Tue, September 14, 2004
"We know." "We know."
It's a reality orgy! New shows starting, old shows wrapping up, I can hardly keep up any more. The good news is that the new season of Survivor starts this week, so my summer project of weekly reality updates will finally come to a close, and I can focus on a show I really "hate." If, in this process, I've somehow managed to become addicted to both The Amazing Race and The Apprentice, I'll never forgive myself.
Last Comic Standing
The slapdash new Last Comic Standing is a joy. It's far, far less engaging than the old way, with comics living in the house and bickering, but it's infinitely more watchable because I fast-forward through almost the entire thing, pausing briefly for Mordal, Gulman, Heffron, and Todd Glass (and maybe a few others – if they're lucky!). The seat-of-the-pants approach is making for hilarious "twists" though, such as this week instead of selecting which opposing comics will perform, the teams pick their own representatives. (Oo!) At first, everyone's excited to perform, but then they remember that one of the performers will necessarily be eliminated, at which point, everyone seems to step back a little, taking an "I'll go if Tammy goes" sort of approach. Also, the show is trying (against Jay Mohr's better judgment, God bless him) to ramp up the reality drama by delaying the reveals (of which comics have been knocked off each team) until the very end of the show. This week, they also add the cruel indignity of naming four comics at the start of the episode, from which two will be eliminated at the end. (They give us Tere Joyce and Sean Kent from the first group and Corey Holcomb and Kathleen Madigan from the second – tell me who couldn't have figured out which two were leaving from those pairs!) Rob Cantrell continues to disappoint me. His unique, goofy persona was what he most had going for him before, and now he's ditched it to try to go "hip." Too bad.
Alonzo Bodden was in excellent form again. I loved his bit about wanting to burn down an insurance company so they'd have to file a claim. I'm astonished Jay London is still getting votes.
The Amazing Race
We're down to five teams: Colin and Christie (good racers!), Chip and Kim (adorable, enthusiastic, mildly stupid), Brandon and Nicole (dead to me, but... hot!), Linda and Karen (Bowling Moms, frequent blunderers – why are they still here? They're seriously angling for me to start calling them Linda and Schminda), and Kami and Karli (Lithgowesque twins, quick, motivated, but very clueless). Anything can happen at this point. The teams have proven themselves very unpredictable; really, any of these groups could win if a couple of challenges go their way. (Except the twins. They can't win. They can go home this week. They know.)
Based on Millie's account of how the editing goes, I'm betting that Colin and Christie win. I also really, really want them to win, and they keep finishing every leg first, so it's pretty likely they'll keep that up. However, the editing is what really convinces me. Millie talked about how the editors want to focus on the teams that do well, following the natural logic that you may as well spend more airtime on the teams that will be on the show the longest. Also, they really want to make those teams controversial and "interesting" – considering how clearly CBS is going out of its way to make Colin look like a psychopath, I think it's a good bet that C&C will come out ahead.
To wit: once again CBS is airing Colin's "I'm packin' it!" remark from the Roadblock last week. I've been over this and over this, so I won't bore you with it again: that was the only tiny clip that they could find of him getting irrational, and you know it was out of context and well justified by Christie's non-Roadblocker sass.
Meanwhile, Chip and Kim have continued to focus on their own approach to demonizing Colin: they're continually telling us how he's a giant egomaniac and that their plan is to make him self-destruct by telling him how great he is. I have never understood this strategy at all. First, it all hinges on the fact that he's a better racer than they are, and so what evidence is there that he'll self-destruct? Even when he's fighting with Christie, taxi drivers, or local police, his team still finishes the leg first. Second, how is it that feeding his ego is supposed to induce this self-destruction? He'll get too cocky? And do what? Decide to sit out part of the race? He may indeed be cocky and self-involved, but I think he's read the tortoise and hare story there, Chippo. Even if he destroys the relationship with Christie (as CBS so desperately wants to happen), it's pretty clear that they're both such competitive people that they'll strive to win even while hating each other. Chip and Kim should spend less time "strategizing" about how to get Colin to self-destruct and more time actually racing smart. Their best bet is to just hang in there and hope for another gross eating challenge.
Me, I think this is a tremendous growth episode for C&C. (Am I like the battered wife who keeps coming back, convincing herself that her husband really loves her? I hope I'm not. I just think these kids are a good couple – great racers! – and they get a bad rap from CBS, Phil, and Miss Alli.) They really enjoy each other's company, they have a great time on the sledging challenge, Christie impresses herself and Colin with her enthusiasm and moxie, and the one little tiff that the editors can find (a navigation dispute) is resolved instantaneously: Colin apologizes, like, three times and she forgives him. They love each other. They're so adorable. (I really wish you'd watched the CBS insider clip of them laughing about Charla. They're, like, my favorite Texans ever.)
The episode also begins with Brandon and Nicole forced to beg for money like humble beggars. This takes Brandon "out of his comfort zone" which isn't that surprising, but we know what happens when he and Nikki are not in their comfort zone: they quit, and then cry about it in the taxi on the way back. Nicole tries to make pretty eyes at some beturbanned gentlemen but she's clearly a novice at it. (Nikki, there are still blouse buttons left to undo, honey! This is a race!) Unfortunately, these two manage to get a few bucks from some tourists – I was kind of hoping nobody would donate any money and they'd be forced to sell their hair. (Of course, the first thing they seem to need money for is a taxi to the travel agent's office – they could just follow the others' leads and take the taxi then skip out on the bill.) "Almost being eliminated," Brandon mentions, "has taught us to never give up." Yeah, and never do something that you kind of don't feel like doing, either. Sigh.
Off they go to the travel agent (because of a weird Indian rule where you can't buy international tickets out of India at an airport), then to the airport where there is a lot of flight shuffling and ticket swapping, as well as some serious miscommunication (to us, the audience) about flight times. People keep saying (according to the yellow subtitles) "11:53 PM" when they obviously must mean "11:53 AM" because they get in earlier than the 12:20 pm flight. I guess people think the minute right before 12:00 pm must be 11:59 pm. Or the captioners are just high. Tickets are switched in Calcutta and again in Bangkok, and everyone except the Twinkies gets onto a fairly decent flight. The Twinkies try the approach of pretending that they already have reservations on a flight that they don't have reservations for, and – unsurprisingly – this doesn't work. I understand the point, that you act like you're so put out by the incompetence of the airline losing your reservation that you want them to compensate you by freeing up some seats. I've used a similar strategy, myself: I wanted to leave early one day in high school, but the policy was that the office had to get an adult on the phone to verify my dentist appointment note, which I had totally forged. So, I tried calling friends' parents who wouldn't know I didn't have a dentist appointment, telling them I had an appointment, and getting them to repeat it to the office lady, but nobody was home. Finally, I just kept insisting, like Kami (or Karli) does, that I had the appointment and they were going to make me miss it with their dippy policy. So they let me appeal to the principal, whom I had worked with quite a bit, and he said, "You're not going to lie to me; I'm sure you have an appointment, go on." (The moral of the story is: always be honest, because that reputation will come in handy when you need to lie through your teeth!) But that's not quite the same situation the Twinkies find themselves in. For one thing, if they'd booked a flight, they'd have a confirmation number and possibly a receipt. Without these things and without their name in the computer, I don't think it's the airline's fault any more. Also, there are a finite number of seats. If the flight's full, they can't boot someone off to make room for the Twinkies, even if the airline had been at fault. If this really happened to someone who really had a reservation, the best the airline could do is put them standby on the next flight, and even then without a confirmation number they might not do it.
On the ground in New Zealand, the teams drive to a museum, where they find their Detour clue. The most beautiful part about this road trip is that CBS clearly only got two shots of people turning onto Highway 1 South, but every team is chattering about it constantly, either getting lost, or finding it on a map. So, the editors resort to the Bullitt trick of reusing the same footage over and over – and over! We get to watch four teams in a row turn left onto Hwy 1 behind the same silver station wagon!
Before the Detour clue is the Yield, which is a yet-unused addition to The Amazing Race, allowing a team to put any team following them into a holding pattern that actually looks pretty brief, from the size of that hourglass. Five minutes? 20? Anyway, Chip (Mr. Strategy) decides to play a cute game with the Twinkies who are rushing up to the Yield behind him, pretending he's going to Yield them but then... not. This is stupid for about a dozen reasons, only one of which Chip will acknowledge: the Bowling Moms, whom he thought were behind the Twinkies, are in fact ahead of Chip and Kim, so the Yield might've benefitted Chip and Kim. See, it doesn't matter how much he targets Colin for self-destruction, as long as Chip's doing dumb shit like this, it's his team that's destroying itself. In the heat of the race is not the time to play cute games with the Twinkies. And, besides: "We will never yield you! We love you!"? Where does that come from? This is just bad racing.
For the Detour, all the teams choose "sledging" except for the Twinkies (who at this point are so far behind that it's pretty moot) and Brandon and Nicole, who choose to dig in some hot mud for their clue. Judging from the fact that this seems exactly like the scarab-digging challenge and the chocolate-biting challenge, I'd say this is a pretty terrible idea. But Brandon, who's concerned that Nikki's skull might cave in on the sledging challenge (What? Ick! And, really, CBS probably won't put her in that sort of situation.), opts for it anyway. "Are you feeling lucky?" he asks Nicole. (God: "Um, hello?") They play in the mud for hours.
Sledging turns out to be riding river rapids on a small floating sled with a handle, sort of like a cherried-out kickboard from your swim lessons at the Y. Bigger and more floaty. It looks like a rush, but not really too terrifying. With the sledge and the life jacket, you're unlikely to sink, and it looks deep enough that you probably won't hit your head (although I suppose it could still cave in spontaneously, even inside that helmet). Colin and Christie do predictably well at it, even though her first dive into the water with her sledge leaves a bit to be desired. She performs what would equate to the "belly flop" of sledging (being that, in sledging, a belly flop would actually be a pretty appropriate way to enter the water): she buries the nose of the sledge into the water at too steep of an angle, so it just sort of stops and her entire body flops against the back of the sledge with an uncomfortable, resounding "PONK!" But she walks it off (or, sledges it off), and all is well. Towards the end of the sledge run, the teams have to go over a drop which is described by one of their river guides as, "the highest waterfall you can ride a sledge on in the world." That sounds impressive, but I'm pretty sure that "you can ride a sledge" qualification is merely satisfied by the fact that there's a guy nearby who'll rent you a sledge. You could go over anything in a sledge if you bring your own sledge.
The teams complete their Detours and converge on the Roadblock, at which point CBS takes the opportunity to "zing" the contestants by making it a really fun, easy Roadblock. Accustomed to arduous Roadblocks, every girl on a coed team forces her man to do it instead, and thereby misses out on the fun ride. The Roadblock is to climb into a zorb, which is an inflatable sphere of plastic and bungee cords with a puddle of water, and roll down some beautiful hills. Colin does a little flip when he hears about it, which makes him look even more like a leprechaun than his bright eyes and sharp features usually do. Christie enjoys how much Colin's "high on life" comes from extreme sports, although I'm not entirely certain that zorbing qualifies as an extreme sport – it's basically a rolling version of that party game with the sumo wrestler outfits from Charlie's Angels (and That Whole Thing With Dana). Still, I love how excited she gets. It was the same after the sledging: she clearly enjoyed it more than she expected to, and I think she was glad that Colin gave her a little push to do it. Maybe she likes that about him, that he knows her well enough to know when she needs to be challenged.
One of my favorite things that couples can do is talk about each other in a sort of parental way to third parties when their partner is out of earshot. Christie does this while Colin's bouncing across the dale in his Zorb. "I can hear him yelling all the way over here," she says with a motherly tone in her voice. It's so cute. Then, Colin rolls the zorb across the finish line, falls out of it in a gush of water like that childbirth video you saw in health class, and runs up the hill behind Christie to step on the mat in first place and, still soaked in zorb placenta, win a trip to romantic Europe. ("Europe!") And then, they smooch. God, I love this team.
Other teams zorb, while Brandon and Nicole pray for the mud to part and reveal their clue. You can tell that the producers were hoping it would be a much closer race when this Roadblock came along, because that finish line thing is ridiculous with teams zorbing one at a time, but would have made some compelling television if two teams had been forced to race in their zorbs.
Kami and Karli are eliminated, but they have to be bitchy about it. "You're the last team to arrive," says Phil. "We know, we know," say the Twinkies. "I'm sorry to tell you that you've been eliminated." "We know." "We know." Well, of course you know, but that isn't the point. Nobody bats Probst aside when he's snuffing their torch and says, "I get it! I'm out!" It's part of the ceremony. (Besides, based on the number of things these two have managed not to figure out during this race, I'll forgive Phil for making the assumption that maybe they don't know.) They're gone, which is just fine, and next week, CBS will be up to more of its usual tricks: a C&C "meltdown" that features Colin muttering, "God, I hate you." It sounds bad now, but mark my words – he'll be talking to the mule in front of his plow, not Christie. They just love to make him look mean!
This is another one of those reality shows that everyone loves and I have no interest in. (Actually, maybe not everyone; the ratings are apparently down from last year – of course, that may just be people still reeling from its terrible lead-in, Father of the Pride. Usually a "lead-in" is the show immediately preceding, but I can see people hating FOTP, switching away from NBC, and still being afraid to switch back two days later. It's that bad.)
Anyhoo! I'm watching an episode of The Apprentice because of my TiVo New Season Project – which, admittedly, it doesn't qualify for, since it's a returning show. But it just seemed like the time to check it out. I wouldn't be watching again next week, except for the boardroom scene that "everyone will be talking about... Guaranteed!" which further extends Burnett's fantasy of being George Zimmer). It's hard to pass up that kind of excitement!
Other than the excitement, it's really not my type of show. It's hard to root for people so genuinely dislikable. Business people? We hate business people! Kenneth Lay was a business person, for crying out loud. The Burnett grandeur, however, is intriguing.
The show opens (I'm hoping this is just for the premiere) with an extended "I'm Donald Trump" film, introducing the Donald and his many successes. We're then introduced to the people who will be competing to run one of his companies. Between the shots of Trump's apartment (the man has an unhealthy fixation with marble and really, really shiny gold plating) and the introductory videos of these people, I'm left wondering how future civilizations will judge us with this as evidence of our discourse.
There's a girl named Stacy who looks like Maggie Haskins and Jennifer Aniston had a baby (that's a conception I'd like to attend!) and a guy named Raj who has a very unique personal style (well, "TV unique": a bow tie and a walking stick) and a great way of speaking. The rest of them, I'm immediately through with. Especially a woman named Maria who has very short hair and a very sharp way of speaking. In fact, all of her is sharp: she's just a big pile of angles, and her lipstick is too bright. She reminds me of the kind of woman described in a party scene in Steve Martin's Shopgirl: "tough women whose sexuality has somehow been packed away and left in a drawer somewhere and then, as an afterthought, stuck back on themselves and worn like a power tie." Scary. Also, there's a 22-year-old kid named Andy, who refers to Raj's look as "P-I-M-P." Ladies and gentlemen, your Harvard grad.
Once everyone is up to their "suite" in Trump Tower and all the introductions have been made, Raj wins my eternal adoration by evoking the phrase "ass handed to" – as in, "in this competition, we're getting our ass handed to us." I love that.
Then, we're subjected to about an hour of business people doing business, which rivals "car stopped at stoplight" for the dullest television ever. I spend most of my time trying to avoid meetings, why would I want to watch a bunch on TV? Brad, who's leading the all-girl Apex team, makes a few stupid moves and attempts to lead by fiat, but he has the presence of mind to turn that around before it dooms his group. This woman, Stacie J., goes batshit bitchcakes and freaks everyone way out, which should lead to the obligatory "throwing a challenge so we can vote someone off" type situation next week for Apex. Meanwhile, Mosaic (the boys, lead by Pamela) makes one of the most idiotic toys I've ever seen (and I used to watch a lot of Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers; there were some moronic toys advertised during that show), and loses the challenge. Off to the boardroom for them! The ultimate punishment, more meetings!
However, the boardroom is absolutely the most engrossing part of the show. I can't care too much who gets fired (there are only two or three people I would want to survive), but the debate is fascinating. First of all Trump isn't afraid to ask the tough questions and demand real answers. (Probst, take notes.) He won't let people off the hook if they try to dodge the question. And the business people may be conniving and unscrupulous, but damn are they articulate! It's really fun to watch them argue about what happened during the challenge – especially in this situation where there's no clear-cut slackass and no clear-cut winner. I love Trump's questions, especially his follow-up questions, and I love his comments. I could see tuning into this show just for the last 20 minutes; I wonder if I could follow the discussions without watching the challenges. George and Carolyn are also awesome. They're usually quiet, but that makes them much more powerful when they talk. Maybe it's just good editing, but whatever it is: the boardroom rules! Plus, those chairs are gorgeous.
At one point, Pamela is getting called on the carpet for making fun of kids in the Mattel focus group. She says "this one kid had a really bad haircut," and Trump fires back, "I have a bad haircut." You have to love the Donald.
In the end, Rob goes, and I'm fine with it. Not because I think he didn't do enough for the team, but because he did a terrible job in the boardroom. His point, in interviews, was that he stepped back from the fray in the toy design meeting because the discussion was going in another direction and he wanted to avoid a "too many cooks" situation. But, in the boardroom, all he says is "nobody told me what to do!" Well, this isn't a game of follow-the-leader; you should take the initiative and find something to do. Which, thankfully, is exactly what Trump says. If Rob had mentioned that he stepped out of the way in order to make the process more efficient, which is a good argument, he might have stayed.
Next week: Guaranteed!