated to the hit British sci-fi series. That night was a Who York event featuring Sylvester McCoy, the seventh actor to play the Doctor on the show, and I couldn't miss that. Like with TARCon, I can't remember most of the stuff he talked about, but I do remember having fun. When I got home around 11, I rewound the tape and played it, shotgunning three hours of Survivor fun in one shot.

While The Amazing Race had a finale that was unpredictable and yet lame, Survivor had a predictable finish that was awesome. Last week, I predicted most of the outcome correctly, except what happened was what I wanted to happened, as opposed to what I thought would realistically happen. I thought that Parvati was going to win, because she had more experience than anybody else (having played 114 out of a possible 117 days in three seasons), and mostly because I didn't like her. She wound up winning the 833rd endurance challenge of the season, and Colby rolled over and died for the most part, except when he made an eleventh hour plea to Russell that fell on the troll's deaf ears. Then came a blindfolded maze challenge, where Russell barely triumphed over Jerri and Parvati, with Sandra, as usual, nowhere near contention. There was suspense whether Jerri or Parvati would be the last to go, but Jerri got a predictable 3-1 boot. Then came Day 39, where the finalists had to face a jury of their peers. Here are the approximations of their arguments for the million bucks:

Parvati: "Did I use Russell to get this far? Yes. Am I going to take a long shower to cleanse myself of the evil scuzziness? Of course. If there was another way, I would've taken it. I'm young and I'm hot, people . . . you gotta vote for me."

Russell: "I'm Russell Motherfucking Hantz, the greatest player in the history of reality television. I lied to y'all, I hid a machete on my teammates, I showered losers with visions ranging from the final three to fellatio, and I ain't sorry. Y'all should be the sorry ones, lookin' all losery on those hard benches. Don't think I didn't see the fake gagging one of y'all did when I voted that one time. If y'all have a brain in your damn heads, you'd vote for me. Dumbasses."

Sandra: "Okay, I didn't win an individual reward or immunity challenge. I never got close to that. I promised myself that I'd get rid of Russell, and I obviously failed. But I tried to work with the Heroes, and what did they do? Right . . . tell Russell about it. Then I had to change my plans to work with the majority, because I'm sticking to what won me the million the first time . . . being as sneaky and non-obtrusive as possible. Oh, and I burned Russell's stupid porkpie hat today. Who wants a fistbump? Besides Courtney, who's already in the bag for me. I love ya, girl!"

Then the jury got to ask questions. All I can remember was Coach borrowing "the penitent man will pass" quote from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Courtney's love-in with Sandra, and Rupert being unable to blink throughout the proceedings, looking like a serial killer. Then he tore Russell a new asshole, probably as a response to Russell mockingly calling him "the second coming of Christ" . . . which wasn't far from the truth, given that Rupert's ugliness is usually buried under good press. Then came the voting, with three votes shown for Parvati (including one from Coach, where he went on a long-winded speech about Arthur, punctuated by an eagle's screeching) and three for Sandra (including Rupert being proud to write her name for a million bucks again like he did on Pearl Islands). After the usual Jeff Probst spiel of "This has been a great time, but y'all gotta wait a little longer," the show went live at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. I won't lie . . . after the Who York event, there was a part of me that wanted to go up there and see if I could get close to some of the people involved. I think Sandra needed a hug from a big hairy guy who wasn't as insane as Rupert. But it was late, and I probably would've gotten stuck getting hugged by Jon Dalton, who was inexplicably in the audience. Whether he sneaked in or was brought in as a potential punching bag for Rupert's doughy fists, I will never know.

To say that I was thrilled with Sandra's 6-3-0 win over Parvati and Russell is an understatement. Like I said before, previous "all-star" seasons of CBS reality shows have ended with the least deserving winners. For instance, Mike Malin's win on Big Brother All-Stars was recapped by Miss Alli, and it was harrowing to read. Amber didn't deserve to be cast for Survivor: All-Stars, and I still say Parvati was "favorite" enough for Fans Vs. Favorites even though she finished fifth on Cook Islands (which surprised me). Sandra's win took hard work, effort, and a little bit of luck to pull off. She wound up with the $1 million grand prize, the distinction of being the first two-time winner in the show's history, and a lovely tiara which she wore on the reunion after her win. Parvati got $100,000 and the makings of a good argument for being the best player ever. And while it's hard to put a positive spin for Russell, he wound up with $350,000 for two straight seasons of work ($100,000 second place money from Samoa, $50,000 for third in HvV, two $100,000 prizes for "fan favorite" honors). As for the others?

Sugar: She found out that it's not okay to cry and dry-hump a sleeping Colby (not at the same time, mind you).

Stephenie: Despite her early and ugly exit (as described here), it probably was for the best, especially after her crappy behavior in Guatemala. Also, it's a shame that she got a third time at-bat, while Bobby Jon was shut out.

Randy: I honestly don't believe he's a racist. I reckon he hates mostly everybody, and that he's so grouchy that he should be living in a trash can. Getting dispatched by James quickly in his final immunity challenge was not sweet. Throwing his buff into the fire after being voted out? Totally sweet. And he was the first Villain to be aware of how dangerous Parvati was.

Cirie: If only she had worked with Tom. And if only she had better support up top. I swear, if she gets a fourth chance, she could kill somebody with a loose boob.

Tom: If only he had worked with Cirie. His early exit and status as the only ex-champion to not play a part in the later game does ding his overall legacy, but I still feel he's one of the best players ever, as evidenced in his domination in Palau.

Tyson: Dumbass. Can't believe I picked him as the winner.

Rob: He's had five chances at a million bucks and he's failed each time. I think he should get back to construction and tend to his wife and beautiful baby girl.

Coach: His work as the lead singer of the Dragonz almost makes up for the time he cried after Sandra smacked him verbally during Tribal Council.

Courtney: When I want a snarky New York chick, I'll take Shii Ann. But Courtney wasn't too bad, and I liked how she insisted on referring to Probst as "Jeffery."

JT: Super dumbass. Who gives a hidden idol to the enemy? I had to explain it to Bob & Kathy, who let me watch the episode at their place. In terms of total brainless moves, Erik giving up individual immunity in Micronesia -- Fans Vs. Favorites still tops that.

Amanda: Too bad that "The Closer" couldn't blow another finale win. With her lack of jury-convincing skills, Russell could have beaten her in the end.

Candice: Who?

Danielle: . . . who? Oh, the one that almost catfought with Amanda for the immunity idol clue. That was awesome.

Rupert: Using a pocketed rock as a fake immunity idol was pretty smart, but he's still the most overrated player in the show's history, and no amount of tie-dye can hide that.

Colby: It was like seeing a favorite player hobble around with a different team . . . Willie Mays with the 1972-73 Mets, for instance. The next time he's on television, may he hawk razors again.

Jerri: Wins "Most Improved" honors, but her would-be fling with Coach? Yeesh.

There's not much else to talk about, aside from Russell laminating JT's letter to him (which was awesome), a brief remembrance of the late Jenn Lyons, and no performance from Dragonz. For the first time in too long, Survivor had outdone The Amazing Race. Here's hoping that TAR's braintrust gets the show back in gear come the seventeenth season. And here's hoping Survivor walks away with an Emmy this fall, and not one for Probst alone.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reality Rant: Russelling Up A Finale

While The Amazing Race has faltered in its latest season, Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains has been mostly unpredictable and interesting to watch. Sure, some good players (Stephenie, Tom, Rob) wet out too early, but we're heading for an intriguing finale. Let's look at the final five:

Colby: No way does he win. The only way he gets the $1 million is if he makes it to Day 39, there's a 3-3-3 tie, and Jeff Probst supplies his biggest mancrush with his own vote. Colby's been more or less out of contention throughout the competition, culminating with his refusing to back Amanda in her catfight over the immunity idol clue with Danielle. All he wanted to do there was watch Treasure Island in peace. He did show signs of life in the latest episode, yelling at his brother during the reward challenge, guaranteeing that they would never get invited to run on TAR. He either goes out on Day 37 or Day 38.

Jerri: Unlike her Australian Outback rival Colby, Jerri's been playing the game. The problem is that she hasn't been shown to be a huge part of the game. She's been a swing vote once or twice, and she's won reward and immunity challenges (the latter being a first for her in her three seasons), but she's either early cannon fodder or a third-place finisher. At least she didn't play the part of the bitch like in her original season.

Russell: For all of his strategy, bravado, and the uncanny ability to get immunity idols, Russell has no social game at all. Basically, it's just him bullying others, targeting those who don't dance to his tune, and beating off about how awesome he is. The good news: contrary to what Rupert might think, he's still not as bad as Jon Dalton, a human tick who didn't so much play the game as irritate those around him. The bad news: he ain't winning the million bucks, and he's probably going to break down at the reunion like he did at the end of the Samoa season.

Parvati: I have problems with her. I feel that she was a mediocre player in her original season (Cooks Islands), but she got invited to Micronesia: Fans Vs. Favorites on account that she was flirty "eye candy." Then she won that season, which I didn't think she deserved. Also, she beat Amanda for the grand prize. I could beat Amanda. Hell, Russell could beat Amanda. I feel that Randy was right about her, that she just flips her hair and she gets stuff for it. She's already got 111 days on her odometer going into the finale. Should she win, many would consider her to be the best player ever, and I don't know how I feel about that.

Sandra: She's my favorite of this lot. She won Pearl Islands by going under the radar, staying out of the crosshairs and not getting a single vote cast against her despite a lack of immunity wins. Her gameplay is next to pathetic, but she manages to be a vital swing vote when she needs to be. I like her for being snarky and for not kowtowing to the likes of Russell. Last time, she got a 6-1 win on Day 39. Granted, it was against Lillian, a spacey Boy Scout leader who missed a number of days. There's no way the road to riches will be that easy for her.

Also, I'm thinking that Dragonz will perform at the reunion. That's a band featuring Coach, Courtney and JT. Seriously, check to "Ponderosa" videos on For an amateur band, they're pretty good. It's almost worth it to have a deluded chump like Coach and a dumbass like JT cast for this season. But for what'll happen?

What I'd Like To Happen: First up, Jerri gets voted off, followed by Colby. The latter will announce the total failure of the Heroes tribe to get any major advantages, culminating with JT delivering an immunity idol to Russell with a "Hang In There, Buddy" letter. The jury will be ugly as usual, and the vote goes down 4-4-1. It's revealed that each finalist votes for the other two in case of ties, and Russell's vote decides the game. That explains why he was sobbing during the Samoa reunion; because he knew he blew Heroes Vs. Villains. In the end, he decides to vote against Parvati, giving the big prize to Sandra.

What Will Probably Happen: Well, Colby's out by Day 38. Jerri has an outside shot getting into the final day, but she won't win. I'm thinking a Parvati/Russell/Sandra finale is practically preordained. Russell doesn't win, that much is certain. I hate to say it, but Parvati will probably get the win over Sandra, either 5-4-0 or 6-3-0. Oh, and Survivor will finally get a nomination for Best Competitive Reality Series at the Emmys.

No matter what, it's been one helluva ride. And if it turns out badly? We'll have four months for the next season in Nicaragua

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Comic Rant: A Letter To Dan Didio

The following is a letter that I am going to mail to Dan Didio, the editor-in-chief of DC Comics. After scanning a recent issue, I am ticked enough to write an old-fashioned letter to him.

Dan Didio
c/o DC Comics
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Didio,

I want to take you back to May 2008. The occasion was Wizard World Philadelphia. The event was a panel on Final Crisis. At the time, I was worried about a favorite character of mine; he had his own book, but it was canceled after 25 issues. I was worried that he was going to end up in editorial limbo or worse. So I stood on line -- something I never do -- and asked my question: Would Ryan Choi, the All-New Atom, be safe?

You and Ian Sattler emphasized that Choi would be "safe." "Our hope," you said, "is that we get to show him in other series, and people get to know him and we can give him his own book again somewhere down the line." Satisfied, I sat down, content that Ryan Choi would not be touched.

Flash forward to the present. I'm looking through a copy of Titans: Villians For Hire, and I see Ryan Choi is there. And then he gets attacked by Deathstroke and a cadre of super-villians. To my horror, Ryan is stabbed through the chest, killed in what I can only describe as a "Ted Kord Bitch Death." To add insult to injury, Deathstroke presented Ryan's body in a matchbox to Dwarfstar, the closest thing he had to an arch-nemesis.

Ryan Choi was a brilliant character, created by Grant Morrison and developed by Gail Simone. While Ray Palmer wasn't totally lacking in backstory, Ryan was intriguing in his own right. He took over Ray's position as a professor in Ivy Town, got into a relationship with Giganta, and had a giant floating head for a roommate. He survived the Black Mercy, teamed up with Wonder Woman, and fought zombie version of his tormentors from high school in Hong Kong. With three guys named "Flash" and four Earthlings as Green Lanterns, surely the world would have been big enough for two Atoms.

What I want to know is this: why did Ryan Choi have to die? Is it so important for Silver Age-era heroes to come back that "legacy" characters have to be sidelined or worse? What happened between May 2008 and now to make Ryan a dead man? I know that it's dangerous to get attached to certain characters, but I figure that you more or less lied to me two years ago, and I feel you owe me an answer. Any answer will do.

As for buying comics from your company? Look, I'm not going to pretend that I'm going to take all of my business to Marvel. The fact that Gail Simone is under exclusive contract means I will buy at least two books from your company. But I honestly feel betrayed by this recent event. And if I don't get a chance to remind you at the next convention I visit, I'm sure somebody else will more than likely do that.

Jason Borelli

I know, the odds of me getting a letter back aren't good, let alone a satisfactory answer. Should I get a response from Didio or anybody else representing DC Comics, I'll post it here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Quest Called Quest

Before I reminisce about the clusterfuck that was the sixteenth season of The Amazing Race and the subsequent celebration of TARCon XVI, there was another bit of a debacle. Well, a debacle for me, anyway.

Actually, that's not really fair. There was a lot of work done with the Gotham Quest, which was set up by Custom Quest Events. The connection to The Amazing Race is that it was formed by a quartet of former Racers: TAR15 champs Meghan Rickey & Cheyne Whitney and third-placers Brian Kleinschmidt & Ericka Dunlap. It was a good setup; for $55 a head, individuals, pairs and teams run around New York, completing TAR-inspired tasks. After some deliberation, I decided that unlike Jordan Pious, this was about as close to getting on The Amazing Race as I was going to get.

We met at a Sbarro's on a dreary day in Times Square. Some of the wannabe Racers dressed alike, representing their own groups. I decided to go it alone; according to Brian, some tasks were best to go alone, while others would benefit from being on a team. I was handed a passport and $1.50 by Meghan. Then I immediately and unknowingly broke the spirit of the rules and bought a new umbrella. The one I bought was busted up pretty badly, and I would need protection, especially since I had on a short-sleeved shirt with no jacket. Oh, and my left sneaker had scratches on the sole, making it easy for water to seep in and soak the sock. Needless to say, it was going to be a long day.


Your team has been recruited to join the Army. Find Lieutenant Francis P. Duffy in Times Square to get his enlistment number, located on his backside. Memorize the number sequence and verbally deliver it to the Quest Rep standing at the Armed Forces Recruiting Office in Times Square. You must memorize the number. No writing it down!

(All team members may work to memorize and deliver the number. If you need help finding the Recruiting Office, take a look with Duffy.)

At first, I lucked out. I started looking for actual people before stumbling onto a statue of Lt. Duffy near the ticket line for Broadway shows. But then, I screwed myself up, big-time. The idea was that I had to get a number from a Rep behind the statue. He even showed me the number that I was suppose to memorize. But I got it in my head that the "enlistment number" was his birth and death dates, as seen on the back (or "backside") of the statue. Like a dummy, I went to the other Rep, delivered the dates, and got shot down. I went back to the statue, going so far as to take a picture of the back. I tried delivering the numbers, but I was wrong. The Rep at the Recruiting Office told me I had to "transpose" the numbers, and I must have looked like I was expected to talk in Chinese. I wound up giving up entirely. After I misinterpreted another clue (more on that in a bit), I came across . . .


Navigate your team to the National Broadcasting Company headquarters and look for the flags surrounding the statue of Prometheus. Find the Quest Rep under the Netherlands flag to get a note card. You must count every flag and give your answer to the Quest Rep standing underneath the Estonian flag. ONLY COUNT THE US FLAG ONCE. If your answer is correct, your passport will be stamped.

Finding the Rep was the easy part . . . I just had to look for somebody with a nametag. Counting the flags was also easy, at least at first. Turns out there are flags surrounding the area of the statue, flags near benches, flags elsewhere, flags, flags, flags. I finally came up with what I thought was the correct answer, and I looked for the other Rep to hand in my total. And I looked. And I looked. I called my mother to find out what the Estonian flag looked like. I have a copy of Our Dumb World at home, which came in handy . . . until you realize that picking out one flag in slightly less than two hundred was like finding a needle in a haystack. Needless to say, I gave up. And I would have been wrong anyway; my total of 171 (give or take five) was off by about twenty flags.

So You Think You Can Dance

Find the world's largest indoor theater nicknamed the "Showplace of the Nation." Gather your team and find five strangers to perform the dance that made this building famous. If it meets the standards of the Quest Rep, your passport will be stamped.

I am not a people person. I realize this, but I trucked over to Radio City Music Hall to try and get people to dance like Rockettes. It could be done; on my way to Rockefeller Plaza, I saw a group dancing. Sadly, I was pretty unconvincing in trying to round up people. I think the key is to get tourists to do stuff like that. It didn't help that I was 0-for-2 and in a bad mood because of my soaked foot. Ever have people cross a street to get away from you? That's some demoralizing shit right there. Now I was 0-for-3 and thoroughly ticked off at myself. And after realizing that I'd be too late to complete another task, I was 0-for-4. I needed salvation, and fast.

Common Sense

This delightfully tacky yet refined establishment, which is famous for its chicks, breasts and thighs, is a Quest destination. Once you locate it, find the Quest Rep standing by the parking meter in front of the main entrance to get your next clue and a chick...if you're lucky.

Here's how dense I was . . . I thought the clue pertained to a KFC near Times Square. In my defense, there was a parking meter nearby. After failing at Radio City Music Hall, I went uptown to Hooters on 56th Street. What? I pass by there sometimes when I'm looking for the express bus back home. Anyway, I wind up seeing Mark Yturralde from TAR13. This is a good omen: he and Bill Kahler were the "nerds" of that season, and Mark is the treasurer at Comic Con International, the humongous convention that's Mecca to geeks the world over. After greeting him enthusiastically, he gave me this clue:

The Quest Rep is 41 cents short to pay the meter. Using only the money provided to you at the start of the race, you must give the Quest Rep exact change to pay the remainder of the meter fee. Give the Rep 41 cents, one coin at a time, in the order of the Presidents' years in office from earliest to most recent. You may not use a coin more than once. Make sure you keep the change.

I think I sat down on the ground to figure this out before I realized that the answer was easy: penny, nickel, dime, quarter. Problem was, I didn't know how to get change. Luckily, there were three or four banks nearby. However, I was self-conscious about making change at a bank where I wasn't a customer. So I had this approximate conversation:

Me: Hi. Can you make change?

Teller: Sure. What do you need?

Me: [handing in a dollar] Nine dimes, a nickel and five pennies, please.

Teller: Are you with The Amazing Race?

Me: Wait, so I'm not the only one?

I got my change, and presented it to Mark in the given order (quarter/Washington, nickel/Jefferson, penny/Lincoln, dime/Roosevelt). At long last, I got my passport stamped, and I got a "chick" of sorts: an egg. All I had to do was present it at Sbarro's for an extra point. I took it and place it in one of the pockets of my backpack, sure that it wouldn't break.

Oh Say Can You Sing

Make your way to the most famous concert hall in NYC. The only way to get there is to Practice, Practice, Practice. Find the Quest Rep and ask for your clue and a piece of paper.

The answer was Carnegie Hall, which was a stone's throw away from Hooters. There, I saw Dana & Adrian Davis, the first team eliminated in TAR16. My mission: it wasn't to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," but to write out the lyrics and then sing it. I got most of the lyrics from memory, got a few words from others singing it to Dana & Adrian (there should have been a separate, faraway area for those brainstorming), and got the rest from a text-answering service. Once they went over my lyrics, Dana & Adrian asked me to sing the anthem, which I did . . . poorly. However, I got a point for my efforts and a bonus point for identifying Francis Scott Key as the writer of the anthem. Emboldened, I headed north to Central Park.

The Heat Is On

Find "The Bard Of Avon" in Central Park. Once you locate him, find the Quest Rep and solve the puzzle. In order to accomplish this Quest you must be able to hand the heat and concentrate.

After a few pieces of advice on direction and a near-collision with a bike rider, I found a statue of William Shakespeare. Waiting for me were Meredith Tufaro (from two legs of TAR6) and Murtz Jaffer (host of Reality Obsessed, a Canadian show). The deal: I had to flip over up to ten tiles to reveal a puzzle. Answer the puzzle, get the stamp. The catch? Before I turned over a tile, I had to take a lick of a teaspoon of wasabi paste. What wasabi has to do with Shakespeare is beyond me. I figured that I ate wasabi with sushi all the time, so how hard could it be?

By the second tile, my mouth was on fire. Nearby, a few people who ambled onto the scene were laughing. I drink my bottle of water, and I think I wound up dropping it. I wouldn't say I was in agony, but I wasn't exactly comfy. After flipping a third tile, I had a part of a knot, an oar, and what looked like the letter "D." My brain must have clicked on to self preservation mode, because I got the answer: "2 B Oar Knot 2 B." And I scored a bonus point for identifying Hamlet as the play where the quote came from. Sadly, I had to go back to Sbarro's, since time was running out. Here's what I wound up missing:

One Blind Mouse: This was more of a team-based challenge, and I don't know if I could have been able to pull it off. At Driprock Arch in Central Park, one team member would be have his/her shoes removed. Another person would be blindfolded, and the first person had to direct the teammate to the shoes, have him/her retrieve them, and put them on the person's feet. Sounds like a riot, to be honest. The judge for the task: circus clown Al Rios from TAR4.

Show Some Love: This was another "gather complete strangers for fun" task. This time, you had to go to the "LOVE" Statue and recruit ten strangers for a group hug. A judge would take a Poloroid picture, and that had to be presented at the finish line.

Stuff And Guff: The clue directed people to Herald Square. The goal was to stand next to a Quest Rep when "Stuff" and "Guff" (or "Gog" and "Magog") rang in the new hour. I would've went, but I didn't think it would be that far south . . . and by the time I realized it, it was too late.

You Don't Know Jack: You had to go to a Jack's 99cent store and use the money provided at the start to buy shower caps for the whole team, which had to be worn at the finish line. My mother would have loved this, since she goes to Jack's all the time.

T-Rex Tower: This was at the same location as "One Blind Mouse." You had to use a certain amount of Jenga blocks to form a tower 33 inches high, then set a small Tyrannosaurus Rex figure on top.

I wasn't really in the best of moods when I made it to Sbarro's about two minutes late, with Brian exuding me to "run it out." It took forever to get my passport out of my backpack . . . and when I opened the pocket, I had broken egg all over it. I lost count of how many paper towels it took to dry the inside of the pocket. And when picking out dessert for my free lunch, nothing really looked good to me, since I had allergy concerns over the stuff I did like. Anytime I was asked if I had fun, all I could do was smile and shrug. My passport didn't get scored, but I think I got 4-6 points total.

I should have had more fun. I let myself get down in the dumps for failing the tasks and for not having footwear that would be puddle-proof. In retrospect, I should've had a partner to make things easier. Still, I feel that the next time there's a chance to do the Custom Quest, I won't be quick to dismiss it entirely.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Reality Rant: The Road To TARCon

I was going to write a long-winded essay on the upcoming season finale of The Amazing Race, but I've been distracted. And when I say "distracted," I mean "procrastinating like hell."

What it boils down to is that we have a chance to have a team win that's also a true fan favorite. No offense to the likes of recent champions TK & Rachel, Nick & Starr, Tammy & Victor and Meghan & Cheyne, but as pleasant as they all were, they were just the most enjoyable in comparison to other teams, but bland in the bigger picture. This season, we have Jet & Cord McCoy, the affable cowboys from Oklahoma. In a bit of kismet, I actually recapped them when they were on Kevin & Drew Unleashed in 2004. Aside from a mild outburst at the Pit Stop in Seychelles, they've been an exemplary duo, winning four legs and a lot of fans in the process. If they win, this would make up for the Harlem Globetrotters -- "Flight Time" and "Big Easy" -- melting down in the penultimate leg last season. Even with the somewhat repetitive "Oh, my gravy!" talk, they're fun to watch.

Their opponents? Well, we have brothers Dan & Jordan, whom might have applied to the show as opposed to being recruited. I figure that's the case because Jordan is a true blue TAR fan that's living the dream of running on the show, and he dragged Dan with him. Unfortunately, Dan can be a bit testy, like with a Chinese cabbie in the last episode. Also, they're mediocre Racers; they didn't place higher than sixth in the first four legs, they finished fifth twice in the three ensuing legs, and their only leg win was aided by a Fast Forward. Granted, climbing from car to car on a 541-foot Ferris wheel took testicular fortitude, but they're basically pond scum, in the sense that they've risen to the top while better teams (narcs Louie & Michael, lesbians Carol & Brandy, father/daughter duo Steve & Allie) got eliminated.

Speaking of pond scum, there's Brent & Caite. As everybody in the free world knows, Caite was a contestant in the Miss Teen USA pageant in 2007, when she garbled an answer to a question about how Americans couldn't locate their country on a world map. Caite's been helbent to prove that she's not stupid. She is, however, annoying, and so is her boyfriend. I'm too lazy to look up specifics, but there was the whole Carol/Brandy thing, where Caite got wind that they had made fun of her, and she and Brent -- whipped into a frenzy by Louie & Michael -- pulled a U-Turn on them. And apparently, Carol & Brandy will confront the team at the finish line in the finale. I'm not a fan of Brent & Caite, to the point where I'm pulling for the lesbians to tackle them. Like Dan & Jordan, they've lucked their way into the finale. They managed to finished higher than sixth once in the first six legs.

This hasn't been the best season of The Amazing Race, to the point where there's been a bit of a backlash against the critically acclaimed show. The remedy for that besides Donald Trump bad-mouthing the program? Jet & Cord need to win. It's that simple. If either of the other teams wins, it's going to be a disappointment. As for me, I'm going to go to TARCon for the fifteenth consecutive season to watch the finale. I'm pretty sure most of the crowd there will agree with me. At least no matter what happens, I'll be meeting some of the past and present teams from the show. I'll have fun no matter what, and I'll try and recap the festivities later this week.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Adventures In Chicago: Day Five

Well, I can't say anything exciting happened to me today. Unlike last year, I didn't find myself in a parking lot after midnight, getting ready for an hour's drive home. Thankfully, the cab fare from Newark to Staten Island isn't as steep as with JFK, so I got to go home the same way I flew . . . going in and out of a coma. It's weird . . . I never feel a need to nap during a comic con, but as soon as it's over, I plop on the bed at the hotel and chill for about an hour.

It was nice to come home, where I found a "No Video Input" indicator on my television, and where I was greeted with over seven hours of darkness on tape where televised programs should be. Now I'm thankful to Bob and Kathy for letting me watch Survivor at their place, because I would have missed that. I need a DVR. I'd ask my mother about me pitching in money per month, but a. It might be a lot, b. I seldom find myself needing to watch two programs at the same time since I got videotape, and c. After shipping my meds overnight -- her idea, by the way -- my mother might hold that against me.

Once again, I question whether I'm getting too old for conventions. My mother didn't say anyth ing about it, though she did make fun of a guy in a picture that I took who dressed up as Sinestro. I like going to cons, and I like having adventures, even though I usually get bored half of the time. As for the stuff that goes wrong? I need to stop hurting myself by being more responsible, cutting down on my mistakes along the way. I guess that in the big picture, I still like going to conventions, problems and all.

I'm going to decompress tomorrow. Wednesday, it's back to the grind of looking for work and working out at the gym. Oh, ad uploading all of the sketches onto my Flickr and ComicArtFans accounts. That alone should keep me busy for days.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Adventures In Chicago: Day Four

I am a lucky guy. About ten minutes ago, I was on my way back to the hotel from dinner, and I felt my pocket. My cell phone wasn't there. I got to my room, emptied my bag and pockets. No phone. I called the phone number. No answer. I called the bar where I went for fried shrimp and onion rings. It wasn't there. I called again . . . and it rang. In my room. It was behind my laptop. Either I didn't take it with me, or a higher power cut me a break.

The convention? It was boring in its final day. Actually, that's not really fair. It was one of those deals where I was hunting for stuff, and I forgot to check on panels' start times. Regrettably, I also failed to catch Gail Simone and her husband before they left. It wasn't just a matter of, say, finding out if they were coming to Manhattan for New York Comic Con in October. We like each other. I kinda owe them a hug. Well, just Gail, anyway. In other news, I totally failed to go to panels outside what I'm comfortable with. I meant to check on Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears and a panel on local creators. I wanted to know if there was historic precedent for superheroes in the Windy City. Oh, well.

Sketches? I wound up with nineteen. Nineteen. And that's not counting stuff in or on books (including a Fozzie Bear drawing on an issue of The Muppet Show comic, which was surprisingly good). To give you an idea on how many that makes, I got twenty at Comic Con International last year, and that was over a four-day period. I regret only one; if you're going to ask for a Legion of Superheroes character, don't let it be Brainiac 5 unless you have it colored. The guy has no distinguishing logos at all, and I dunno what I was thinking. Sadly, I found a colorist, but that was about five minutes before closing time.

Like I said, I was bored most of the time, mainly because I gave my book to an artist for my "Poison Ivy In Front Of Ivy-Covered Wall At Wrigley Field" idea. It's not a fair conclusion that C2E2 was boring, but it wasn't anywhere near as hectic as Reed Exhibitions' other big show, NYCC. While there weren't any "must wait on line for 40-60 minutes" panels, I'm happy to say that weren't any lines to get into rooms at all . . . not even the Doctor Who screening, which had a one-night jumpstart on the official U.S. airing on BBC America. There was a line, but it wasn't that long as far as I can remember.

So what can I take away from C2E2? Well, they need to have more stuff, and have it a little less spread out. I got lost on Friday, but mostly because I let myself do that. It's a blend of blind faith and living dangerously. I'd throw in shuttles into the city; like NYCC and the Javits Center, it's some distance from the heart of Chicago, and I don't think the subway/El goes out there. As it is now, C2E2 is second-tier, which isn't bad for a first-year con, but I'm not sure I'd want to come back next year. Oh, and they should move it to August, to compete directly with the Chicago Comic Con run by Wizard Entertainment, as retaliation for Wizard moving their Big Apple Comic Con to the same dates as NYCC. I've been to Rosemont on two occasions. There's barely anything out there beyond hotels. C2E2 would kill Wizard, I'm sure of it.

I'm going home tomorrow. I got way too many freebies and books for my own good. I have to say that after Friday, things got a lot better. Sure, I wonder if going long distances for conventions is getting old, but I enjoy meeting people, from passing conversations with strangers to talking with professionals. I honestly feel I'm getting better at interacting with people. Bob and Kathy welcoming me into their home didn't hurt, either.

As for my next adventure? I might go to Baltimore for the city's two-day con. That's a trip, since I just drive down there and chill at a cheap hotel with access to the local light rail. I'd love to go to San Diego next year, but I think I need a job first to even think about getting lodging and tickets. And, of course, I got my reservations to NYCC. Who knows? If you're reading this, we might be meeting up in October.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Adventures In Chicago: Day Three

I'm in the middle of my trip, and I'm feeling much better. Last night was miserable, especially after I logged off and discovered that I had lost my copy of Justice Society Of America: Thy Kingdom Come Vol. 3, which I paid half-price for. I think I lost it at at Doctor Who viewing; what I think happened was that I was reading it, and I put it down, and it slipped out of my bag. I checked with security today, but nobody checked it in.

Instead of a prolonged walk to McCormick Place, I took the shuttle bus like a sane person would. The convention center became a little more manageable, though it was still a minotaur shy of a labyrinth. Maybe it was the medication in my system, but I was feeling better. The bad news was that I was suffering from con fatigue. Basically, it involves wandering the floor, feeling a little numb, energy drinks not combating the tired feeling. And I had to wait a few hours until Jamal Igle was done sketching in my book. But after that, I wound up getting ten more sketches, all free. I think it was a personal one-day best for me.

Not that the day was without hitches. I only managed to go to a few panels. The first had me napping, the second was a bit boring and over my head. On the bright side, my plan to pack tuna fish and crackers in my backpack worked out well enough, and it saved me money for lunch. I had fun, but I felt like I should be having more fun. But since that's par for the course for me, I'm not worried about it.

And that's about it. I wound up having sweet and sour Berkshire pork for dinner at the local restaurant. I'm thinking that tomorrow, I'll take the shuttle back to the hotel, take a 30-60 minute nap, then take the train into the city for a last night of grub. The way I'm feeling, maybe I can get a happy ending out of this trip after all.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Adventures In Chicago: Days One & Two

Thursday, 9:40 a.m., Eastern Time

Do you ever pack for a trip, and you just know you're going to miss something? Well, I was intent on not letting that happen on my trip to Chicago and C2E2 (a.k.a Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo). Short- and long-sleeved shirts? Check. References for sketches? Check. Laptop? Check. And it doesn't occur to me until about ten minutes after I'm riding in the cab that I left my antidepressants at home.

Oh, crap.

One of the last things I wanted was to go through withdrawal for the next few days, but it looks like I might not have a choice. Granted, it could be worse. Nine months ago, I arrived at the airport too late, and I wound up missing my scheduled flight to San Diego. Not a fun start for my trip to Comic-Con International. I did get there, have fun, and wrote about my adventure, and I'm hoping this trip goes as smoothly, withdrawal or not.

C2E2 is my big convention adventure this year. CCI is still the main event, but it's too far away, too expensive, and the tickets sold out in December. This is the first C2E2, but it's run by the same guys behind New York Comic Con, so I'm expecting good things. And hopefully, I can do some tourist stuff. In fact, not only am I planning to go to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play in almost nine years, I'm having dinner with folks from the Television Without Pity forums. At least I'll save some money on a meal tonight.

It's almost boarding time here at Newark. Hopefully, the weather will be nice, the hotel will be cushy, and the lack of meds will be the biggest stumbling block on my big adventure.

11:56 p.m., Central time

Well, I don't have to worry about my medication. My mother sent it out for overnight delivery, and I should get them tomorrow. Plan B would've had my psychiatrist send my prescriptions to a drug store, but I don't know the neighborhood. Hell, it took me a while to find a supermarket to get dessert tonight, so looking for a pharmacist would've been a nightmare.

I wound up getting to Wrigley Field a little late, getting a decent seat behind the plate, a prime place for picture taking, albeit near some rowdy Brewers fans. The Cubs had one helluva game today, with both teams going back and forth. I didn't do that much exploring. I went to get my mother a keychain at the clubhouse store, and Aramis Ramirez wound up homering to tie the game up. The game had everything: lead changes, home runs, disputed plays, an ejection, and the Cubs losing with the tying run at the plate, 8-6. Ironically, the save went to Trevor Hoffman, who I saw in San Diego in 2000. He's older, but he can still get the job done.

After the game, I met up with Kathy, a.k.a. "Kaffyr" from the TWoP forums. To say that she and her husband Bob (along with their three cats) were gracious hosts would be an understatement. They welcomed me into their humble home, and Kathy fed me her Texas-style chili, which was filling. Turns out Bob and Kathy are old-school nerds; they met when Kathy was going from Nova Scotia to Los Angeles. They were into all sorts of fandoms back in the day, and they still remain involved today. They even let me watch Survivor when I asked, and they gave me a ride back to my hotel.

Ah, the hotel. It's not going well so far. Right now, the LAN is acting screwy, so I can't post this right away. It took about 45-60 minutes for somebody to figure out how I could connect my laptop to the Internet. It took almost as long for my bags to be brought up to my room. I walked in and found water dripping from a faucet into a quarter-filled tub. I believe in omens, and I'm not liking what I've seen so far.

Well, enough out of me for one day. Tomorrow, I'll be doing something touristy, and then I'll hit C2E2. And maybe all these bad vibes will clear up with no problems.

Friday, 11:16 p.m.

Did I say "no problems"? Turns out I had a lot of problems besides lack of antidepressants. Maybe I'd feel different if the stuff was in my system, like they'll be tomorrow (yep, they came today). but I doubt it.

I wound up going to the Shedd Aquarium. I should have gone to the local museum of natural history instead. Well, I do like live animals. And it was fun to see otters getting fed. Also, I saw dolphins, beluga whales, penguins, a semi-crippled turtle named Nickel (they found her injured and with five cents in her system), etc. I was expecting polar bears, though I don't know why. Maybe they're in the aquarium at Coney Island? Anyway, after a few hours, I got bored and opted not to see the big dolphin show. So I walked to the convention center. And I wandered. And I wandered some more.

Here's what I've found out about McCormick Place: it's a maze. It's a giant damn maze. Imagine the scene from This Is Spinal Tap, where the band is trying to find the stage. Now multiply that by about fifty. So there I was, walking through an emergency exit and onto the show floor, trying to briskly walk to the regular entrance before anybody caught me.

Then things got worse. At the spotlight panel for Kevin Conroy (the voice of the animated Batman for almost two decades), my digital camera died on me. My old camera had batteries that could be replaced. The new one has a battery pack that needs to be recharged. And guess who neglected to bring the charger? Seriously, when the "low battery" indicator went off yesterday at Wrigley, I thought I had a few days. Turned out I had about one day. And I wasted power on whales and otters. I wound up having to buy a disposable camera, and I have no clue if I can find a way to upload them to my Flickr gallery.

Anyway, while I distracted myself with my woes and various freebies, Conroy entertained his fans. Turns out he did some volunteer work as a cook in Manhattan in the days after 9/11, and he managed to make a guy's day when the fella recognized Batman's voice. Then Conroy did his "I am vengeance! I am the night! I AM BATMAN!" scthick to some disbelievers. I'm probably botching the story, but it was funny.

Sketches? It was a mixed bag. Some artists charge a lot of money, and it's more than what I'm comfortable paying out. Nobody sinks my heart faster than asking for a rate and hearing that it's $100 or something like that. Also, Danielle Corsetto -- my "go-to" webcomics gal -- isn't doing any hardcore sketching, so there went my primary plan to get a sketch of Poison Ivy in front of the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley. I did get a quick sketch of "special" cat Sprinkles from Girls With Slingshots, so it wasn't a total loss. I found a Doctor Who fan in Amy Mebberson at the BOOM! Studios booth, and I got Leela from her. And I got a Gena Ha sketch (Flash from Kingdom Come) for the first time in almost ten years. Hopefully, I can get more inexpensive sketches in the next few days.

I wound up making another mistake. I reunited with writer extraordinaire Gail Simone and her husband. And what do I do instead of tagging along with them to go to a restaurant? I go to a screening of two episodes of Doctor Who, episodes that I had seen before but could barely hear because I saw them in a large crowd at a restaurant. Nothing terrible about that, but by the time the screening ended, I wound up flailing for a random exit, and realizing that short sleeves and Chicago nights just don't mix. Took me at least twenty minutes before I caught a cab to go back to the hotel.

I keep telling myself that it's going to get better, but I keep thinking that maybe I made a mistake coming out here. I got two days to turn it around, though, so hopefully things can . . . will get better.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Reality Rant: Russellmania II

On the Television Without Pity forums, you cannot talk about the forums on episode or character threads. Therefore, you cannot say something along the lines of, "I don't get why everybody feels this way." And like the good poster that I am, I try to follow the rules. However, if the policy was not put in place, I would have to say the following to those who are contemplating abandoning Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains now that Rob Mariano has been voted off the show . . .

*clearing throat*


Whew! Man, I am glad that's out of my system.

I admit that a few episodes ago, I was pissed off. Tom Westman, perhaps the greatest player of all time (if not merely in the top five) got the boot over an injured James and an injured and fat Rupert. And I was pissed off. I got even more steamed the following episode, when the Heroes were forced into Tribal Council again -- as part of a double execution -- and decided that now was the time to get rid of James instead of Colby, who had more or less rolled over and declared himself to be dead. But the Villains had to lose somebody as well, and the viewers turned to the one man who has kept this show interesting since the previous season: Russell Hantz.

Look, I know that Russell is a scumbag. Anybody that lies about losing a dog to Hurricane Katrina deserves to be worked over with a crowbar by New Orleans residents. His tendency to create chaos at camp shows that he's a borderline sociopath, if not full-fledged. But dammit, you can't help but admire his gameplay, even if luck plays a huge part of it. He made Samoa fun to watch because damn near everybody was too stupid to play the game. The man is a troll forever looking for a bridge to live underneath, but you develop Stockholm Syndrome watching the show. Suddenly, he becomes a semi-attractive antihero.

For instance: when the Villains had to vote somebody off, the two choices were Russell and his alliance mate, the "lovely" Parvati, who had lucked her way into a million bucks two years ago on Micronesia -- Fans Vs. Favorites. Rob was safe because he had won individual immunity, and he was itching to get Russell and Parvati the hell off the show. At this point, he had become Saint Robert of Boston, a man who could do no wrong to the fans, as he pitched in around camp and helped the tribe win immunity and rewards galore. Barely everybody forgot his thuggish debut in Marquesas and his way-too-fortunate run in All-Stars. It just seemed to me that the posters I read were a little too eager to shine Rob's nuts.

Anyway, a plan was hatched out of suspicion that Russell had found the hidden immunity idol: the six person majority would split their votes between Russell and Parvati. If one of them played the idol, the other would be tied with the minority bloc, and whomever was left would be zinged on the revote. But Russell got to Tyson and lied about voting for Parvati, convincing Tyson to join in on a pile-on. And at Tribal Council, Russell got up, went to Jeff Probst, presented the idol . . . then decided against it and gave it to Parvati. And sure enough, Pavarti had four votes against her that was negated. Russell himself got two votes. And guess who Russell, Parvati and Danielle (who? Exactly!) voted for? Tyson. In other words, Tyson voted himself out of the game. Never mind that this ruined my prediction that Tyson would win the game. All I could think of was the same thing I thought the previous season: "How can Russell walk around with balls that big?" I figure it would be something like this (1:03 mark; really not for the faint at heart).

Fast forward to the latest episode. The Heroes rebounded, winning both reward and immunity challenges, sending the Villains to tribal council again. This time, though, Jerri decides to cast her lot with Russell. Coach, being an asshole about "honor" and such bullshit, sticks to his word and votes Courtney (again . . . who?), leading to Rob getting boned, 4-3-1. And the funny thing? It was mostly Rob's fault. He could have heeded Randy's "warning" vote over Parvati in the third episode. He could have tried to solidify the split vote plan and made sure Tyson (a close yet dim ally) wouldn't go rogue. And he could have tried him damnedest to keep Jerri in the fold. He did not trust Russell . . . which was smart, since he was an unknown factor. But he screwed up damn near everything else. It's like he couldn't operate with smart people. Put him on the Heroes tribe, and he would've had the likes of JT, Amanda and Rupert around his finger. But all Rob could do was get up, call Coach a "little man" (devastating, given Russell's stature) and get his torch snuffed. Even more delicious: Rob goes straight to the Loser Lounge, perhaps the last people to be eliminated from the game before the jury phase begins. That means he can't make pissy faces on the sidelines, preparing for his huge "My question is: you suck" speech on Day 39. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go back to the arms of your wife and little bambina, a loser for the fifth time . . . sixth if you count the bullshit "America's Choice" vote after All-Stars which was rigged to give Rupert $1 million he clearly didn't deserve.

So what's the up side? Simple . . . without Rob at camp to lead them, the Villains will fall apart . . . at least according to the teaser for next week's episode. Meanwhile, the Heroes (lead by a resurgent Colby) are on the rebound, and it is possible that a misfit fivesome consisting of the strong (Colby), the seat-filler (Candice), the dumb (JT), the dumber (Amanda) and the dumbest (Rupert) can go far in the game. Without the Villains imploding, the game becomes uninteresting and stale. And you need a villain like Russell to have around. That's one of the reasons The Amazing Race is sagging a little . . . there's nobody to hate. Sure, there's been a huge douchebag move (the narcs Blind U-Turning Joe & Heidi as a "fuck you" gesture), a callous couple (lesbians Carol & Brandy) and a team (Brent & Caite) that couldn't walk and eat a baguette at the same time, but there's no team to root against. Over on the upcoming Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat II, there are two villains in Wes and Kenny, but you can't really root for one against the other. You can only home they both get hit by a bus at the same time.

Bottom line? Survivor is must-see television again, and if that means Rob's head joins the rest of Russell's victims mounted on the wall, so be it. Besides, given Russell's meltdown at the Samoa reunion, the odds are pretty good that somebody is sizing him up for a trip to the taxidermist. And maybe the Stockholm Syndrome I have will wear off in time for the reunion.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reality Rant: Zeroes Vs. Villains

We're five weeks into Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, and it's already a dismal flop. Well, it's dismal if you truly buy into the premise of good versus evil. Or if you're a fan of any of the departed players.

It all comes back to the basic truth behind "all-star" seasons of all reality shows, if not merely those from CBS: they just don't work out the way you'd want. Both times Survivor went that route, the winners (Amber from All Stars, Parvati from Micronesia -- Fans Vs. Favorites) had no business being cast in the first place. Once-great players fall (Rob Cesternino, anyone?), others don't mesh that well (Cirie and Yau-Man in Micronesia), and other nasty stuff winds up happening (Richard Hatch grinding his naked self on Susan Hawk, Jonathan Penner almost dying on an ill-planned challenge). It's a recipe for disaster, yet Mark Burnett can't help but make it. And we can't help but taste it, even though we know it's probably gonna suck.

At the core of the problem is the increasingly dysfunctional Heroes tribe, which has fallen like . . . well, NBC's Heroes (which I maintain is a far better genre show than Smallville, but that's a rant for another time). They've gained only two rewards and dodged Tribal Council once. They looked like a solid group, with guys that make host Jeff Probst cream himself with glee. Hey, is it my fault that he saved a part of JT's tooth that got knocked out during a challenge in Tocantins? Probst has man crushes, and you can't tell me different. And things looked okay at first; even when they lost the first immunity challenge, they merely lost Sugar, whom I considered overrated to begin with. But after their second loss, James (a huge Probst crush) got ugly, doing everything but scream "BURN THE WITCH!!" at Stephenie, since she was the last person from her original tribe (Ulong from Palau) left standing before the merge. And only two people stood up for her at Tribal Council: Colby (a long-standing Probst crush) and Tom (more on him later). Meanwhile, you had Rupert, easily one of the most overrated players in the show's history, go unnoticed even with a broken toe and a sour attitude. It's like looking like a poor man's Hagrid is enough to avoid the axe. Natch, Stephenie got booted, and Colby and Tom were exposed as the minority alliance.

Flash forward two weeks later, where the Heroes had to go to their third Tribal Council. Immediately, the majority alliance targeted Tom. Now, I don't claim to crush on anybody, male or female, but I like Tom a a lot. And what's not to love about him? He was a firefighter at the time of Palau; he was the clear leader of the Koror tribe, a team that won every immunity challenge they competed in, whittling Ulong down to Stephenie; he caught a shark; he won all but two individual immunity challenges, while not receiving a vote against him the two times he was vunerable; and he came to within one player-hater's vote (Coby) from getting the show's first-ever unambitious win. I don't care who you are . . . you have to be impressed. And I don't think he's a Probst crush because of his silver hair, so that's a bonus.

Where was I? Right . . . Tom was in trouble. He had uncovered a hidden immunity idol, which Probst would claim was selfish for the Heroes to search for (gotta love how production dictates him to lie like a dog during the "previouslies" before the show begins). The main alliance had a plan: split the votes between Tom and Colby, so that one of them would go out even if Tom played his idol. But Tom managed to talk JT into believing that Cirie was dangerous. And she was . . . one of the reasons why I liked her during Panama and Micronesia was that she was one of us, a fangirl-turned-Machiavellian genius with a gift for funny interviews. Sure enough, she got blindsided; Tom played his idol, lamenting that he would've wanted the team to use it against the Villains, and JT flipped his vote for a 3-2 difference. In other words, Cirie got Ciried. And I foolishly believed that the spoiler I had read was wrong, that Tom wasn't going to go out early. Apparently, I like hoping for the impossible.

Sure enough, Tom got voted out in the latest episode. Once again, the tribe couldn't pull it together in a puzzle-based challenge. Adding injury to insult, James had blown out his knee during the reward challenge, but was well enough to stay in the game. I ask you with all sincerity: who would you rather have: a guy who's more or less on the outs, or a guy who's hurt and could mess up the tribe's dwindling chances for a win? I've made it clear that I'm in the bag for Tom, but it's an honest question. Only Tom and Colby voted for James and his miserable attitude to go, while everybody else voted for Tom. Surprisingly, he didn't slug James in the mouth on the way out, choosing instead to lambaste James and Rupert in interviews. Can you blame him for being bitter? He leaves as the first winner to go out, departing from a tribe that includes Colby, a proven loser (Amanda, oh-for-two in Final Council decisions), a seat-filler (Candice . . . seriously, who the hell is she?), a wishy-washy flip-flopper (JT), and two injured jagoffs that can't leave the game fast enough for me.

Over on the Villain side, it's been all gravy. The only person they lost was Randy, a favorite of mine on account that he's so grouchy, he should be living in a garbage can. His boot and subsequent flinging of his buff into the fire hasn't dampened the Villains' spirit. One thing that's bugged me is the deification of Rob Mariano by forum posters. Look, a meathead rarely changes, people. I maintain that he didn't change his gameplay from Marquesas to All Stars, that the only reason why he lasted so far in the latter season was because the people he went up against (Lex, Kathy, Jenna, Rupert, Tom, etc.) had the intelligence of gravel. I figure that the others would get a clue and toss him over the top rope, but it looks like he's a lock for the jury at minimum.

Meanwhile, Parvati merely flips her hair back and wiggles around, and she gets attention that way. This time, she's snared Russell, who's been doing everything but visible whip it out and wank it on screen this season. I grew to like him during Samoa, which I chalked up to a reality television version of Stockholm Syndrome. But he keeps going on and one and freakin' on about how he's so great, obviously under the delusion that he won his season, where he (or anybody else at the time of filming) didn't know that he lost to Natalie. The annoyance reached its fever pitch when he brought the always "entertaining" Coach into the alliance, going so far as to "knight" the self-proclaimed "dragon slayer" of Tocantins. Even with the fun interviews from Sandra and Jerri (who got called a "bitter cougar" by Parvati in an interview), it's still getting to be one ugly season. I'm happy that my pick to win it all -- Tyson and his fugly bikini brief trunks -- is still in it, but I'm dreading the inevitable Coach/Parvati/Russell final three. And I don't think any serious Survivor fan can stomach such a terrible trio.

I've been asked why I watch a show that aggravates me. Maybe it's because I'm hoping for the best, where a dumbass like Russell or Rupert gets blindsided. Or maybe I'm just a masochist at heart. Either way, I'll be back for more punishment on March 24, when Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains goes back on the air. And who knows? Maybe the Heroes will triumph, and Rob and Sandra will be busy playing "keep away" with the dignity of Coach or Russell.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Reality Rant: Pooping On Probst

I hate Jeff Probst.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but Probst can be a pain in the ass. He hosts the longtime reality hit Survivor, entering its twentieth season this week with the premiere of Heroes Vs. Villains. Probst manages to affect gameplay and maintain open crushes on any alpha male that comes on the show. And despite all that, he's managed to snag two Emmys for his hosting skills. He might be considered the first host of the modern reality era, but he's far from the best as far as I'm concerned.

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, he ranks all nineteen seasons. As you might guess, I have disagreements with his selections. I'll go over what he said, and determine if the season should be rated higher, lower, or stay the same.

19. Thailand

Probst didn't like it then, he doesn't like it now, and he points out nobody from this season made HvV. It's not that this season wasn't memorable, but that the memories were ugly for the most part . . . like "Grindgate" between Ted and Ghandia, Robb choking the crap out of Clay during gameplay, and the non-merge that burned Shii Ann, enabling her to get a spot on All-Stars for getting screwed (a rule that got applied for John Vito and Jill for the all-star edition of The Amazing Race after they got burned on consecutive non-elimination legs). Brian was a bit of a mastermind, but between his skeevy past in porn, a flavorless Pagonging, and a 4-3 win over old perv Clay that should've been bigger, Thailand deserves the ranking. STAY

18. Marquesas

Probst: "It was our fault. We take the blame, but this was just a snoozer." Translation: "I had to deal with three icky women and an old man at the end! How else am I supposed to react?!?" He gives love to Boston Rob and Gina (for making the necklace he wore in Samoa), and that's it. It must have slipped his mind to remember the slaughter the Rotu tribe inflicted on Maaramu, the random shuffling that made Rotu even stronger, and a Rotu foursome that got Pagonged because they didn't realize an opposing troika (Neleh, Kathy and Paschal) and duo (Vecepia & Sean) could join forces to take them out. It probably belongs in the second half on the list, but it doesn't deserve to be next-to-last. HIGHER

17. Fiji

Probst would have put this at the bottom if not for wily old Yau-Man and scatterbrained and formerly homeless Dreamz. "No offense, Earl," Probst says to the winner, "but as nice a guy as you are in real life, the charisma didn't carry on screen." Apparently, ol' Jeff can fit his entire head up his ass. While Earl wasn't as cute and cuddly as Yau-Man, he did shine through on screen, especially with his lack of pissiness at being on Exile Island, a place where he contemplated setting up hotels. Besides, after Dreamz reneged on an immunity-for-car deal and Yau-Man got voted off, Earl cruised to an unanimous win over Dreamz and Cassandra, a Survivor first. HIGHER

16. Guatemala

Probst: "No. 16. Why not?" And that's it. This wasn't as fun as the season before it -- Palau -- even with Stephanie and Bobby Jon coming back for their second straight season playing the game. While Steph turned into a bit of a bitch, Bobby Jon was still the wacky good ol' boy we knew and loved the first time, especially with his feud with fellow Alabaman Jamie, to the point where they almost came to blows. Also funny: former quarterback Gary Hogeboom trying to pass himself off as somebody else, which may have worked if one of the other players -- eventual champ Danni -- wasn't a sports DJ. Gary also played the first-ever hidden idol, which got Bobby Jon's torch snuffed, making it the second time he got booted without officially getting voted off. In response to Probst's four words, I have but one: "Not." HIGHER

15. Vanuatu

Probst acknowledges champion Chris for getting the women to turn on each other. He does leave out runner-up Twila -- who should have been an all-star -- cluing him in on strategy. The men vs. women start makes this a bit of a forgettable season. LOWER

14. Gabon

Probst gives props to Bob and his fake immunity idol. Given the stuff I've read in forums, Probst would be in the minority; some people hated Bob winning. He also brings up the feud because Randy and Sugar, which might spill into HvV, and yet he forgets about two other knuckle-draggers: recently disgraced track & field "star" Crystal, who underachieved in most of the challenges; and nasty bitch Corrine, who laced into Sugar so badly, Sugar had no choice but to flip the bird. STAY

13. Panama: Exile Island

Here, Probst uses most of the paragraph to gush about Cirie, who will be making her third visit on HvV. He also mentions that if there was another Villian spot, it would've gone to the tobacco-deprived nutjob Shane. This was a bit of a fun season, though the younger/older gender spilt in the beginning was a bit silly. Even with Aras winning, I reckon this could go up a few notches. HIGHER

12. Africa

Apparently, this season has stood the test of time for Probst, as he mentions Ethan ("Mr. Grassroots Soccer"), Lex and "Big Tom." While the legacy of this season was tarnished by All-Stars (Ethan voted out early, Lex getting punked by Rob, Tom looking like a moron in general), I think given the initial tribal twist and the lack of memorable players (hey, it's been over eight years), this one deserves to remain in the twelfth slot. STAY

11. Tocantins

Coach, Coach, Coach . . . oh, and Tyson and J.T. That's all Probst talks about in reference to the latest season. J.T. gets points for getting the first unanimous win without getting a vote cast against him, and Taj also proved memorable, but the rest of the season? Not so much. LOWER

10. The Amazon

Natch, Probst brings up Jenna and Heidi (voluntarily) getting naked for chocolate and peanut butter. He doesn't bring up Rob Cesternino, who's one of the best players never to have won. This was the first "men against women" season, and it did give us a nice cast of characters . . . but since Jenna won, I think tenth is good enough a position. STAY

9. Cook Islands

Probst brings up the racial division that happened for the first two episodes of the season, something he would've kept a little longer. He also brings up the Yul/Ozzy/Sundra/Becky quartet that managed to hang in there. Throw in Jonathan Penner and (*sigh*) Parvati, and you have a solid season. I'm running a March Madness-style tournament on Television Without Pity right now, and Yul looks to be the odds-on to win, so it's apparent this season is a keeper. HIGHER

8. The Australian Outback

Probst points out Jerri ("the original 'black widow'"), Colby ("the prototype for a Survivor hero) and Elisabeth, whose current right-wing politics have made her less popular these days than . . . well, Jerri. He also brings up Colby's attempt to be a good guy and a winner as "the single biggest blunder in Survivor. What . . . Erik willingly giving up immunity wasn't bad enough? I think Jeff still mourns his mancrush's loss. This one played out like the first-ever season, through the Pagonging was slowed to include tossing out Jerri and a then-unmemorable Amber. Throw in Alicia going "I will always wave my finger in your face!" to Kimmi, and Michael burning his hands in the fire, and you have a season that deserves to go up a notch or two. HIGHER

7. All-Stars

Can you say "clusterfuck"? Probst won't, though he kids about suffering "post-traumatic reality disorder." Between Jenna Morasca bailing to be with her dying mother (as opposed to not coming on the show to begin with, the Chapera tribe celebrating Sue Hawk quitting by singing "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" after she was traumatized by Richard grinding on her, Rob having his way with the cast, and Amber riding his back for a million bucks that she shouldn't have been playing for to beging with, and you have a dud of a season you can't cover up with the "Ramber" romance. Also, Rob & Amber wound up on The Amazing Race twice, so this was a dud of a season that almost ruined another show in its wake. LOWER

6. China

Really, Probst? Even with mancrush James in the mix, we also had to deal with Amanda. There's nothing wrong with her, but she went into Day 39 the odds-on favorite to win, and went out with third place and no words supporting her. Call President Obama, we got another clunker to sell. LOWER

5. Pearl Islands

Okay, so this one is really memorable, what with the two man-children in the game (Rupert and Jon Dalton, the latter's nom de famewhore I will not be using), the first quitter (Osten) and a sassy, under-the-radar winner (Sandra). However, Probst hated the Outcast twist that went with the pirate theme, which allowed two players whose torches were snuffed back into the game. "We blew it," he laments. "The cub Scout leader [Lillian] should have never been in the final." But the idea of both tribes having to face their cast-offs, with "Skinny" Ryan Shoulders wearing a "Die Jerks" buff on his head? Priceless. Even though Rupert was ultimately proven overrated and a bit of a jagoff, and Jon was a fame-grubbing asshole (what with the dead granny prank), this wound up being a good season. STAY

4. Palau

All Jeff mentions is the final immunity challenge, with Tom and Ian clinging onto buoys for 13 hours, and that Tom "went on to become one of our greatest winners." While Tom destroying the field is pretty noteworthy (won all tribal immunity challenges he competed in, won all but two immunity challenges, didn't receive a vote against him, beat Katie 6-1 in the final tribal council), you also have to look at the mighty Koror tribe, led by Tom and dolphin trainer Ian, backed by Caryn, Gregg, Katie, Coby and Jenn (who passed on earlier this year). And there was the decimated Ulong tribe, a tribe so hapless, the top two players -- Stephenie and Bobby Jon -- were given a another chance on Guatemala. Such an imbalance between tribes shouldn't be fun to watch for non-sadists, and yet it was. HIGHER

3. Samoa

Probst: "Go ahead and start screaming, but this is my list, so bug off." Here's the thing: if you remove Russell, you wind up with some of the dumbest players scrambling for a win. Galu had a 7-5 advantage heading into the merge (8-4 if you keep Shambo from jumping ship), and they got shot down one after the other. Once Probst reaches the 25th season, he'll realize that he inflated the position and adjust it accordingly, even with Russell's antics. LOWER

2. Micronesia: Fans Vs. Favorites

Probst gives credit to the "Parvati-led" alliance for some of the more memorable blindsides, like the stripping of Erik's immunity idol and nailing Ozzy when he had a hidden idol. I reckon it was more of a partnership between Parvati, Amanda, Cirie and "fan" Natalie. Here's the problem: the fans didn't really act like fans, in the sense that they didn't know how to play the game (Joel displaying the grace of a bull in a china shop), didn't know the hardships involved (Kathy winds up quitting), and didn't think to put on weight going into the season (Chet looking like Jon's malnourished twin, "Jonny Feedme"). Throw in winner Parvati being cast as a "favorite" to begin with and another Amanda meltdown at the final Tribal Council, and you have proof that "all star" seasons of reality shows on CBS just don't work. LOWER

1. Borneo

Like I'm gonna dispute this? Richard Hatch's machinations, Sue Hawk's "rats and snakes" speech, Rudy doddering into fans' hearts, doofy doctor Sean and his "Superpole" (not an euphemism), the first Pagonging, and a snarky host presiding over things? Survivor may go on for ten more years, and it'll never hit the heights of the first season. STAY

Finally, I should make a prediction for Heroes Vs. Villains. Like I said, "all star" seasons don't work. Between Amber, Parvati, "Mike Boogie" from Big Brother and Eric & Danielle from The Amazing Race, it's natural to go into HvV to be a pain in the ass. As much as I would want Tom to raze the Samoan landscape like he did in Palau, I reckon he'll get brought down early because he's not in the alumni loop. You have to look beyond the odds-on favorites and those that are "due" (Rob, Rupert, Steph). You need to look for somebody who doesn't belong, who may qualify as a "hero" or "villain," but not an "all-star." My pick? Tyson Apostol from Tocantins. He was Coach's "assistant coach" and just a skeezy guy in general. So it's not going to be a shock to see him get the win, and for diehard fans to reach for the booze as a result.