Monthly Archives: September 2005

SWM Seeks Crazy, Pretty Girl (Episode 11-3)

When will Stephenie’s pain end? Will she ever be a member of a winning tribe? If the first three episodes of Survivor: Guatemala are any indication, no. Not unless Mark Burnett suddenly feels the urge to make Survivor: All-Stars 2.

Demoralized after attending their first Tribal Council, the Yaxha tribe rallied behind Brian, architect of Morgan’s ouster. However, Brian’s self-congratulatory jubilation wasn’t enough to overcome his team’s lack of organization during the Reward Challenge. Despite leading early as blind-folded team members hunted for parts of a tent, Yaxha couldn’t work together when they actually had to assemble the tent. As the physically weaker team, they have to win this type of challenge to stand a chance.

Nakum returned to camp with the blankets, pillows and lanterns they’d won, only to have the men start muttering about Margaret. There must be something abrasive about her that doesn’t translate to television. Viewers have seen Margaret helping injured teammates and working around camp, but this is the second week in a row that we’ve heard complaints about her. Last week, she was criticized for spending too much time tending to Blake when he had trouble breathing. The stage is being set for Margaret to be voted off, but it would be nice if viewers could get a better sense of why.

At the Immunity Challenge, Yaxha was stomped in a game of Court Ball, a Mayan version of basketball in which a member of the losing team would lose his head. When Jeff failed to appear with an axe, it showed that the producers don’t really care about authenticity. Nakum was able to win easily, since apparently Brianna missed every day of gym class and has never played a sport in her life. Sentiment around camp was very negative towards her, and Stephenie referred to her dismissively as “a makeup artist.”

Jamie’s bitterness toward Brianna has temporarily made him my favorite castaway. He called her a girly-girl and told her to go back to the mall. Jamie proceeded to describe his ideal girl as “crazy and pretty,” and said that Brianna was neither. He was able to put into words what every basketball fan felt as they watched Brianna stand on the side as her teammates struggled: go back to the mall, makeup artist.

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I Remember Why I Hate The Apprentice (Episode 1-2)

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Only two episodes into the season, and already some of the flaws of The Apprentice brand are apparent in the new Martha Stewart edition. The producers, feeling the need to fill the role of villain, have cast someone really annoying and not all that villainous. Jim’s rabid push to get Dawn fired isn’t conniving or strategic. He’s acting like a bully, and everyone knows that you don’t have to be particularly clever to be a bully.

Understandably, each subsequent season of any reality show is tainted by contestants who’ve been exposed to the show. These contestants are familiar with types of people that were cast previously as well as what kind of conduct makes it to air.

The Real World may be the worst example of this trend. Today’s cast members are nothing like the original cast, but the first version set the mold that’s still in use. There’s always a girl from the sticks with sex issues (too much or too little of it), a jock who plays around, a minority, a nosy alterna-chick, and a homosexual. The Austin cast, while lacking a strict homosexual, has a couple of girls who will kiss each other in public when intoxicated. I suppose that counts.

Unfortunately for The Apprentice, producers have been keen on having one outright villain each season. Omarosa, the original Apprentice bad girl, has become synonymous with reality TV knavery, so much so that one needs to refer to her by first name only. (It hardly bears noting that one may not know how to spell her last name).

What Omarosa had that the would-be scoundrels who’ve followed her have lacked is a total absence of self-awareness. Viewers saw Omarosa being herself, with every move and statement she made justified in her own mind. It made no sense to her that people would be upset that she played basketball within hours of claiming a head injury and bailing out of work.

Anyone cast to stir up trouble after that knew that they’d get airtime if they held fast to ridiculous positions and pretended that they believed everything they said. Jim is very clearly putting on an act. In the boardroom, he oversells his nodding and agreeing with Martha and the viceroys. He barks orders and makes noise far longer than anyone who was really trying to make a point would; in reality, you’d just throw up your hands, call everyone else an idiot and leave the room.

Jim’s just annoying at this point, and his agenda against Dawn makes it clear that this is an act, not some eccentric fixation. If we’re lucky, the fact that he’s already been in the conference room twice should show Martha that Jim just doesn’t fit in.

Don’t Always Bet on Black (Episode 8-1)

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For many fans of The Amazing Race, the prospect of having families with children competing on the show was horrifying. What’s consistently been one of the smartest and most dramatic reality competition programs had the potential to become an annoying, cheesy self-parody.

Luckily, producers cast only two families with pre-teens, and those they picked seemed well-suited to this level of competition. The Black family participates in martial arts together, and everyone in the Gaghan family is a runner. And even though the Blacks were the first to be eliminated, their departure was due more to a lack of urgency and travel experience than to the ages of the kids.

The Gaghans, on the other hand, could be around for a long time. Besides being long distance runners, Carissa and Billy are also obviously gifted kids. Their precocious natures and heightened levels of curiosity will keep them interested in a game that lasts for weeks. It helps that something as simple as a car radio is enough to completely entrance Billy. As recent studies have shown that teenagers are horrible at reading emotions and body language, the teams with teens could have more interpersonal problems than Bill and Tammy Gaghan and their two pre-teen kids.

Other observations on the first episode:



  • The Paolos looked poised for a meltdown, but Brian gets lots of credit for being the only person to recognize Kevin and Drew of TAR 1 at the hot dog stand.
  • The Linz family should be playing much better than they are, but at least they’re funny.
  • The Weaver family lost their dad when he was hit by a car, and now mom, Linda, has been run over by an Amish buggy. I hope that some day the kids can appreciate the coincidence. I thought it was hilarious. Guess I won’t be spending eternity with the Weavers.
  • As the proverb says: “The journey of 11,000 miles starts with a trip to Philly.”
  • You can’t rely on Wesley Snipes for gambling advice.

Life After Rock Star

Now that Rock Star: INXS is over, I’ve got 2 1/2 hours of Prime Time back every week. What will I do with all this freedom?

Monday: A light night, with Arrested Development being my only must-see show. And I’ll even have to tape that since it’s Dungeons and Dragons night. No, I’m not kidding. I bought my first 20-sided die last year at the age of 27, and I don’t intend on putting it down any time soon.

Tuesday: David Boreanaz’s weird comic timing makes me predisposed to like Bones, but it’s a show I’m willing to sacrifice. Supernatural is one of my favorite new programs because of the interaction between the two lead actors, but this week it’s getting taped in favor of the 2-hour season premiere of The Amazing Race 8. Look for the Paolo family to struggle early; Tony and Marion are two of the oldest and least physically fit parents, and I don’t know if their two sons will be able to carry them, literally or figuratively. However, it would be awfully fun to see the Godlewski sisters efforts dissolve into bickering before they even reach the first clue box. The Real World may have to wait until one of its 27 re-airs this week. Here’s a show summary in advance: roommates get drunk and fight, then romance between roommates. There’s really no point in even watching the show anymore, and yet I still do.

Wednesday: Another full night, kicking off with The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. While I enjoyed the first episode, there’s still a good chance that the contestants could turn ugly. Oops, guess I was too late. After Martha, there’s Lost followed by Invasion. It’s great to see character actor William Fichtner starring in Invasion. Chicago Sun-Times TV critic Doug Elfman described Fichtner as having “the blank-faced stare of the world’s most confident weirdo.” Well said.

Thursday: The season premiere of Smallville gets taped in favor of Survivor: Guatemala. There’s just something about reality shows that demands you watch them in real time. Although I am really looking forward to Lex finally confessing his love for Clark in this season of Smallville. C’mon, everyone knows what’s really going on there.

Friday: Old yellow eyes is back with Brent “Data” Spiner and the crew of Threshold. And there’s always What Not To Wear, one of the most useful shows on cable. It’s helped me to purge my closet of all my tapered pants and cartoon character sweatshirts. And now it’s muumuu day every day.

The Amazing Race 8: Preview

On Tuesday night, The Amazing Race returns to CBS for its eighth season. And for the first time, teams will consist of families of four instead of pairs. The producers cast teams that represent a cross-section of American families. But, of course, there were also certain reality show niches each family was picked to fill. Here’s an introduction to the families–and the roles they’re meant to play:

Hailing from Shreveport, Lousiana, the Rogers family is the show’s control group. Denny, 46, is married to Renee, 42. They’re joined by their kids, Brittney, 22, and Brock, 19. They appear to be an average, middle-class family. The kids seem like relatively well-adjusted young adults who get along with their parents. There may be little potential for fireworks here.

Blow ups are more likely in a foursome of siblings, especially in the Godlewski family. This team is made of four blond sisters who range in age from 26-42 and tend to cry a lot. Being raised in Des Plaines, Illinois, these girls have developed strong Chicago accents, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t refer to them as Team Ditka from now on.

The other all-sibling team is the terrifying Linz family from Cincinnati, Ohio. Megan and her brothers, Nick, Alex, and Tommy all have matching orange shirts and blindingly white teeth; they’re good looking enough to make most of us instantly hate them. They’re physically fit with tons of confidence and an average age of 21.5. If they lose, then they must be cursed or really, really stupid.

The Linz family is one of the season’s three Alpha Families. These families are intense, fit, well-oiled machines. Alpha Families live for challenges where they can not only excel, but can effectively crush the competition.

The Schroders are the season’s second such family. Mark and Char (who looks like Cher) work out a lot and like to take their two kids, Stassi and Hunter, on cool vacations. Stassi, 17, is totally poised and confident in front of the camera. Fortunately, Hunter is a sullen 15-year-old who makes this bunch of overachievers seem a bit more human and less Stepford-family. They’re from New Orleans, and it’ll be interesting to see how they’re edited after Hurricane Katrina.

The third Alpha Family is the Gaghans from Glastonbury, Connecticut. They’re the cute family with the adorable little girl, Carissa, who falls asleep in the car in the TAR commercial. Carissa says she wants to do the show so she’ll be popular. She’s one savvy 9-year-old. Carissa’s parents, Bill and Tammy, run marathons. Carissa and her 12-year-old brother, Billy, aren’t nearly so athletic; they only participate in 5K events. What pre-teen can’t at least do a half-marathon?

At least one of the teams has to be sentimental favorites, and that looks to be the Weavers from Ormond Beach, Florida. 46-year-old Linda has had a hard time parenting her three teens since her husband’s death two years ago. She’s bringing her son and two daughters on the race, so that they can get a fresh start and grow closer to one another.

The show also needs funny teams. The Paolos are from New York City and follow a tradition of humorous teams from NYC. Tony immigrated to the U.S. as a kid and works as a garbage man. His two sons give him a hard time for mangling English. Mix in a mother who’s just happy to get out of the house for a few weeks, and let laughter ensue.

Wally Bransen of Park Ridge, Illinois, brought his three daughters on the show so that he could crack jokes about how they wouldn’t be spending this much time with him unless there was a chance to win $1 million. Having been raised in the Chicago suburbs, I can tell you that this is typical dad-humor of the region. Count on Wally to also joke about how the girls kidnapped him from the Old Folks Home for this, or that the girls are lucky they got their looks from their mother.

Tony Aiello, who kind of sounds like Ernie’s platonic friend Bert, but with a Boston accent, somehow tricked or bullied his three sons-in-law into running the race with him. The guys will all be on their best behavior while Tony half-teases them about not being good enough for his daughters. And while they’ve already identified each teammate’s strongest skills, there’s no way Tony’s letting any of those guys drive, navigate, or hold the money. And props to the old man for figuring out a way to keep these guys from having sex with his daughters for six weeks.

Lastly, there’s this season’s black family, the Black family. They seem like a great family; they all participate in Tae Kwon Do together (the kids are actually more advanced than the adults) and really care about each other. But it’s going to be impossible to mention them without doing all sorts of “Who’s on first?” qualifying. It doesn’t help when Reggie, the dad, says in their pre-show interview, “America, watch out for the Black family!” C’mon, that’s totally hilarious. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Reggie did that on purpose.

I Will Now Make My Assistant Disappear (Episode 11-2)

After returning from last week’s Tribal Council, it looked as if Blake might be a goner. He couldn’t breathe or keep food down, and his shoulder still hurt. Amazingly, he was able to win the Fishing Gear Reward Challenge for Nakum, only to resume his rigorous schedule of naps when they got back to camp.

Blake’s lack of effort around camp rubbed Brandon and Judd the Chud the wrong way, prompting Judd to ask, “How much relaxin’ does this guy need?” Normally, I’d cut Blake a break since a tree fell on him; but if he was really that hurt, wouldn’t it show during the challenges?

Rafe proved to be the weak link on Yaxha during the Reward Challenge when he exhibited less upper body strength than, well, everyone else on the planet. Yaxha also had a chance to win the Immunity Challenge, which started with both teams engaged in tug-of-war. Neither team won, although Danni had the best moment of the night when she told Brian that Gary had been an NFL quarterback. I have no idea how she knew Gary had hidden that from his team, but it was an excellent move on her part.

Nakum swept three individual rounds of tug-of-war to win: Judd defeated Gary and Jamie, and Brandon also beat Jamie. Judd the Chud became Judd the Stud.

That meant that Bobby Jon avoided Tribal Council for the first time in his two seasons on Survivor. And it meant that the inevitable plotting against Stephenie could begin.

Despite his noodle-arms, Rafe’s name never came up during discussions of whom should be voted out of Yaxha; Stephenie, Morgan and Lydia were the prime candidates. It looked as if Lydia would be booted out of fear that she’d be a handicap during challenges. But her efforts around camp, and Morgan’s laziness, motivated Brian to take up Lydia’s cause.

Shortly before Tribal Council, Brian convinced all of his tribemates to vote for Morgan, who, when the votes were read, looked as shocked as if she’d just seen Criss Angel levitate. And then, MINDFREAK! Morgan disappeared.

I Thought ‘Prison Break’ Was On Mondays (Episode 1-1)

When NBC announced The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, I really wanted to like the show. I’ve enjoyed her other shows, although Martha never could convince me to shop at Kmart. Since Trump’s Apprentice started to decline in quality after, oh, the first season, I had high hopes that Martha would bring freshness and class to the franchise. I’m pleased to see that she did just that. This season, I’m not even going to give Trump’s version a shot. Trump = Old and Busted; Martha = The New Hotness.

If you based all of your opinions about the new show on the contestants alone, you wouldn’t be left with much. There’s the stock socially awkward, intense guy who will be gone in a few episodes, a bunch of blond women who kind of look alike (right down to their matching red suitcases), and the overbearing alpha male who was first to go. And it’s just plain funny that, at 64, Martha is far and away the best looking woman on the show.

But there’s a politeness to Martha’s Apprentice that makes it very watchable. Martha recognizes the losing team for putting a lot of effort into their task, and then writes a thank you note the contestant she kicks off. Heck, she calls the contestants herself to tell them where to meet her in the morning. Even her grammar is great; when introducing her “viceroys” (daughter, Alexis, and Board Chairman, Charles) she said, “They are virtually my eyes and ears.” Virtually, not literally, which is the more common but incorrect phrasing.

And tonight’s task of writing an updated version of a fairy tale gives me the chance to plug one of my favorite authors. Gail Carson Levine specializes in updating fairy tales and is best known for writing Ella Enchanted, a retelling of Cinderella. Even though her books may be shelved in young adult or juvenile fiction, don’t let that deter you; her books are timeless and suitable for all ages. I recommend any of the books in the Princess Tales collection. If you’re in the mood for romance, try trading chapters and reading the book aloud with your sweetie. Sappy but effective. For more information, check out: http://www.harperchildrens.com/hch/author/author/levine/