Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reality Reviewed: The Amazing Race

It's tough to be a fan of The Amazing Race.

Actually, it's tough being a fan of anything, really. For example, while I would consider myself a Mets fan, I have to add "lapsed" to that. I haven't been to Citi Field since 2009, and I don't really follow the team anymore. A lot of it has to do with the chaos in the front office, what with Fred Wilpon losing gobs of money in a Ponzi scheme. He could've had Shea Stadium renovated, but he had a major hard-on for a new version of Ebbets Field. Today, the Mets don't have the near-infinite funds the Yankees do, and they look to be stuck out of contention for years to come. Add that to lots of injuries, traditional wonky luck (especially fifty years without a pitcher earning a no-hitter) and looking like chumps compared to the Yankees, it's tough to support the Mets. Yet I can't see myself being a Yankees fan. For one thing, most of them are bandwagon-hopping jerks. Seeing people donning Yankees t-shirts with the number and name on the back is annoying to me, since the team doesn't put names on the backs of their jerseys. Besides, I don't want to be a sports bigamist.

I can cite other examples, but I want to talk about The Amazing Race. To me, it's the CBS reality show whose fans never get respect. Take the 8 p.m. time slot on Sundays, for instance. TAR got moved around a lot in the early days. After the painful ending of the third season in fall 2002 (where freakin' Flo Pesenti quit, like, a million times, and she wound up winning  $1,000,000 with her too-good-for-her partner Zach Behr), fans needed relief. Instead, we had to wait five months until the new season in late May 2003. It happened again after the debacle of TAR: All-Stars . . . the show wasn't put on CBS's fall schedule for 2006. The network decided to wait until a time slot opened up. Meanwhile, they invested tons into Viva Laughlin, an American version of Viva Blackpool from the UK. Everybody and their mother knew the show was going to suck except for CBS. It lasted a grand total of two episodes. I don't understand why the network even bothered. Tax reasons, maybe? Anyway, the TAR faithful had to wait until November for the start of the twelfth season . . . and once that edition ended, eight months until the thirteenth season aired in fall 2007.

As for the slot itself . . . it kinda sucks, to be honest, especially in the fall months. It follows 60 Minutes, the venerable mainstay of CBS's Sunday nights. The problem is that it's too important. When NFL games run past 7 p.m. on Fox, the 7-8 p.m. slot is kept open. When the same thing happens on CBS, 60 Minutes doesn't get preempted. Instead, it gets bumped back until the games are over. And when I say "games," that means that you could be watching one game game, then get told that due to FCC regulations, CBS has to switch over to another game. And it doesn't matter if these are two 4-12 AFC teams you couldn't care less about. If that game goes into overtime, there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Meanwhile, CBS placed Survivor in a cushy slot on Thursday nights at 8 p.m., moving it to Wednesdays last fall, and Big Brother gets times that don't get mixed up that often. There's also the matter of what kind of self-hating viewer would watch a show that never respects its viewers, but that's a matter for Big Brother fans with their own blogs.

And then there was this past May, where CBS found a new way to screw the show's loyalest fans. Since the first season, folks who post on Television Without Pity have gone to New York for TARCon, a finale party where Racers past and present drop by. This time, CBS and Snapple teamed up to hold a party for all Racers in Miami Beach to commemorate the show's ten years on the air.. On the day before the season finale. You know how many Racers came to TARCon? Two . .  . gay couple Tom Rock and Terry Cosentino from the tenth season. That was it. Nobody from Unfinished Business dropped by, because they were (presumably) sleeping it off in Florida. CBS could have held the party in September, ten years after the show first aired. But they cut into one of the coolest traditions I know, and I was pissed off . . . especially since I didn't get to meet Zev Glassenberg again. I first met him and buddy Justin Kanew at TARCon 15. While I don't have Asperger's Syndrome like Zev, I do feel that I got enough loose wiring in my head to emphasize with him. After the duo wound up getting eliminated on account of Zev losing his passport (dropping them from first place), I told them that I hoped they would come back to the show one day. Well, they did, winning four legs before their elimination on Unfinished Business. Even though Zev wasn't the one doing the heavier lifting, I wanted to congratulate him for coming so far, as well as surviving a Detour where the duo ate too much cheese fondue. Justin threw up, while Zev made a face that indicated he was going to die in seconds. But I didn't get to see them again, thanks to CBS..

There's other stuff to bitch about . . . like how the show's eight Emmys in nine years have been devalued by Jeff Probst's four wins as Best Host, giving weight to the theory that the voters would rather be locked in a room where Cop Rock is played 24/7 than even think about reality television. There's the lack of DVDs, . . . with CBS pouring the salt in the wounds by offering the second season on Amazon with no extras whatsoever. Then there's the lack of media attention . . . Rosie O'Donnell and Bonnie Franklin invited Racers on their talk shows, but the most we can get these days is a winning team getting interviewed by Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, neither of whom can be bothered to actually watch the damn show. The last interview they gave to a pair of winners could have been done from a moving car. Beyond all that, I can see that The Amazing Race has problems without CBS hurting it.

Imagine a square, with sides of equal sizes. Now, imagine that at the center of the square, there's a hole that starts getting deeper and deeper. As the hole grows in depth, it also grows outwards, consuming more of the square's area. This is how I see reality television these days. The hole gets deeper thanks to crap like Jersey Shore, Mob Wives, Toddlers & Tiaras, etc. When the hole grows, shows that were once credible start sinking . . . including TAR, sad to say.

It's hard to say when the show started letting people down. In its prime, it was the greatest show on Earth, Ringling Brothers be damned.The rushed format was an adrenaline rush for viewers, making the endless  machinations of Survivor look slow by comparison. We got to see far-flung locations that most of us would never get to see in our lifetimes. And we had a great host in Phil Keoghan, whose raised eyebrow Jeff Probst could never lift. So what went wrong? What factors have soured fans on TAR, as well as cause Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred to endlessly whinge about how much the show blows in comparison to its past?

The Downgrading Of The Fast Forward: The Fast Forward was once a task offered to all teams. If a team were to go off the race course and complete it, they could go to the Pit Stop without telling with all of the routh Route Markers. Teams could only do it once, and only one team per leg could complete it, so they would have to figure out when it was most advantageous to go for it. After the fifth season, the Fast Forward was downgraded to popping up twice. With a limited number, only the lead teams go for it these days, making the show's once-great equalizer irrelevent.

Lack Of Mingling: In the old days, episodes began with Phil going on about how teams checking in at the Pit Stop would have twelve hours to "eat, sleep, and mingle with the other teams" before starting the race again. Around the fourteenth season, the producers thought that the teams were getting along too well . . . so they eliminated the "mingling" bit by separating the teams from each other. in order to inject drama into the mix. That seems like something Survivor creator Mark Burnett would do . . . or Bunim-Murray Productions for that matter. Actually, BMP would probably go one further and insist teams drink alcohol while shit-talking during interviews.

Stuntcasting: I know what you're thinking: "Rob & Amber." Yes, it felt like CBS sent fellas named "Rocko" and "Mugsy" to see the producers about putting the Survivor couple on the seventh season and the "all-star" season. There's also the casting of three Big Brother "stars": Allison Irwin (along with her idiot on-again/off-again boyfriend Donny Patrick) in TAR5, and Jordan Lloyd & Jeff Schroeder in the sixteenth season. The worst case had to be Caite Upton, who was best known for mangling the living bejeezus out of a response during the Miss Teen USA pageant. She wound up on TAR16, where she bickered endlessly with her boyfriend, Brett Horne. Fans also had to deal with Brandy Snow and her endless mad-on for Caite, even at the finish line, where she chewed out Catie. As big a bitch as Brandy was (enough for her partner, Carol Rosenfeld, to soon break up with her), I had to give her this: Catie was indeed a huge twit.

Crappy Tasks: This mainly pops up during the Speed Bump. This was introduced as a way to penalize teams that had finished in last place in non-elimination legs, as opposed to taking their money and/or bags. The problem is that the Speed Bump doesn't take enough time to be a huge deterrent. One Speed Bump consisted of merely throwing coins into a fountain's slot. Then there are the tasks that don't make sense or seem like filler, like teams getting fifteen minutes worth of waxing in Rio de Janeiro last season. For three teams, there was minimal discomfort. For the hirsute Zev & Justin, however, it was a quarter-hour of hell, courtesy of a devil that watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin one time too many.

Nobody Reads The Damn Clues Anymore: I know that if you've been running almost non-stop for 10,000 miles, little things slip your mind. But that doesn't excuse loads of teams failing to comprehend the given instructions. Then the teams arrive at the Pit Stop, where Phil informs them on their transgressions, then makes them sit down on the side during their penalty time, an adult version of a "time out." Most recently, "dating goths" Kent Cothron and Vyxsin Fiala failed to realize that they were not supposed to take a taxi to the Pit Stop two legs before the finale. And as they stewed away from the mat, Zev & Justin finished the leg, eliminating the bickering goths.

But for all of the gripes people have about TAR, I still watch every episode. And I'm trying to keep a positive attitude going into the nineteenth season, which premieres tonight. Here are some pluses:

Travel Porn Is Awesome: Admit it . . . when TAR went to Burkina Faso in its twelfth season, you didn't know there was a Burkina Faso, let alone where it was located. I didn't know the place existed. Every week, you learn about the world. While Survivor recycles locations under new names, TAR keeps finding new places, even if there are lots of places out there that scream "red flag." Also, the show manages to incorporate the traditions of the area into the game . . . as opposed to Survivor, where you don't get challenges indigenous to the location . .  .unless you count the season in China, where a Reward Challenge involved six-foot-long chopsticks and setting off fireworks.

Phil Keoghan Is Still Phil Keoghan: For the record, I'm more upset that Probst has been winning Best Host Emmys than Phil has lost them. Even if you consider him to be more of a narrator and greeter than an actual host, he still excels at his job. Thankfully, his role doesn't allow him to interfere with the game, as opposed to Probst's blatant brownnosing. By comparison, Phil has only pissed me off twice in eighteen seasons: letting Brandy go off on Caite, and letting Eric Sanchez call his buddy Jeremy Ryan to let him know that he and "girlfriend" Danielle Turner won TAR: All-Stars. For me, that ending was like getting punched in the face, and the call was a kick to the nuts. Yet I can't stay at Phil.

Ethan & Jenna Aren't Necessarily Overt Stuntcasting: In case you're just coming in, one team is dating couple Ethan Zohn & Jenna Morasca. Both have won Survivor (Africa for Ethan, Amazon for Jenna) and a million bucks apiece. Ethan lost a lot of luster during Survivor: All-Stars. Jenna lucked into her win, then bailed out of All-Stars to be with her dying mother. In the run-up to Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, CBS aired a special that included a feature on the couple. It turns out that Ethan suffered from Hodgkin's lynphoma, and he wound up going through chemotherapy. Through all of that time, Jenna stuck by him, and I actually softened my view on her. If you figure these two are ringers, know that they haven't been on a competitive reality show in seven years, so they're not exactly Rob & Amber. Even as I try to forget about Kill Reality and The Scorned (don't ask) and hearing rumors that Ethan proposed to Jenna during the race, I'm willing to give these two a clean slate heading into this edition.

No Hantzes! In my preview of Survivor: South Pacific, I completely forgot to mention the casting of Brandon Hantz, the nephew of notorious asshole Russell Hantz. That means we've had Hantzes in four of the last five seasons of Survivor. After two episodes, viewers have been squicked by Brandon, particularly his obsession for voting off Mikayla Wingle, whom he fears might lead him astray from his wife. Did I mention the guy in nineteen years old? Right now, I'm thinking that the next season of TAR will feature "all stars," given that it'll be the twentieth edition. My big fear was that CBS would send Rocko & Mugsy back to lean on the producers to bring "Ramber" back. Now it's seeing Russell & Brandon race. Right now, though, we should be thankful none of the Hantz family is on TAR.

Lack Of "Fuck You" Endings: I will admit that seeing sisters Kisha & Jenn Hoffman winning Unfinished Business was disappointing, but only because their "story" wasn't really told until the final episode. Not enough was made about how every other team from their initial season (TAR14) went out before any other team, or that Kisha would become the fourth openly gay person to win on the show. I felt the focus was mostly on Zev & Justin and father/daughter pair Gary & Mallory Ervin, but they finished fourth and third, respectively. But it wasn't what I considered to be a "fuck you" finish. In the show's eighteen seasons, there have been only three: Flo & Zach winning TAR3, the odious Freddy Holiday & even more odious Kendra Bentley lucking into a TAR6 win, and Eric & Danielle's All Stars triumph, even though they weren't really a "dating couple," on account of Eric being a major closet case. In comparison to other reality shows, having a crap ending in one out of six seasons is pretty good.

That's all I got. I hope you'll give The Amazing Race a shot this season. I still think it's the best reality show on television today, and unlike most of the Emmy voters, I actually mean that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reality Reviewed: Survivor

If you want the status quo for Survivor these days, you need to look back to May 4, 2011, with the twelfth season of Redemption Island. Specifically, the immunity challenge. The deal: fit ladder rungs onto slots and climb to the top. The catch: each rung can only fit in specific slots. Also, it's 110 degrees in Nicaragua.

The guy busting ass up and down the steps is Rob Mariano, best known as "Boston Rob." He first played the game in Marquesas, the show's fourth season, which aired back in 2002. To give you some perspective, eventual second runner-up Natalie Tenerelli was about ten years old at that time. He failed to make the jury, what with being a pain in the ass to damn near everybody unfortunate enough to be on the same tribe as him. He was an entertaining pain in the ass, so he was invited back two years later on All-Stars. He wound up running the game, since most of the people he was surrounded by weren't intelligent at all. He also found true love with Amber Brkich, who was cast mostly because former "America's Sweethearts" Colleen Haskell and Elisabeth Filarski passed. Amber wound up winning the $1 million grand prize riding on Rob's broad back, while nobody challenged them. Rob had to "settle" for the $100,000 second place dough, as well as Amber's hand in marriage. I'll stop here before I dive into "Ramber" and their two appearances on The Amazing Race, as well as their televised marriage.

The man in the khakis doing commentary is Jeff Probst. Show creator Mark Burnett plucked him from VH1 obscurity and made him a household name. While Probst has earned a place on the Mount Rushmore for reality show hosts (along with Ryan Seacrest, Phil Keoghan and Anderson Cooper), he tends to get too involved in the show. Like, "interfering with the game" involved . . . like the time in Palau, when he pushed Janu Tornell (who probably wasn't fit to play going in) into quitting in order to keep Stephenie LaGrossa in the game. Or how about the time he shamed a tribe into picking a leader after Tribal Council? How about all the alpha males he's crushed on season after season? Right now, he is yelling about how Rob is "literally carrying his family on his back!" Literally, mind you. In actuality, Rob has a picture of his family (Amber and his little bambina) taped to his back. What's galling is that Jeff Probst just won his fourth Emmy as Best Host of a reality program. The fact that he's won more than once proves that Emmy voters take all of five minutes making up their minds before making a half-hearted decision, and this invalidates all Emmys awarded in the genre in the past, including the six that The Amazing Race picked up prior to 2010.

Anyway, Rob wins the immunity challenge, and he is wiped out. Probst gives him the immunity necklace, pausing to put his pom poms down first. Probst asks if he wants the medical staff to look at him, but Rob waves him off. Probst and a few of the other players do help him to his feet. As I watch this, I give props to Rob's efforts . . . but there's a small part of me that wants him to fall down the steps. I don't want him to die or break something. I want him to get just the right amount of hurt to get taken out of the game . . . because if that happens, the others have a shot to win the game. Granted, none of them deserve to win, but it would be a nice change of pace. The players go back to camp, and we don't hear Probst cheer, "TWO, FOUR, SIX, EIGHT! WHO DO WE APPRECIATE?!? BOSTON ROB! BOSTON ROB! GOOOOOOOOOOOO, ROB!!!"

What ended up happening was that Rob won the $1 million on his fourth try, and it was so easy for him. I kept hoping that Burnett would just stop the game and give him the money. The last episode wasn't a conclusion so much as a coronation. In the hearts of Burnett and Probst, Rob would run 26 miles and change, symbolizing the time he ran the Boston Marathon without offically entering it. He would then run up 117 steps, one for each day he played Survivor. On steps 22-60, Amber would ride on his back, much the way she did in All-Stars.At the end of the journey would be Probst, who would crowd him Sole Survivor, Ultimate Survivor, King of All Survivors. And then the blowjob would begin in earnest.

The last several seasons of Survivor haven't been that fun to watch, particularly the last four. To wit:

Samoa: From the depths of the lackluster cast comes Russell Hantz, a small man with a major set of balls. He became the definition of Chaotic Evil, dumping out water and burning a teammate's socks. Only two things kept him from getting voted off: he was seen as an easy opponent to face on Day 39, and he sniffed out hidden immunity idols like a pig seeking truffles. Seriously, aside from Russell and Shannon "Shambo" Waters the mulleted mental case, can you name anybody from this season? Well, there was the other Russell -- Russell Swan -- but he wound up passing out during a challenge and wound up getting booted out by the medical staff. There were also rumors of somebody named "Brett" on the show, but those were never proven. In the end, Russell got two votes, while Natalie White won the big prize.

Heroes Vs. Villains: Having carved a niche as perhaps the biggest asshole in reality television, Russell wound up earning a berth on the latest "all-star" season. He was put on the Villains tribe, along with Rob, who apparently doesn't have a day job. The two wound up butting heads, but Russell's alliance managed to get the upper hand, and Rob got jettisoned. Lots of other stuff happened, but the reunion basically was reduced to both "legends" dropping trou to compare sizes. Back in his undisclosed lair, Mark Burnett had a brainstorm: what if those two were on the show again? On opposite sides facing off each other? Brilliant!

Nicaragua: Since "Russell Vs. Rob" needed time to develop, Burnett's casting people threw twenty people into the mix, most of whom probably never watched the show. The breakaway "star" was Naonka Dixon, who surpassed Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth as the Worst Black Woman On Reality Television, EVER. Whether picking fights with Kelly Bruno (an athlete who had one leg and a prosthetic), playing the race card or breaking down, Naonka represented the shittiest tastes of the casting department. The kicker was that she wound up quitting the game along with Kelly Shinn (nicknamed "Purple Kelly" by Probst for reasons that make sense in his little mind) . . . and both of them wound up making the jury. Worse, their two votes made the difference for Jud Birza (aka "Fabio" for being an airhead) to win the big prize, and CBS never disclosed the final votes of the jury, since they thought fans would be too stupid to put two and two together.

Redemption Island: The "Russell Vs. Rob" angle got jettisoned quickly when the Zapatera tribe wound up voted off Russell after somebody else -- Ralph Kiser, a backwoods Yeti -- lucked into the hidden immunity idol. However, Russell had a safety net, since those voted off wound up on Redemption Island, where players had to fight to stay in the game, making Tribal Council -- and Probst's main line, "The tribe has spoken" -- meaningless. Sadly, Russell got beat in the do-or-die challenge, making him cry like a little girl before vowing never to come back.

With the Russhole gone, the asshole slot had to be filled. Enter Phillip Sheppard, a one-time "special agent" who proved that the casting department had no qualms with making black people look bad. He fucked up pronouncing one player's name (Francesca . . . how can that be hard?!?), played the race card during a fight over rice, and generally getting on everybody's nerves. I felt he needed Cee-Lo Green following him around singing "Crazy." Or hell, make up a song:

Here's the one who's worse than you and me
An ugly person as you can see
He's the guy you gotta hate
A certified Section Eight
He roomed with Teddy's dad in
Stand By Me

Special Agent Phil
Special Agent Phil
His attitude really sucks
And Rob's gonna win the million bucks

[Note: I only had the fourth and fifth lines worked out and the chorus, and I'm sorry if the parody was too lame]

In the end, Rob got his precious million bucks. Phillip got second place and $100,000 thanks to a sole dissenting vote from Ralph. Natalie got third place and torn apart by the jury. And a guy named Matt Elrod wound up staying on Redemption Island for 29 days broken up into two trips, showing that the "twist" was an abject failure. So, naturally, it's popping up again on the upcoming season, Survivor: South Pacific.

In addition to Redemption Island, South Pacific will bring back two past contestants. Before the rumors were confirmed, I was thinking that Naonka and "Purple Kelly" would get the call. That's how little I think of the casting department these days. Probst and Burnett have sworn up and down that anybody who had quit the show would never be invited back, but with the show spiraling into the abyss created by genre shows airing on MTV and VH1, I wouldn't have put it past them. Fortunately, we wound up with Ozzy Lusth and Benjamin "Coach" Wade . . . the former having come within one vote from winning the $1 million on his first try (losing to Yul Kwon on Cook Islands), the latter's insanity now seeming quaint compared to that of Phillip.

Will Redemption Island be tweaked to actually work? Can Ozzy and Coach not take up all of the spotlight? Will the other sixteen contestants have enough brain cells between them to at least look intelligent? We'll start finding out this Wednesday on CBS. I'm not hoping for the best, though . . . I'm estimating that production staff will have to pry Probst off Ozzy's leg by the fourth episode.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Jason Vs. The Supplemental, SkyDome & Showers

Last Wednesday, I was in the middle of writing about my experiences at Rogers Centre in Toronto, when my laptop went through the Blue Cycle of Death (Blue Screen of Death, reset, Blue Screen, reset, etc.) Since I had an interesting night, I figured that I should complete my thoughts now.

As I sat in the first row along the right field line, I was struck by how many empty seats there were. When Rogers Centre opened in 1989 (as SkyDome), it drew huge crowds. Turns out that the team hasn't been in the top five of American League teams in attendance since 1996. Also, after their last championship season in 1993, they've averaged roughly 80 wins per season, making them mediocre in a division (American League East) where mediocre just doesn't cut it (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees). To add to Blue Jays fans' woes, the team is only one of four that have not made the playoffs since 1993. My mother figures Canadians don't go for baseball, citing the late Montreal Expos and their ridiculous Olympic Stadium as proof. I'm thinking Torontonians do like baseball . . . good baseball. By the way, this paragraph was brought to you by Wikipedia and Google.

That night's opponents were the Kansas City Royals, perhaps a franchise even more woeful than the Blue Jays. They haven't been to the postseason since they won the World Series in 1985, let alone after 1993 (the other teams being the Expos/Nationals and Pirates). They're not thought of as a real calamity club like the Orioles or Pirates, but their season is usually wrapped up by June. Really, aside from their dramatic comeback from 3-1 down against the Cardinals in 1985 and George Brett's home run in the "Pine Tar Game" in 1983 (and his batshit reaction upon being called out to initially end the game), does anybody outside Kansas City know about the Royals? The only person I can remember from that team in recent years is Zach Greinke, but that was mostly because he made the cover of Sports Illustrated for battling depression during his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2009 . . . and he wound up heading for Milwaukee after the following season.

The game itself was interesting, starting with pitcher Ricky Romero plunking Alex Gordon on the first pitch. He would steal second base and score on a double by Billy Butler. Two innings later, the same thing happened, with Gordon walking, advancing to second on a ground ball, and coming home on a Butler single, giving the Royals a 2-0 advantage. By comparison, the Blue Jays weren't awake against Luke Hochevar, mustering one walk in the first three innings. In the bottom of the fourth, shortstop Yunel Escobar (not to be confused with Royals shortshop Alcides Escobar . . . and apparently, they're not related) got hit by a pitch, and then slugger Jose Bautista homered to left field to tie the game. The crowd starting getting into things, as the massive scoreboard put up his name. Incidentally, I was disappointed that the stadium's dome was closed. It had been a nice day in my time in Toronto so far. If only I knew what was happening outside.

The Blue Jays wound up taking a 3-2 lead, as Brett Lawrie hit a triple to drive in Edwin Encarnacion. But in the following inning, Gordon scored his third run of the game, and he didn't need Butler to do it, as he homered over Bautista's head in right field to tie things at 3-3. I don't really remember what was going on between innings. I know they had a power surge race (one of those deals where animated stuff happens on the screen), and the grounds crew was called the fastest in the majors as they cleaned up the infield. Also, the fans did the wave. I was a little mortified. That still happens? In the majors?!? And after the Royals bowed out in the seventh, the team played some weird song, while ladies and girls led the cheers on the foul lines. Is that a Canadian thing, or is that de rigeur in baseball these days? After that, Lawrie welcomed reliever Louis Coleman into the game with a homer to left, giving the Jays a 4-3 lead. They wound up getting two men on base thanks to a pair of errors by third baseman Mike Moustakas, but Yunel Escobar hit into an inning-ending double play.

After the seventh, I had to get up. Because I took my sweet time getting to the stadium, I barely made it to my seat before the game started. The Blue Jays are pretty good helping their fans . . . they give out pocket-sized maps of the stadium. It isn't for seat prices, but rather where the food and souvenir stands are located. I would've tried out more grub, but I have this disease where I have to keep score in my seat. So I spent the last two innings watching the game, keeping score, and trying to find dessert. I wound up settling for a soft serve ice cream cone, and I got my mother a keychain. That's what she wants . . . it used to be stuffed animals, but she's running out of room for those. As for the game . . . the Royals managed to get at least one runner on base in all nine innings, but they stranded eleven men on base altogether. After Jesse Litsch threw a scoreless seventh inning, Casey Janssen preserved the lead, and then Frank Francisco sealed the win in the ninth. It was a good game, and I had fun. But as I started out of the stadium, some stuff happened.

1. It was raining. Hard. Apparently, the dome did not retract because of the storm. Good call.

2. There was thunder and lightning, which was very, very frightening. I don't mean flashes of light in the clouds . . . I'm talking actual lightning bolts hitting the the tops of buildings, including the CN Tower, which sent the departing crowd into oohs and aahs.

3. The SkyWalk that I took to get to Rogers Centre was closed, meaning I had to walk back to the Fairmont Royal York. But that was okay, since I had an umbrella in my backpack. I always had it there. Not like I unpacked it in my hotel room and forgot to take it with me, right?

4. Oh, shit.

So there I was, my first day in town, trying to figure out how the hell to get back to the hotel, as my sneakers and socks started getting squishy. The lightning bolts reminded me that I had to hustle. I know that the odds of getting hit are remote, but I didn't want my mother to get a call about how her son defied the odds. Finally, I made it back, passing people who were underneath an awning, taking pictures of the CN Tower getting hit. But I had to get water, and I would be damned it I was going to pay $5.50 to open a bottle in my room. I was directed to Union Station across the street, but in my semi-delirious state, I settled for getting four bottles of bottle from a stand outside the station. I wound up waiting near a bunch of young guys, one of whom might have been smoking weed. I don't know what it smells like, but his friend was urging him to "hit that motherfucker like it owes you money!" You don't get that kind of talk over a Marlboro, you know?

After coming back to my room and drying myself off, I got online in my room and started to write about the day. I'd go into dramatics over the Blue Cycle of Death, but if you read my other blog entries already, you're probably sick of it. Needless to say, I wasn't taking it well. I wound up going to sleep, probably hoping that a messed-up laptop would be the least of my problems on my trip. If only I knew what was in store.

And now you know the rest of the story. To give you some idea of what I was facing as I left Rogers Centre, here's a YouTube clip of the lightning that struck Toronto, with photo stills and video . . .