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 I miss the days of the Play-By-Play near Madison Square Garden and goodie bags (which were repealed once some asshole put a few up on eBay), but I honestly cannot imagine spending a TAR finale anywhere else, let alone at home.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.