Monday, September 29, 2014

The Amazing Crisis

I spent part of tonight watching CBS. Not because I give a crap about The Good Wife or CSI, but because I was looking for commercials for The Amazing Race. I didn't find any. I don't think CBS is trying to screw TAR fans like ABC did to The Mole, but I can't help but to be a little distressed.

For a long time, TAR used to be on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Actually, it was scheduled for 8, but it would usually air later thanks to overrun, usually from the NFL. Football would run past 7, and CBS would run 60 Minutes afterward. It wasn't like I was expecting the network to shorten or to pre-empt their prestigious news program, and it's not like CBS can shut down the NFL at the stroke of 7 (see: "The Heidi Game"). That was frustrating for me, especially when I'd go to TARCon (a fan-hosted finale party) and I wanted to record the episode while I was out. One time, it was 7 p.m., and the Packers were wailing on the Raiders, 51-3. I don't remember if that was the final score, but it was the score going into the fourth quarter when it was 7 o'clock.

Well, CBS decided to fix that, by shifting the show to Friday nights. The good news: no more NFL overrun. Bad news: a lot of people figured it was a move for a show that was about to die. I figured that there might be a ratings hit. It was a hit, all right . . . more of an open-field tackle. The first episode of the season finished a dismal second, behind ABC's Shark Tank. The only solace was that it outdid Utopia, Fox's freakshow of mental patients trying to build a society. Reading about that show, I actually look forward to the next season of The Real World, because you only see young adults act like assholes, as opposed to the Utopiots of all ages.

I try not to be an alarmist, but it is enough for me to write this entry. I've been watching the show since the second season in 2002. There have been times where I worried about the show's future, even in the (retrospectively) safety of Sunday nights. I know that nobody really reads this blog save for friends and friends-of-friends. But I don't know what else to do aside from yelling into the abyss of the blogosphere. Why don't I want The Amazing Race to die after 25 seasons? In no particular order:

1. Quality Travel Porn

I'm 38 years old, and I haven't been outside of North America yet. Watching TAR, I get to see the world. For instance, I didn't know about the African country of Burkina Faso until the show visited it. You get to see everything from landmarks to out-of-the-way places. And, more importantly, there's a good chance you get to see locals laugh at Racers as they struggle while performing tasks. Sometimes, the Racers don't deserve it, but it's still fun to watch.

2. Phil Keoghan Is Still The Man

Twenty-five seasons and thirteen years into TAR, the host is still worth watching. Unlike Jeff Probst over on Survivor, Phil doesn't get off on misery and the fumes of alpha males. Remember the times Probst was hugged? Those are few and far between. Phil can hold his own, whether he's providing narration before the credits, explaining tasks, or greeting teams at the end of each leg. For instance, he quipped about the shiny teeth of Missy & Jim (the orthodontists) to the local greeter. And I can count the times Phil has pissed me off on one hand. On the other hand, Probst manages to irritate at each once per episode. And he's the one with multiple Emmy awards. Meanwhile, Phil hasn't been nominated for Best Host in the past few years. Sometimes, life is unfair.

3. I Might Have Missed My Chance To See It

Let me explain: In May, CBS announced that the latest season of TAR would launch from Times Square in New York. That would have been a relatively short drive from my home on Staten Island. Worst case, it would take about an hour and change to get there through mass transit. The problem? It was 3 a.m.

I couldn't do it. Sure, New York is a lot safer than it used to be, but I didn't want to take any chances. Looking at the first episode, I probably wouldn't have been as nervous had I gone. There were lots of people there, as well as a few ex-Racers. In fact, one of them was Frank Mesa, who had finished second with his estranged wife Margarita in the show's first season. If you go to the 2:15 mark of the video below, you can see him telling teams where to find the finish line of TAR1: at Flushing Meadow Park. Given that the show starts and ends in the United States, and I don't get around, the odds of me seeing the show up close and personal are pretty slim. Well, there was Family Edition, but oaths were taken never to bring that up, even with the happy ending.

4. Anybody Can Run The Race

This season, the promotion people at CBS has flogged us with the show's inclusion of Bethany Hamilton. I don't follow pro surfing, but I know about the girl who lost her arm to a shark. You probably saw the commercials as well, as she was featured front and center for TAR, even more so than John Fucking Rocker was for the current season of Survivor.

I write for a magazine that's geared towards the disabled community. One of TAR's greatest strengths is casting people who might not have made the cut on other shows due to their shortcomings. For instance, Bethany is the third handicapped athlete to compete on the show, after Sarah Reinertsen (TAR10) and Amy Purdy (TAR21). You might have heard of Amy . . . she lost two legs to spinal meningitis, and she would later compete on Dancing With The Stars last spring, finishing second overall. Three contestants have multiple tours of duty on TAR while being disabled: Charla Faddoul (dwarfism), Luke Adams (deaf), and Zev Glassenberg (Asperger's Syndrome). If you consider having cancer to be a disability (like my editor does), then we had our first winners last season in father/son survivors Dave & Connor O'Leary. The contestants are rarely coddled, and most of the aforementioned Racers have managed to hold their own . . .  particularly Charla, who competed with Mirna, her total pill of a cousin.

5. Karma Might Be In Effect This Season

Usually, the team that goes off first is one you would want to start. This season, it was Lisa & Michelle, sisters/realtors from Miami. They came across as inoffensive in their preseason introduction video, but they were elevated to villain status during the first leg, when one of them ripped a pen from the hands of one of the Boston-based firefighters (Michael & Scott), when one of them was trying to sign up for a seaplane flight in St. Thomas. Eventually, Lisa struggled in a treasure chest-hunting Roadblock, when she was unable to use her compass correctly. She and Michelle eventually took a penalty along with two other teams . . . including the firefighters. And happily, they were beat out to the finish by Michael & Scott and Keith & Whitney (aka "Team Nashville"; a pair who met and fell in love while playing Survivor). So far, there hasn't been a team that has officially bugged its way out of our hearts (though Jim does seem a little intense), but there is one less noisome pair to get irritated about.

It's getting late, so I'll stop here. Please watch and support The Amazing Race. Don't judge it harshly for being a reality show, or because of how obnoxious one set of alumni (Nadiya & Natalie Anderson, aka the "Twinnies") act on the current season of Survivor (Nadiya was the first person voted off). If you go out on Friday nights, record the show. Hopefully, you'll fall for the show like I did all those years ago, and you won't look back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Survivor: Off The Rocker

I want to tell the story about a real pain in my ass from my past. For his sake, I'm calling him Bob. Bob was a recapper on Reality News Online around the same time I was. I don't remember meeting him, but he remains one of the biggest assholes I had ever gotten to know.

Now, I will admit, I am a negative person. It probably can be helped, but I don't do much with it. I was also a wannabe when it came to Television Without Pity, whose recappers I admired and envied at the time, much to the dismay of fellow RNO writers. Still, a lot of the time I felt like I was the only person who was sane, as my opinions were attacked by other recappers on the site. And Bob was right there, getting his licks in. He wasn't so much a bully as he was a toady; somebody who would kick an unconscious man after the main bullies did their thing. After I was booted from the site, he took over my Real World/Road Rules Challenge beat. The first thing he did: disrespected my writing style and made fun of my penchant for looking up last names of contestants. Bob was a real piece of work. When I went to TARCon afterward, I had to explain to people how he got the assignment, because I had fans who knew my work was superior, albeit negative and time-consuming.

Why am I talking about him? Well, back when we were on good terms (or while I was faking it), Bob claimed that he had made headway in the Survivor application process. I can believe it . . . after all, I have tried to get on The Mole with little success. I don't doubt that he caught the eye of a casting director. What bothers me is the notion that he would make it on a reality show . . . because I would feel compelled to rip on Bob every chance I got, purely out of spite. Even if he got on a show like Big Brother, which I don't watch, I'd tell people about my experiences with Bob, and how I felt he did me wrong. Even if nobody would listen, I'd still shout at the top of my (figurative) lungs about what a piece of garbage Bob was, even if the producers would gloss over it in the show's final cut. I don't know what would bother me more . . . Bob being on television on a regular basis, or Bob getting a shot at a six or seven-figure payday. Either one would hurt my soul.

Now . . . I haven't met John Rocker, either, but I know of him. While I consider myself a "lapsed" Mets fan, the fact is that I still remember 1999. I remember how the Mets couldn't get one up over the Atlanta Braves. I remember Larry "Chipper" Jones talking about how Mets fans would put on Yankees merch when their team was no longer in contention, clearly not understanding the differences between Mets and Yankees fans. It hurt that Chipper would hit, like, .400 every time he came to Shea Stadium. And I still hate Kenny Rogers for walking in the series-winning run for the Braves in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

John Rocker was in a class by himself. I have perspective about what it means to be a real Public Enemy of New York City .  . . but back in 1999, the standards were different. All Rocker had to do was say some dumb bullshit about the prospect of pitching in New York, like so:

"I'd retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing... The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

Real charmer, right? He was immediately placed on a pedestal as the worst of the worst in New York . . . worse than Chipper, worse than manager Bobby Cox, who would go on to bring in a pitcher named "Bong" as a pinch-hitter against New York after a Met got into some drug possession trouble. I remember the Mets going down three games to none against the Braves before mounting a comeback. I recall Rocker coming into the game and getting roughed up . . . and as he returned to the dugout afterward, he gestured to the jeering Mets faithful that his team was still up 3-0. The Mets wound up narrowing the gap to 3-2, and they managed to keep things interesting in Game 6, but the Braves prevailed thanks to Kenny Rogers being unable to find the strike zone. Even as a lapsed fan, I'm still bitter . . . especially when NBC decided it would be a good idea to have Rocker interviewed after the game. As if Mets fans weren't butt-hurt enough.

Rocker pitched in relief for seven years, playing for the Braves, Indians, Rangers and Devil Rays. He complied a 13-22 record with 3.42 ERA and 88 saves. He was also implicated in a steroid ring in 2007, admitting that he used the PEDs four years later. To save on droning about how his comments on New Yorkers wasn't an isolated incident, I'm just going to link to his Wikipedia page. Judge for yourself.

When I was in Toronto, I found out that John Rocker would be on Survivor: San Juan del Sur -- Blood Vs. Water, along with his girlfriend, Julie McGee. Putting aside what sort of woman would allow herself to love Rocker, you'd have to wonder why executive producer Mark Burnett would want the bum to be competing for a million bucks. Part of it is because Survivor has been home to athletes . . . most recently Jeff Kent. But even with his right-leaning politics, I still liked Kent, mostly because he probably contemplated taking a baseball bat to the bloated head of ex-teammate Barry Bonds . . . and who wouldn't root for a guy like that? But the biggest reason came from a fellow poster over on Previously.TV (my home after TWoP's forums went under) who called Rocker "the Russell Hantz of MLB!" I don't think that's a fair comparison. For one thing, I don't think Russell was a racist, so much as he probably had a deep contempt for everybody he met regardless of race, creed, color, etc. But I do agree that with Russell's best days behind him, and Burnett shying away from the Hantz family tree after Russell's nephew Brandon lost his mind in two tours of duty, a polarizing figure was needed for an increasingly irrelevant show.

John Rocker is a rectal wart of a human being. I can't see him as a redemption story. As long as he's on the show, I don't want to hear shit about anybody else . . . up to and including the two-time contestants of The Amazing Race, Nadiya and Natalie Anderson. I know, they're shrill, loud, and they once took $100 another team dropped and didn't return it . . . but damn it, they're still considered human beings. And unless somebody else from the show fills the villain role, I can't see Rocker as anything less than the bad guy you have to root against. We're talking Richard Hatch levels of hatred involved. Or Russell Hantz. Or Colton fucking Cumbie. And I'll be rooting for him to fail on every level of the game, not unlike Crystal Cox of the Gabon season (another athlete you can read about here). What I want is for everybody to root against Rocker, not just New Yorkers with long memories. I'd even want him to get booed at the subsequent reunion special, even if it takes away from people whose only crime was not being interesting in the fickle eyes of Jeff Probst. Bottom line: John Rocker can go fuck himself.

And so can Bob.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Adventures in Toronto 2014: Day Six

It's over. I'm back home, and I'm happy. So is Mom. I don't think anybody should be that happy to be on Staten Island, but here we are.

For me, it'll be back to the grind of looking for ongoing work, as well as trying to write on a regular basis. Toronto was a nice diversion, but I need to adjust my focus. That, and get a haircut. My head feels more bushy than usual, and I need to fix that.

As for Toronto? Well, I would recommend visiting the city, and I wouldn't say "no" to going back to Fan Expo Canada. I just need to alter my vision a little bit, and not make conventions end-all/be-all situations. That said, I know that I'll be ready for New York Comic Con in five weeks' time. And if I'm feeling like it, maybe I'll write about it here.

There's a lot I didn't write about here . . . like trying poutine- flavored potato chips, for instance. And seeing  Blue Jays fans wearing "I [heart] BJs" t-shirts. And trying creme brulee for the first time. And the time I found a place to get takeout dinner for my Mom and me after getting shut down by a local closed Subway. I might not have been successful in being happy in the big picture, but I did have several small moments that weren't a total loss.

Oh, and I only walked 3,276  steps today before I set down the pedometer. I'm thinking that it'll be a while before I make it over 10,000 again. Probably during NYCC. At least I'll know how to wander.