Thursday, December 28, 2017

My Obligatory Amazing Race Post

With a new year approaching, I get to do something a lot earlier than usual: fret about the future of The Amazing Race. This is something I have done. Often.

I'd give you the hard sell, but that's why I've posted the links above explaining why I love the series. For those unfamiliar, these are the basics:
  • The Amazing Race was introduced in 2001 by CBS, perhaps the first major competitive reality show that did not originate from Europe (e.g., Survivor, Big Brother, The Mole)
  • For the most part, teams of two with a preexisting relationship race from one location to another. Players have to perform tasks. Among the standard: Detour (a choice between two tasks, each one usually having their own pros and cons) and Roadblock (teams must decide which person would perform a task solo, based on nothing but the accompanying clue). Each leg ends at a Pit Stop. Most of the time, the team that finishes last in that leg is eliminated.
  • The main goal is to finish the final leg in first place. The team that accomplishes that wins $1 million, regardless on how they performed throughout the race. Sometimes, the best team does not win.
  • The host is Phil Keoghan. Hailing from New Zealand, Phil finished runner-up for the Survivor hosting gig to Jeff Probst, so executive producers Elise Doganieri and Bertram Van Munster snapped him up. For the most part, Phil acts as a narrator in each episode, greeting teams at each Pit Stop, and eliminating them when they finish last, with few exceptions. Phil is awesome, from the accent to the ability of raising his left eyebrow. It's hard to fully explain his appeal. You have to see him in action.
Of course, there are many blemishes and fault to TAR, which I will go over later. The big one involves scheduling from CBS. Since 2000, Survivor has had two seasons per television year (starting in September; the series originally launched in late May 2000), while Big Brother airs in the summer (as well as the one fall season due to the television writers' strike). In contrast, CBS has moved TAR around. At one point, it had the Sunday 8 p.m. slot. In the fall, most episodes would be delayed by NFL games running past 7. Once the games ended, CBS aired the entirety of 60 Minutes. Since it's an institution (notice the lack of quotation marks; I am not being sarcastic). Only when that ended did TAR start. The spring seasons had delays related to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and The Masters. Last year, CBS left TAR off its schedule, and the 29th season would start airing on March 30, Thursday nights at 10 p.m. Not an ideal slot, but it was something.

Also complicating matters have been gimmicks to attract new viewers, which tends to turn off the diehards. In the last four seasons, TAR had three themed seasons TAR26 with all romantic couples, half of whom met each other at the starting line. TAR28 was loaded with stars of social media and those connected with them, resulting in a season where there was competition, but the fatigue-aided outbursts were less accurate, since they didn't want to turn off their own fans. Finally, TAR29 began with 22 strangers forming eleven teams, selected by them before the race officially began. For some viewers, that was as bad as the "blind date" TAR26.

In May, TAR was left off the fall schedule once again. However, the thirtieth season started filming on October 1 at Washington Square Park in New York City. And I was there. I still felt bad for missing the start of TAR25, which took place in Times Square at 3 a.m. on May 31, 2014. This time, it was set up during the day. It turned out to be a lot longer than I would have figured. I am happy to say that the fans were out in force, with Phil greeted like Elvis. The Racers had to make their entrances on multiple takes. This season is mostly free of gimmicks, though the emphasis is on those excelling in their respective fields. The only Racer I recognized was Tim Janus, once known as "Eater X" on the competitive eating circuit. He was wearing facial paint, which I remembered from his annual appearances in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island. Later, I found that his partner was Joey Chestnut, who is best-known for winning at Nathan's on ten occasions.

I wound up exhausting myself rushing from one part of WSP to another, as the teams got ready. I wound up using four devices to capture the action, which I posted on Flickr. Also, I took videos and posted those for the first time (be kind with criticisms; I am not used to trying to keep a device steady while filming). I will admit the false starts did wear on my nerves, the fans' excitement was electric. One bit that got to me involved production people saying farewell to one another (photo/video). For most of the cameramen, they will be following teams in their race around the world. Fans seldom think of stuff like that. Finally, Phil set the teams off, having them fish clues from the park's fountain. I'm guessing it'll look awesome in the first episode . . . but if you can't wait, here's my footage. I would have posted it directly, but it's too big for Blogger.

Since TAR isn't the favored child like Survivor (despite more diminishing results), CBS will be running the series from January 6 (next Wednesday) through to February 21, with the final four legs scheduled to go up against the Winter Olympics on NBC. That's the downside. Here's the positive: the networks announce their plans for fall in May. TAR30 ends in February. Should the ratings prove to be significant, the network might go back to airing TAR twice per year. If you're a fan, please spread the word. With no real gimmick, this might be the best time to sell friends,family and strangers on the series. If you never got into it, now would be the best time to start. While I do like to watch the Olympics, the odds of missing something spectacular would not be as great as with the Summer Games. Also, watching this edition of TAR requires a commitment of a mere month-and-a-half. Minimum, I want the ratings to be better than the upcoming "celebrity" edition of Big Brother. TAR might have gotten off-track, but they have yet to cast somebody who's made a living for years as John Devenanzio, a.k.a. "Johnny Bananas," longtime veteran of The Challenge and a major ass. He's rumored to be on that show. Good luck with that.

Once again: tell as many people about The Amazing Race as you can. This is a series that deserves to live and thrive. For those on the fence, I hope this video will change your mind. For the fans . . . I'll be watching with you.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Inferno Episode 12: Born to Lose

Hi. Happy Holidays to those reading this . . . if that bends you out of shape, try to realize that includes Christmas. Tomorrow, I turn 42. Once again: I am probably outside the preferred demographic of The Challenge, and I would welcome any programs to pry me away from it. Reposting my old RNO recaps isn't merely out of ego. I want to make an impression that lasts, even if that involves accounts from a reality show that probably should have ended in the late 2000s. I did not suffer greatly in watching the show and writing about it, but I want something to stand out, because I'm not sure what else I can do that would that could be considered a legacy. Sad, right?

This episode. Oh Lord, this episode. This might be the worst episode in the history of
The Challenge. I reckon it's the worst one I recapped. I mean, you'd think I would be overjoyed that the biggest pain in the ass got booted, but Julie's elimination was overshadowed by so much bullshit. I was livid by the end of this episode. I wound up hating Timmy. That's Timmy Beggay, a man who is cornier than a Nebraskan's stool. I mean, that particular feeling wouldn't last, but I was that mad. Also, I more or less joined Team Katie. I know her feud with the Road Rules team wasn't an "either/or" thing, but those people sucked. Including Veronica and Abram. Especially Abram. I make so many jokes about how he's probably murdered and buried drifters all over Montana, but then there's what he pulls off here, and I just get mad over again.

Oh, and we get perhaps the dumbest endgame (my word for elimination games; it's punchier for me) ever created. I know that the next two Infernos were probably results of the producers mailing it in, but . . .  just read it. I mean, I wanted Julie to leave so badly (I admit, not as much as Coral), but I didn't want it to play out in that way. Two seasons later, she would fall to Tonya. That was a lot more "just" for me, because both players had to more or less fight for it. "Warrior's death" is hyperbole, but it seemed so much better than having the climax come down to a friggin' jump rope. Okay, I'm shutting up. I'll come back after the recap.

Airdate: April 12, 2004

Recap Published: April 16, 2004 (damn, I must have wanted to get the rage out so badly, I did not take my time with it)

You’ve seen Emily shoot her own team in the foot. You’ve witnessed the horror of Puck in his camera-grubbing glory. You bore witness to Sarah getting screwed over time and time again. But brother, this episode has them all beat.
It had been a good day. First, I watched the Mets smack the Braves around in their home opener. Then I saw Barry Bonds hit his 660th home run, tying him with his godfather, the legendary Willie Mays. And this episode was going to be the capper, the one where Julie would get booted off. I had accidentally spoiled myself, so I was able to put the pieces together: Road Rules would throw the mission, Katie would get shoved into the Inferno, and she would beat Julie. I even had a title ready: “Na Na, Na Na Na Na...” But I wasn’t prepared for what was to happen. This is the episode that might make me swear off a fourth season of recapping. I’m barely kidding about this.

Previously on The Inferno: Real World lost Twist and Shout in double overtime. David: “We’re on a five-game skid. If we lose six in a row, I think we will be buried mentally.” Julie got nominated for the Inferno, and picked a fight with Coral. Julie then challenged Coral to a wrestling match. Yeah, compared to tonight, those were good times. RW selected Veronica to go into the Inferno, but her team had a backup plan.

Villa. Night. Julie tells David that she doesn’t like what she did, and how she shouldn’t have attacked Coral. Ya think? Julie interviews, “I just feel like there’s not one single soul in that house that understands me or even gives a crap about me.” Gee, and after you made such a fool of yourself? That’s hard to believe. David tells her that everybody explodes at one time or another. “The way Julie is feeling now, she is broken,” he interviews. “If you’re going into the Inferno with that attitude, you’re all done.” He tells Julie that she’s bound to snap in a high-stress situation. Julie: “I’ve done some things in Acapulco that weren’t exactly the person I want to be. Having anger in my heart, like hating people... what? That’s not who I want to be.” This is where the producers start playing their violins, trying to get me to feel bad for poor put-upon Julie. No sale over here, fellas. David advises Julie to hate the game, not the player.

Night lapses into day. Dave welcomes the players to Balcony Swing. The object: rappel down a 22-story building and collect flags from the balconies. Syrus explains that for every dropped or missed flag, a one-minute penalty is invoked. Dave tells Leah that due to her freak-out two missions ago, she’s not off the disabled list just yet, and sidelines her for the second straight mission. Once again, he tells RW they won’t be penalized. Having one less player in an averaged event is far from a penalty, especially when the sidelined player is as mediocre as Leah. The team with the fastest average time wins $10,000. Top players from each team receive the Aztec Lifesaver, which can bail out an Inferno nominee.

Veronica gathers the bulk of her team around so RW doesn’t hear. She plans on losing a girl: either herself, Kendal or Katie. Yes, the following skullduggery is going down to shove Kendal into the line of fire. Yeah, right. Meanwhile, a seemingly unsuspecting Katie is chatting with Leah. Holly interviews that the team wants to send Katie to the Inferno. Abram starts planning on missing every flag and having a good time. We’ll see what Abram’s definition of a “good time” is in a little while. He interviews that the team will make sure Veronica wins the Lifesaver so she can make Katie take her place. Veronica: “I play this game. The game used to play me, now I know how to play the game, and people understand that.” Brief shot of her chatting with Coral. “When I give them my point of view, they agree with it.” You know when she’s being a total bitch about it? When I start wishing for Emily to arrive. How big a game would Veronica be talking if Emily were around? Coral tells Mike about the fix. The RW plan boils down to beating Veronica’s time.

Veronica gets prepped to go down. She interviews that she has to get a good time and not mess up. The editors pipe in Brand New’s “Sic Transit Gloria.” I usually see that video on Fuse, not MTV. Weird. Katie interviews that nobody is talking to her or looking at her. Mike whispers something in Syrus’s ear, causing him to laugh. It could be an obscene Trishelle joke for all we know. Veronica rappels, grabbing the flags. Her teammates look up while Katie smokes. Veronica lands with a time of 3:45.47. Abram points out that the team has to finish past her time.

Montage! Mike drops, as do CT, Darrell, and Timmy. Music: Korn, “Right Now.” I hate the video for that song. Mike and CT grab flags in their separate drops. Darrell: “I’m flying down the rope, taking my time, undoing the flag. I’m just setting down at a moderate speed, taking my time. We’re supposed to throw the mission.” Timmy: “The only thing scarier that the Infuerno is Veronica at the bottom.” I expect this crap from Darrell, but Timmy? I am so disappointed in him. More dropping. Mike: 2:56.60. Darrell: 4:06.53. Timmy: 4:08.28. CT: 2:56.46.

More montage! Christena, Holly, Kendal. Holly: “Throwing a mission is not in my normal competitive nature, but I’m also a team player.” And just like that, I lose any respect I had for her. She makes me sick to my stomach. Christena: “I want Veronica to win the Lifesaver, and I would like her to airmail it to Katie.” Coral does some ground commentary as Holly “struggles.” Katie interviews that she’s noticed the best players having troubles. Christena: 5:26.46. Holly: 6:51.07 (flag penalty). Kendal drops, missing a flag. “Damn me,” she interviews. “I understand the best thing for us to do would be to throw the mission.” She lands with 5:47.20 and gets a hug from Holly. “I feel extremely bad,” she adds. As well she should.

Montage! Syrus, Coral, David. Music: N.E.R.D., “She Wants To Move.” Syrus drops, hating it. Coral drops. “I want the Lifesaver so bad,” she interviews, “so I can not give it to Julie.” She’s a bitch, but she’s seldom dishonest. David drops a flag. Syrus and Coral drop. David loses another flag, and he missed two altogether. Coral: 3:13.43. Syrus: 4:43.02. David floats down, saying that he lost his bearings. Coral tells him that he skipped two and dropped two. His time: 12:12.63. “They try to lose the mission,” David quips, “and I win it for them.” CT appears from behind, smacking his in the back. “Are you kidding me?” Coral interviews. “This is happening to us again? That’s a lot of damn time. So, there we go. One more losing mission for us.”

Katie gets prepped. She interviews that she’s concentrating on being competitive and not on her fear. She starts down, but gets caught. On the ground, Timmy lies on his back, contemplating taking a nap. Katie swings down, dropping a flag. Her time: 9:16.86. Her time is easily the worst on her team, and the others are blowing the mission. Yes, you can see the need to dump her, but the execution is shady. Katie is disappointed that she didn’t beat Veronica’s time and she hopes somebody else will. Veronica flashes an evil smile. What smile of hers isn’t evil?

That somebody else is Abram. He interviews that he’s going to have fun with it. He starts down, whooping it up. Coral yells that it’s not funny. Abram keeps whooping, making a total ass of himself. By the way, if you live in his hometown of Bozeman, then you have my deepest sympathies. Mike and Kendal laugh. Abram takes his sweet time to go down. The music gets tense as Katie looks up. Abram yells that they’ll never take him alive, howling and laughing. Veronica smiles evilly again. Katie looks up. Mike and Kendal laugh some more.

The music changes. I’m unable to not feel sorry for Katie, as we get a tight close-up of her face. She is ready to cry. Veronica is still grinning evilly. What a bitch. “I’m so embarrassed,” Katie squawks out, her fingers trembling. “So intentional... so blatantly intentional. I’m shocked.”

Back from commercials, Abram is still whooping it up. “I’m ten feet away and that sucks,” Katie interviews, as we see Leah pat her back. “It’s like a slap in the face.” Abram grabs a flag and drops it. He comes down with a time of 5:07.09, blathering about how “disappointed” he is for himself. I’m sorry I ever defended him against Donell. Veronica smiles evilly. Katie: “I just don’t understand when people don’t have guilt anymore, or something.” Leah interviews that Katie’s feelings are hurt, since RR made a mockery of the mission.

Julie gets prepped. “I have zero love for my team right now,” she interviews. “Last night, they were all screaming at me. So today, for me to try and do really well is like, I got to dig deep for that.” Maybe they were screaming at you because you were screaming at Coral. Did you ever consider that? She drops down. On the ground, Coral rolls her eyes. Julie gets the flags, finishing at 3:34.85. She figures that wasn’t good enough for the Lifesaver, but she’s looking forward to the Inferno.

Dave announces the results. RW averaged 4:26 and RR got 5:02. RW celebrates, and Mike interviews that they didn’t care how they broke their losing streak. “Oh, wow,” Abram interviews sarcastically. “You earned that one!” I fight the urge to put my fist through the television screen in the hopes of somehow hurting him. Dave hands out the Aztec Lifesavers to CT and Veronica. As she gets her prize, Timmy stands behind her, grimacing. Like I’m supposed to feel for him now? “I could smell a lot of fishy stuff going on,” Dave quips, “but hey, you won it fair and square.” Let’s add Dave to the “needs to be throttled” list. Katie interviews that the mission was a slap in the face. “It’s not like whatever they did was to win or whatever,” she adds. “They did it with a cruel intention.” Veronica: “Katie is going home.”

Day lapses to night. At the Villa, Katie reams out Abram for the team spending $10,000 to get rid of her. Abram totally and completely lies to her, saying he wasn’t a part of it. Katie: “Okay, well then why are you wearing a red bandana when your teammate’s going in the thing?” Also, he’s wearing a Miz shirt. Abram, you have two options: either lie to her and wear something blue, or tell the truth and wear red. Katie voiceovers that Abram made a mockery of the mission. While they’re talking, Timmy and Veronica walk by them. I guess Katie isn’t a total psycho, since her teammates are not bleeding. She snipes, “My team has the dirtiest players ever.” She yells at Abram, calling him an idiot.

Upstairs, Julie is on her knees, sobbing on the bed. Wouldn’t you know it: I can’t hear her, and the editors don’t bother captioning it. So I go to my television’s close-captioning. “I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been acting. I’m sorry for all the hate in my heart for Coral. [Inaudible] and for the girls that have not been nice to me. Please allow me to be strong.” With Julie, it is hard to tell when she’s being honest, and when she’s playing to the camera. Given her behavior in past Challenges, you can’t blame me. If it’s any consolation for her, she does come off as less fake than Matt talking to God inTelluride.

Now Julie is talking to Leah, about how she’s sad because she hasn’t been the person that she wanted to be. Julie has been angry at anybody who has been angry with her, and the only thing she has left is faith. Leah interviews that she’s not sure how Julie will do in the Inferno. She does remind Julie that Katie was her original choice. So it looks like RR’s evil ways might give Julie the break she needs. Man, I love irony.

Inferno site. Dave welcomes everybody to tonight’s event: Scratchathon. Both players will walk on treadmills for three hours. The object: outlast the opponent. The catch: the players are covered in itching powder and have to wear tracksuits. Veronica smiles in her evil way. In the event of a tie, the players will engage in a sudden death round of jumping rope. You heard me: jumping rope. Who thinks up this crap? I want a name, and I want it now.

Dave asks CT if he wants to save Julie. This time, he takes a pass. Dave tells Veronica that she has to save herself, and asks who she wants to put in her place. Veronica announces that the team decided to send Katie in. Dun dun duuuuuun! Katie: “They all lost on purpose to let Veronica get the Aztec, because she’s too much of a chicken-[bleep] to even go in there herself.” You know, I was ready to pull for Veronica in a battle against Julie, given the near-fatal first mission. But now I have to agree with Katie’s analysis.

Preparations. CT applies the powder to Katie. She notices that Veronica is barely putting any of the stuff on Julie. Dave bangs the gong, and both ladies start walking on the treadmill. Julie strikes a pose for the camera, while Katie just walks. She interviews that she’s apprehensive going up against something as physically and mentally strong as Julie. She starts scratching herself. Holly looks ready to nod off. “I’m not friends with Katie,” Veronica snipes, “and I’m not willing to be a hypocrite. I’m not willing to sit there and cheer her on when I don’t want her on my team.”

Suddenly, two voices ring out from nowhere, cheering Katie on. Are they from her own team? Nope. We cut from the action to Coral and Leah, who are hollering nearby. Last year, I didn’t see any “in your face” gestures from Melissa as she helped Julie get kicked out. I’m convinced if that had happened, it would have made the final cut. I’m just saying there’s rooting against Julie, and then there’s rooting against Julie and coming off as a total bitch. “I hope Julie falls the [bleep] off that treadmill real soon,” Coral interviews. “If Julie loses this, she better just put a bag on her head for the rest of her life, because she’ll never show her face again.” Julie keeps walking on the treadmill. “I think it’s funny that people hold onto stuff for so long,” she tells us. “It’s kinda sad, it’s like living in your own personal hell, when you just can’t let go.”

Now it’s time for Uncle Mike to storm away from the scene and try to convince Aunt Coral to lay off the Haterade. He tells Coral that they’re supposed to be a team. Coral brings up the wrestling challenge. Mike tells Coral that she’s being like the RR team. Actually, they’re not rooting for Julie, so Coral is actually being worse than them. Wait, did I just defend Julie? Wow... I hate this damn episode so much. “I just hate her guts, man,” Coral interviews. “She challenged me to a fight. How can I really root for her in the Inferno? She challenged me to a fight. Can you really blame me? Come on!”

Montage. More walking. Music: “You got to go home!” Veronica smiles evilly. Julie poses. Coral whispers, “Go, Katie!” and gives the thumbs up. Both players smile. Katie scratches herself. Veronica chuckles evilly.

Two hours remain. Julie wants Dave to crank up the speed. Katie cusses her out, telling her to turn it up herself. She also doesn’t want to jog. Julie tells Katie that she’s just delaying the inevitable. Katie is now officially pissed off. “Wait til I get off this!” she shouts. “You think [bleepin’] Coral’s a bitch, wait til you [bleep] with me!” And just like that, Katie won me over. Julie smirks, while Coral’s mouth is wide open in shock. “Now I’m fired up!” Katie says. “I’m ready to go, so let’s do this [bleep]!” Coral makes the devil’s horn sign, clearly in awe of Katie.

After commercials, the players have three minutes left. Both are walking at a snail’s pace. This is such a lame mission. Julie tells herself not to get angry. Katie cops to needing the anger. Neither player is out of breath. Dave gives them the two-minute warning. Veronica reminds us of the obvious irony of neither team supporting their players. Coral interviews that she wants Julie gone.

Dave announces the end of the mission, and he brings out the jump ropes. Syrus says that both players must jump on two feet. Julie interviews that she jumped rope for hours before. She adds, “I can jump rope circles around Katie!” Both girls practice, as Katie hops on one foot rather than jumps. “They have to jump rope for 15 minutes without screwing up,” Abram interviews, “and I’m like [folding hands, crossing fingers] I didn’t lose $10,000 for nothing, please.”

Both players start jumping even before Dave bangs the gong. Immediately, the music builds to a crescendo. Jumping. Jumping And then... the rope hits Julie’s legs. Abram and Christena look stunned. Mike looks like he got jabbed in the butt. Game over.

Now, this is the part of the recap where I would celebrate. It’s where I would cabbage-patch and shout “Help her pack!” to nobody in particular. But between RR’s meanness and Coral’s over-the-top disgust, I am completely exhausted. I can’t muster so much energy to cheer Julie going out. And seriously... jump rope? She lost because of a jump rope? It’s like the Joker going fifteen rounds with Batman, then slipping on the sidewalk and breaking his neck. It’s underwhelming and lame. I guess that nothing will ever top Melissa getting herchance to boot Julie.

Back to the action: Katie wastes no time in cheering, singing and cursing out her teammates. And who can blame her? Coral cackles her brains out as Mike tries to shut her up. Veronica laughs evilly, the enormity of what just happened unable to sink in. Abram shakes his head, clearly bummed out. Good. Mike hugs Julie, reassuring her that it’s not her fault. Who would have thought the Miz could be so caring? Coral points, still under the influence of the Haterade. Veronica keeps laughing. Katie: “Ha ha, in your face, look what I did. I’m still here and you lost $10,000, you dumb [bleeps].”

Denouement. Dave congratulates Katie, and then returns her to her team. How about she gets $10,000 and a first-class ticket home? Then everybody wins. Katie interviews that this was the first Inferno where nobody cheered. “But I didn’t care,” she continues, “because inside, I was cheering for myself.” Dave tells Julie that she has to pack up and leave. She interviews that she wanted to go home anyway. “I want to get back to being the person I want to be,” she continues. “I don’t want to deal with this garbage that goes on in these houses and the drama and all that.”

Pier of Shame. Julie gets escorted to the short boat by the male RW members. “I don’t think anyone understands how important Julie would have been to our team,” Syrus interviews, as we see him hug Julie. “And the fact that she’s gone now, we’re definitely gonna miss her.” Honestly, I can never hate the big guy for being Julie’s friend. Julie: “These Challenges always make me grow, and I realize what’s supposed to happen with my life happens, and everything’s in perspective. Real World, I forgive you, and I have love in my heart for you!” You know, maybe she’s right. Maybe she can turn a corner. Maybe there will come a day when Julie will become respectable, where she can bury her differences with Coral and Melissa, and where I can like her like I did before Extreme Challenge. Then I realize this is Julie we’re talking about, and I’d put money on her popping up in the next William Hung video, or starring in the third season of The Surreal Life. I can’t fire with both barrels at her now thanks to Road Rules. Damn them for exhausting my ammo.

Speaking of RR, tense music plays as Holly, Christena, and Veronica make their beds. Christena: “Tonight could have been huge.” Veronica: “It’s all right, you guys. Don’t let it bring you down. You know what? We carry this team anyways, and she doesn’t.” To recap: Katie absorbed heaping amounts of abuse, and managed to knock off the top female player on the RW side. Even if it did come down to a freakin’ jump rope, Katie should get some credit. Veronica interviews: “Our plan didn’t go as well as we would have hoped, but as long as I’m here and as long as I’m playing the game, I don’t want her on my team.” Fade to black.

I never thought I would miss the RR team from The Gauntlet. Looking back, I should never have taken people like Theo or Roni for granted. For every person who wanted Sarah to suffer, there was a player who tried to play the game fair. I think Katie is the worst player to ever compete in a Challenge. Her need to be constantly coddled by her teammates is annoying. But thanks to the actions of her teammates, I am now on her side. I hate Timmy for revealing that he’s nothing more than comic relief with little substance. I hate Holly for shirking her leadership role, hiding behind her teammates in order not to dirty her hands. I hate Darrell for going down the same road as he did last season with Sarah. I hate Kendal for cooperating with the conspiracy. I hate Christena for not feeling the need to treat Katie as a human being and for being such a flaming crap-stirrer. Seriously, she is now ranked below the likes of Tina in my book. I hate Abram because... do I need to explain? I hope somebody carves a big “L” in his hair the next time he goes for another Mohawk.

As for Veronica? Put it this way: not enough houses could fall on her to satisfy me. I hope Ayanna screams in her ears for a few hours. I hope Amaya clotheslines her hard. I hope Katie and Sarah play Human Pinata with her. You get the idea. There’s playing the game, and then there’s being a complete bitch about it. Veronica crossed that line. Shut up and find another way to make easy money, you untalented loser. Even if RR sweeps the remaining missions and Infernos and goes on to win the $150,000, they’ll still be losers to me.

Next week: Something with platforms and dunking the opposition. The good news? Leah is back in the game. The bad news? She’s messing up, enough for CT to want her gone. And he actually tells her this. What? Is he Lex all of a sudden? Is there anybody I’ll like by the time the season is over?

If I was allowed to openly curse, I probably would have done that. And nobody would blame me.

Shit, I was mad at damn near everybody, even Coral. Basically, I was pissed that Road Rules had to "do" Katie like that, and Abram's "performance" really set me off. I know that his reputation at the time was as the loosest of cannons; a probably racist who got kicked off Road Rules: South Pacific for beating up Donell, even if that lardass deserved it. But the stunt he pulled to help send Katie to the Inferno made me mad. I get trying to cut out the weakest team member, but that was humiliating to Katie. In retrospect, I'm surprised that when Katie melted down and almost came to blows against Veronica, she didn't try to murder Abram. Or maybe she held off on that because she wanted to live. Remember: Abram has murdered drifters in Montana. Okay, probably not, but if that turned  out to be true, would any longtime fan be that shocked?

Seriously . . . treadmills, itching powder, jump rope. Months later, the Challenge Gods (if they truly exist) looked upon me and exclaimed, "You think this is the maddest you'll ever get about a jump rope? Behold the God Of Jump Ropes: ERIC NIES!!!" But that's another season. I have five more episodes, two lame Infernos and a Reunion left to write about. 

PS: I got two videos for you to go with the music from this episode: "Sic Transit Gloria" by Brand New, and "Right Now" by Korn, which should still be disturbing for most people.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Inferno Episode 11: Plot Twist

In case you just stumbled in, here's the summary of this recap, in four words: "I hate Julie Stoffer." In February 2016, I wrote an essay on "Spotlight Challengers," and I included how Julie went from the greatest ingenue since Julie Oliver in the original Real World to a real pain in the ass in Extreme Challenge. She came back two years later in Battle Of The Sexes, and she had a pissed-off ex-roommate in Melissa to deal with from the start. But then Amaya & Melissa won the first mission (would "The Miracle At Montego Bay" be overkill?), and Julie was the first female gone . . . and that was over a pregnant woman (Gladys) and an albatross that was also the epitome of neediness (Beth). When I was writing before The Inferno took place, I wrote this about her: "I’ll say this much: if she makes it past six missions, you’ll see her as I do, as nothing less than a female Puck." Okay, that last bit was uncalled for, but I knew she'd be a pain in the ass. And how did she start the season? Right .  . forcing me to think of Veronica as a human being by making her think she was seconds from death. 

In retrospect, I realize that a viewer didn't have to pick sides between Julie and Coral. For Coral, Julie was an irritant. Like I have said, Coral loved to blast irritants. Also, she was best friends with Melissa at that time. Even though Melissa had won her "battle" with Julie, Coral felt the need to antagonize her further. Around this time, I was liking Coral's approach more and more, because she did not suffer fools gladly. I realize that her bark was probably worse than her bite, but her "victims" usually had it coming. At this point, the intensity between the two ws about to come to a head.

Oh, and while the Real World team was dealing with that, Road Rules was getting sicker and sicker of Katie. That would boil over in the next episode, leading to one of the craziest endgames ever played. But not today. Oh, and I "congratulate" Trishelle on the William Hung video and Sean & Rachel Duffy on the birth of their third child. Today, he's a congressman from Wisconsin with eight kids. EIGHT. I think they're eligible for their own series on TLC.

Airdate: April 5, 2004 (the one hundredth episode, according to Wikipedia!)
Recap Published: April 12, 2004 (either I wanted to take my time with this one, or I was lazy. Probably both)

The players twist and shoot for money, and Katie underachieves yet again. But what happens when Julie calls Coral out?

Before I start, I'd just like to congratulate Trishelle for starring in William Hung's video for "She Bangs." Way to find a new level of rock bottom! Also, congratulations to ex-Real World cast members Sean Duffy and Rachel Campos on the birth of their daughter, Lucia. Seeing how this is their third child in the span of five years, I implore Sean: let her breathe, man! Sheesh!

Previously on The Inferno: Katie's substandard water-bearing efforts in Balls Out not only lost Road Rules the mission, but made Real World declare her their mascot. Needless to say, Veronica was pissed off. Mike: "That girl is making us money. That girl is gonna make us bank." Voiceover Lady: "Despite Katie's struggles, Road Rules scores yet another win." Yeah, if the producers had actually enforced the "five minutes or disqualified" rule in Bungee Bound, then RR would have lost. Instead, Katie's underachieving actually won the mission, upping their bank to $70,000. Finally, we get footage of Coral and Julie sniping at each other during Ultimate Saturn Road Trip. Buckle up, babies . . . we're going on one helluva ride.

Nighttime at the Villa. Julie and Katie chat about being outcasts. Katie admits that she would perform better if her team was nicer to her. Otherwise, she can't be bothered. "When they're rude to me, I have no intention of busting my ass," she interviews. "I figure they're going to vote me anyway, so what the [bleep] do I care?" Yes, that's the attitude that got her through a whopping four missions last season. Julie figures that Veronica is rallying the team against Katie in the same way that Coral is doing to her. Cry me a river. "I have one more battle with that girl," Julie interviews of Coral. "If she crosses me one more time, then I'll scream." She tells Katie that Coral has been mean to her from the beginning. She interviews about feeling trapped and reaching her breaking point.

Night turns to day, and we go to the mission site where we see the players' faces with bulls-eyes on them. Dave welcomes everybody to Twist and Shoot. As Syrus does a cute twist dance, Dave explains that the mission will test their balance and hand-eye coordination. The objective: shoot paintballs at the targets. Abram interviews the same thing, but he's laughing about it. Guns and Abram should never mix. Dave brings in the twist: the players will shoot from a spinning 20-foot platform. CT explains that they have 30 shots, and they can't shoot if they fall off the platform. Dave mentions a critical rule: if anybody shoots before he blows his air horn, that's a 50-point penalty. Timmy adds that the players get 10 points per target hit, and any premature shots are deducted. The team with the highest average score gets $10,000, and anybody who hits the big chili pepper gets $1,000 from the sponsor.

Dave brings up Leah's anxiety attack from the last episode. Her doctor has recommended she sit this mission out, but RW won't be penalized. "We do not know how to win," Mike laments in an interview, as David climbs up to the platform. "Everyone needs to step it up, big time, because we can't lose another mission. They are killing us."

Air horn. David spins around and around, hitting pictures of Holly, Darrell, and Katie. He slips off, dangling on the bungee cord above the platform. His score: 60 points, plus $1,000. Darrell interviews that he's been shooting guns since he was a kid. Okay, then. He interviews, "I know I'm gonna get a couple rounds off somebody’s ass." He scores 90 and $1,000. Mike gets 50 and $1,000, and he's happy that he hit the chili. Christena gets 30 and $1,000. "It's so funny," she interviews, "to get Coral in the mouth and shut her up for good." Christena bugs, doesn't she? She's a stealth annoyance . . . you don't notice how big a jerk she is for a long time. CT is spun off quickly, getting 10 points and $1,000. Abram calmly fires, nailing 10 and $1,000.

Average scores: RW 40, RR 77. Coral comments that she is sick and tired of losing. Julie fires, as her teammates yell for her to aim lower. She runs out of ammo, scoring 20 and $1,000. On the ground, Coral shakes her head. Kendal gets spun off, only getting 10 and $1,000. Holly lifts off the platform, scoring no points and $1,000. She interviews, "It was a poor performance, to say the least."

The editors pipe in "Stand Up" by Ludacris. First of all, is it normal of me to immediately associate that song with the time Veronica saved herself from a Gauntlet trip? Secondly, how long before BMP makes the players hang midgets from their necklaces? I'm sorry, but that is such a catchy song. Anyway, Coral starts shooting, and she shoots the "peppa," as pronounced by CT. She runs out of bullets, getting 40 points and $1,000. She gets spun around some more, and she yells for the turntable to be stopped. On the ground, Dave has himself a nice chuckle. Veronica shoots, forcing Darrell and Coral to duck. She gets spun off, receiving 10 points and no money.

Katie's turn. Timmy yells for her to aim lower, but she can't pull it off. "That's my girl!" Mike yells from the sideline. Katie hangs on the cord with a smile, getting no points and no money. That has to annoy her teammates. Christena snipes that Katie wasn't even spinning. Timmy: "On a scale of one to ten, Katie just did [raspberry, thumb down]." Looks like Uncle Timmy is losing his patience.

Syrus climbs up to the platform. He voiceovers that he has to get a good position. As Dave gets ready to blow his air horn, Syrus shoots, nailing Holly's picture. Dave reminds Syrus that he just got a 50-point penalty. Syrus cannot believe it, and he threatens to shoot Dave. He spins around and fires, getting 30 points (eighty minus the penalty) and $1,000.

As Timmy climbs up to the platform, Dave explains that he needs to shoot four targets to win and three to tie. "Put it this way," Timmy quips to the others, "this is the only time you're going to see me nail Trishelle!" Nice! After everybody has a good laugh, Timmy gets spun off. Veronica counts the targets hit, and Christena figures that the final result is close.

Dave announces the scores. RR got 280 points, which averages out to 35 each. RW got 210, which also averages out to 35 each. Dave asks the best shooters from each team to face off in a sudden death match. This time, the players must hit only the pepper.

Syrus takes his turn, occasionally firing sideways. He gets spun off, scoring 50 points. On the ground, Darrell reminds Abram to keep his finger off the trigger. As the countdown ends, Abram squeezes off a premature shot. Sensing their losing streak is about to end, RW laughs and cheers. Abram interviews that he has to hit the pepper five times just to get to zero, then hit it five more times in order to tie. "I feel like we won," Syrus interviews, invoking the gods of foreshadowing. "It's a done deal."

After commercials, Abram waits for the air horn before shooting. He fires, spins, waits and fires again. As he falls off, his team cheers. His score: 50 points. I don't necessarily root for the guy, but that was impressive. On the ground, Coral rolls her eyes.

Dave reviews what just happened, then announces double overtime. This time, each team sends a female shooter to compete. Christena volunteers for RR. Coral asks Julie if she wants to go. Julie decides to let Coral go at it. CT interviews that he feels confident that Coral will win.

Coral takes her shots, getting 40 points before falling. Christena says that she needs five shots to win, adding that she'll try to get more than she needs. Naturally, she succeeds, getting 80 points for the win. RR whoops it up, RW looks glum, and Christena screeches that she smells $10,000. Once again: shut up, Christena. David interviews that RR has now won five missions in a row. "It's one thing to lose," he adds, "but to lose in a double overtime? That's a tough pill to swallow."

Denouement. Dave awards the cardboard check to RR, upping their bank account to $80,000. Christena accepts it, and somebody waves her picture in the background. Dave also awards $1,000 individual checks to everybody except Leah, Timmy, Veronica, and Katie. He concludes by sending both teams off to nominate two women into the Inferno. Mike: "It's not bad enough that we just lost a mission. Now we gotta vote two people as well. I mean, this sucks."

Time lapses from day to night. RR meeting. Veronica immediately volunteers herself. She interviews that she has to go eventually, so she might as well get it over with. Holly tells her that no RW girl can beat her. Holly then asks Katie if she's okay with going each time. Katie doesn't want to get nominated for the next time. Veronica: "But do you not think that you're the weakest girl?" It's the superior tone that ticks me off. Katie just stares back. "Yes, Katie is the weakest girl on our team," Holly interviews. "Do we hope that they pick Katie over Veronica? Yeah, we do." Looks like Aunt Holly wants Katie gone as well.

RW meeting. Leah volunteers, interviewing that she wasn't able to compete because of the anxiety attack. "I need to step up and go," she adds. "It's my turn." Leah and CT figure that she'll go with Julie. I can approximate Julie's expression as this: "Whuh?" Coral points out that Julie is the only person who hasn't been nominated yet. Julie is wearing a t-shirt that says "Devon Sawa For Pres." I feel sorry for Devon Sawa. She says that she's looking at the big picture. "If I go this week," she goes on, "there's a chance I'll go next week as well." Coral just stares at her. "Look around, bitch!" she interviews. "There's only three of us!" Coral is like Dave Chappelle, in the sense that they can say "bitch" all the time, and it never gets old. She asks Julie if it's fair to nominate herself. Julie: "I feel Coral's strong point is her manipulation. She manipulates situations to her advantage all the time." David points out that she hasn't been nominated. Syrus wants her in the Inferno now. CT thinks she needs to prove herself. Coral is quite the evil mastermind, to woo all those people. CT interviews that Coral has outperformed Julie. That's news to me. "Julie really needs to step up," he adds, "and show us what she's worth." Julie smiles and agrees to go.

Dave announces the nominees: Julie and Leah from RW, Veronica and Katie from RR. Blah blah blah, pick one player from the other team.

RR meeting. Katie feels that Julie would be the stronger competitor than Leah. Veronica feels more confident going up against Leah. The team debates, before Dave drops by to ask them to pick a plate. Veronica gives Katie the call, and she picks Julie. All right, Katie!

RW meeting. Julie wants to be honest, thinking that after the first mission, she doesn't know if she can take Veronica out. She adds that Katie has been stepping up a little in the missions. What kind of measurements is Julie taking? David turns his head in disbelief. CT interviews that the team made an agreement to keep Katie in the game, since she hurts her team so much. Seeing how RR has won eight of eleven missions, I'd say they're getting by. Mike looks totally disgusted. "You can't beat [bleeping] Veronica?" he sputters to Julie. "Give me a break!" David bows his head. Julie interviews that RW is telling her Katie staying is more important to them. She tells the team that she would lose to Veronica. Just typing that makes me all giddy inside. Dave pops in, as Julie gets more agitated. Coral hisses for her to pick a plate. Julie gripes about not feeling like part of the team. Coral repeats her demand. Julie: "Coral's doing anything she can do to push my buttons, and try and get me to break." She chooses Veronica.

Now Julie is sniping about being bullied, still believing that Veronica would beat her. Julie tells Coral to shut her mouth. Now Coral is angry. They commence to curse each other out, each bleep a three-point piece of heaven for anybody playing the Fantasy Challenge. Coral tells Julie to back off. David's caught in the middle, chuckling his head off. Coral walks away, still yelling. A few of the RR girls look on, and Julie flashes a smile.

Back from commercials, Julie is still whining about Coral. "When I hear her voice," she snarls, "it makes me want to go home." I'm surprised the team didn't pull out money to pay for her trip. She declares that she'll do her best, and she wants the team to be together. "Yeah, I was kind of forceful," Julie interviews, "but after all the crap she said to me, all the crap I swallowed for two weeks, for me to say one thing and have her freak out like that is like, 'What is wrong with you?'" Yeah . . . aim high, Julie.

The plates get put up. Katie interviews that Veronica is Inferno-bound unless she gets the Aztec Lifesaver. Suddenly, wrestling matches spark up on the lawn, as Abram grapples with CT, and Darrell goes up against David. Coral declares that RW will be normal once Veronica defeats Julie. More wrestling. Now Coral is on bended knee, begging Veronica to take Julie out. Okay, now that's going a little too far. Veronica interviews about a backup plan where Katie would go in her place.

Mike holds back Coral, explaining how her begging Veronica would give RR an edge. "Coral is thinking irrationally right now," he interviews. "It's just a tough situation to be in. Hopefully, it'll be okay. I doubt it." Coral: "Tell her that she gets that for free. The next one, she going to have to pay out for.” Mike asks if she'll take a check or Visa card. She replies, "I don't take credit cards."

In the bedroom, Julie tells David that she finally gave Coral a reason to hate her. David brings up the guys grappling outside. Julie thinks that the men are sensible, and that she would want to wrestle Coral. Grinning in excitement over impending drama, David asks if he can promote it. Julie agrees, as she wants to wrestle and get things over with, followed by team unity, and the defeat of Veronica.

Somehow, CT gets to be the lucky guy to issue the challenge to Coral. Her reaction is the quote you've all been waiting for. "I don't wrestle," she snipes. "I [bleepin'] beat bitches up!" Instant classic. She interviews, "There's nothing more that I'd like than to [bleepin'] knock her teeth completely out of her [bleepin'] mouth." The payout Julie could get from the Tooth Fairy would probably exceed what she'd get on this show. Julie is in the hallway, wondering if she has to call Coral out. Yeah, keep hitting the hungry tiger with a two-by-four. See where that gets you. Coral repeats to Julie about getting the first one for free. CT pushes Julie back, while Coral declares that Julie is out of her mind. Julie makes a run, but CT intercepts her and hustles her off. More arguing. Julie wants to fight like a man and wrestle. Cut to Syrus looking on with Darrell, Abram, and Veronica. "I can hear Coral screaming at the top of her lungs," Abram interviews. "Everybody is shouting, yelling, and screaming at each other. What a bunch of [bleepin'] schmucks!" As Troy proved to us on The Apprentice, few things are as funny as a Midwesterner using Yiddish expressions.

"I have to kick her ass," Coral tells Mike. "I will have that bitch in a headlock. She'll be choking, and I'll be going home." Mike tries to calm her down, telling her to stay while he deals with Julie. Coral: "Julie challenged me to a duel. I wear a 32 DD bra. One boob alone could kick her ass." I can imagine a few viewers wondering why Mike would fight Julie. Speaking of our favorite part-time wrestler, he asks Julie why she's acting that way. And then Christena sticks her nose in there, asking Mike why he would discourage her from wrestling. Honestly, I'm missing Tina right now. Why is Christena even here? Mike replies that there won’t be wrestling. Back in the bedroom, Coral backs up Mike. "She'll go home in a gurney," she shouts, "and I'll go home in handcuffs." Julie tells Mike that the problems won't go away unless she wrestles Coral. CT and Mike inform her that Coral would throw a punch. Julie: "Well, then she'll go home." Oh my goodness. That is a page from the playbook of David Edwards: take somebody whom you don't like (Puck), and agitate that person to the breaking point (spitting water). Is Julie a punk for even thinking that? You better believe she is, and Mike and CT agree that's a load of bull. "What the hell is going on?" Mike interviews. "The team is falling apart."

Cut to Coral, who's still contemplating knocking Julie out. Cut to Julie, who thinks the Coral doesn't want to go home, so she's not fighting dirty. "Julie, have you ever been in a fight?" CT asks. "Don't start now!" The funny thing is that Julie has been in two on-camera fights, and she got stomped on both occasions. Good times. "I knew that Coral wouldn't wrestle me," Julie interviews. "I don't know if I ever thought it would go down, but if it ever did go down, I'd be game for it. Whether it was good timing or not, I don't really care, because it was said and I'm glad." Fade to black.

So... how do I score Round 2? Coral is somewhat passive-aggressive. Maybe she does manipulate. And it's funny that she "beats bitches up" when she once chided Trishelle over the same thing. But this time, I have absolutely no qualms about giving her the victory. Julie stinks, no question of that. I said at the very beginning that the longer she stuck around, the worse things would get. I don't agree with the RW pact to keep Katie in the game. Given that they picked Shane over Abram last time, RW needs another easy win. But they made a pact, and Julie tried to duck Veronica. Why? Because Julie doesn't want Veronica to pay her back for nearly killing her in the first mission. Julie is an annoyance and a coward, and if I get my way, she'll be off the show next week. At least she can get that dream job at Hot Topic with fellow faux punk rock girl Frankie. They would totally adore each other. Once again: if you agree or not, e-mail me.

Next week: Rappelling off a huge building. I get wicked bad Sarah flashbacks. Coral tells Mike that RR is throwing the mission so Veronica can win the Aztec Lifesaver, Katie is shocked. Veronica smirks. Abram tells Katie he wasn't in on the plan. Katie: "You think [bleep] Coral's a bitch, wait til you [bleep] with me!" Whoa, mamma. Oh, and we got more Coral/Julie drama. Remember: one of those four women will be going home soon, so we'll try and treasure their final moments on the show.

I'm not sorry for what I said. It's not a "double down" thing; I just never grew to like Julie again. Okay, she wasn't the worst thing about Gauntlet 2, but that season had Beth. BETH. She achieved a level of suck that would take others years to reach. Also: I didn't emphasize CT trying to talk Julie down with his thick Boston accent. If you ever see this episode. It came out: "Julie, have you ever been in a fight? Don't staht now!"

Next episode: All hell breaks loose. I'll end with a "motivational poster" I made in 2007, inspired by this episode.