Monthly Archives: December 2005

$1 Million For Your Dignity

Original Survivor Richard Hatch’s legal troubles made the front page of Yahoo! again. The story as a whole isn’t that interesting, but the second sentence in the article is (the italics are mine):

“U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres on Wednesday denied three motions filed by lawyers for Richard Hatch, the Newport man who sometimes competed naked on the CBS reality show.”

How sad would it be if the second thing people said about you — in Richard’s case, the first is that he won the first season of Survivor — was that you were naked on television? “Jane Smith, the mother of two who was naked on Judging Amy…” It’s not a good image to have forever attached to your name.

What’s worse is that Richard’s not the only Survivor cast member with that problem. Survivor: Amazon gave us two others: Jenna M., the Amazon winner who got naked for peanut butter, and Heidi, the former gym teacher who got naked to share that peanut butter.

Reality show contestants: the producers may tell you to pretend the cameras aren’t there, but they still are. If you get naked, that’s what they’ll show and that’s all the audience will remember. And there’s no glory in being known as The Naked Guy.

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Circus of the Damned (Episode 1-13)

In what proved to be this season’s most uncomfortable hour of television, Dawna was chosen as the winner of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. Despite the fact that nobody wanted to be there, and nobody would be watching anyway, Martha and the crew gave a resentful, half-hearted effort for the finale.

The show began with footage of Bethenny and Dawna working with their teams in the final hours before their events. All of the pieces of Bethenny’s circus fell into place, despite the fact that no members of her team knew what they were supposed to be doing. Bethenny remained confident, positive that nothing could go wrong so long as she just did everything herself.

Families came in droves to attend the circus. Bethenny managed to round up some cool items for the silent auction, including lessons at trapeze school. The circus performance went off without a hitch, mostly because it was performed by professionals instead of Jim walking a high wire as Carrie and Ryan juggled. When it was all over, Bethenny gave her team what Jim described as a “lukewarm handshake,” and sped off in her private car.

As a side note, the circus performance in the club did give me a better idea of what some of the locations in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series must look like. The floor shows at Guilty Pleasures and Danse Macabre must be held in an area like the one on tonight’s episode of The Apprentice. However, if Bethenny tried to stage her circus in the world of Anita Blake, she’d have to make sure that every man’s nipples were visibly erect. But I digress.

Dawna’s fashion show didn’t seem to be going all that well. She’d delegated too much work to Amanda, and that was definitely Dawna’s fault. But when Dawna and Sarah offered to help, Amanda’s pride wouldn’t let her take them up on it. Consequently, Amanda was called out by a Liz Claiborne executive for misnaming items of clothing, coordinating bad outfits, running late, and mispronouncing the name “Liz Claiborne.” When Amanda finally fessed up to having more work than she could handle, it was only after she’d already missed the deadline for getting the show programs to the printer.

Amazingly, the fashion show began on time, only with programs that had no Liz Claiborne logo and lots of off-center text. The L.C. exec expressed her disappointment with the program to Sarah. But she was happy with the end result, commending Dawna on a job well done. For the first time all season, we saw Dawna emote, getting teary-eyed as she watched the final model walk down the runway. If I saw someone walking toward me in a dress that ugly, I’d probably cry, too.

In contrast to Bethenny’s team, Dawna’s team rallied around her, and she made sure to thank everyone individually. They gave one final team cheer, and Dawna drove off, again with tears in her eyes. Even Howie was bummed, knowing that they wouldn’t see Dawna again until the finale.

The live portions of the finale were held on the chic — and not at all last minute — set of Martha’s daytime talk show. That program is filmed in New York City, and Martha grumbled about how hard the transit strike made it to get to the finale, which she didn’t want to attend in the first place. As my brother would say: “Salt!” Martha blandly read from cue cards, going so far as to read the numbers of the questions she asked the finalists’ teammates: “Question number one: Amanda, what does Dawna lack as a leader?” Martha sounded more like Alex Trebek than Donald Trump.

Then it was time to ask the viceroys’ opinions. Charles said some crap about Bethenny, and then Alexis prefaced her comments saying viewers could hear her real thoughts about Dawna on her daily show on Sirius Satellite Radio. Great! Alexis was so over The Apprentice that she only showed up so she could plug her radio show. Mother will make sure that sassy young lady goes to bed without dessert tonight.

Viewers were treated to montages of footage from the finalists’ life outside of the show. Hyperactive Bethenny was shown multitasking, and we saw a side of Dawna we’d never seen before. She publishes a women’s sports magazine with her husband, drawing on her background as an athlete. After watching the entire season, I never would’ve guessed Dawna was the least bit athletic, or the type who could work with her spouse. It was a strange choice to wait until the finale to make Dawna relatable and interesting.

When it came time to announce her decision, Martha started with Bethenny’s flaws. She described Bethenny as a show-off who needs to make her presence felt in a very physical and inappropriate way. Then Martha told Dawna that she had better business experience and was the winner. No fond wishes for Bethenny or assurances she’d be a success elsewhere, just some cruel digs. Dawna got a job at a new Martha health magazine, as well a Buick Lucerne, surprise, surprise. All Bethenny got was a beatdown on national TV.

That Was Unexpected

Randal stole the show when he surprised Donald Trump on tonight’s Apprentice finale. Trump clearly wanted to hire both Randal and Rebecca, but ultimately named Randal his Apprentice. In an attempt to slip Rebecca a job, Trump asked Randal if he would hire her, were he in Trump’s position. Randal stumped Trump by answering, “No,” claiming that only one person deserved the title of Apprentice.

Clearly, Trump expected the answer to be yes, and the show ended awkwardly and abruptly. The answer was especially shocking after everyone had lauded Randal for his kindness. But then again, it’s easier to show your real character after you’ve already won.

Such a Beautiful Girl to Hold Such a Grudge (Episode 1-12)

Tonight’s episode of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart was action packed. Jim was booted during the first half of the show, and Bethenny and Dawna began their final tasks during the second half. With so much to do, there just wasn’t time to squeeze in a game of Scrabble.

After a late night waiting in vain for Marcela or Ryan to return from the conference room, the final three contestants jumped right into the dreaded corporate interviews. Jim, Bethenny, and Dawna were interviewed by four big wigs from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Dawna came across as bland but competent, Bethenny as manic but enthusiastic, and Jim as frightening but embarrassing.

One of the big wigs described Jim best by saying that he requires a large time investment, and she didn’t have that kind of time. Martha agreed, noting in the conference room that Jim has rubbed almost everyone the wrong way. Jim creepily whispered goodbye to Julia the receptionist as he made his way to the street.

Bethenny and Dawna celebrated by donning their PJs and looking through a photo album of the other contestants. They also each chose three of the contestants to help them on their final project, before finding out what that project was. Dawna chose Sarah, Amanda, and Howie. Bethenny chose her buddy Jim, as well as Ryan and Carrie. Bethenny had never worked with Ryan before, and she’d had a hand in Carrie’s elimination. Jim guessed that Bethenny chose the people she did because she had no friends.

The following day, the finalists were told that Dawna would be running a Liz Claiborne charity fashion show, and Bethenny would be managing a charity circus. Bethenny got off to a rocky start with her team, failing to tell them what their task was and instead hopping in her chauffeur-driven car and assuming they’d follow.

Day one started off well for the theoretically more competent team Dawna assembled. Dawna and Sarah worked on event setup while Amanda and Howie — who works in the clothing industry — chose the outfits for the fashion show.

What Dawna failed to notice was that Amanda has as much aesthetic sense as she has tact (in case you’ve forgotten Amanda, she has no tact), and that Howie is more intense than he is good. When Dawna and Sarah reviewed the outfits on day two, a Liz Claiborne executive told them that many of Howie and Amanda’s choices would have to be changed.

Bethenny’s team had a productive first day, with Jim and Carrie completing the promotional materials for the event. But Carrie couldn’t forgive Bethenny for playing a part in her elimination, and Jim wasn’t able to convince Carrie to move on. Instead, she confronted Bethenny about the issue, but without much reassurance — or an apology — from Bethenny.

A meeting with a representative from the Boys and Girls Club shifted Bethenny’s focus to the charity aspect of the event. Unfortunately, she neglected every other part of the project, ignoring her teammates instead of giving them direction. Rather than directing event production, Bethenny felt her time was best spent calling businesses and asking for donations for a silent auction. As the show ended, Bethenny had one angry circus director, three confused teammates, and 50 contractors and performers with nothing to do.

Will Amanda and Howie’s bad fashion choices cost Dawna the win? Will Bethenny pull her head out of her butt in time to save the circus? We’ll find out next week on the live series finale of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

The Bransens Will Betray Us (Episodes 8-12 and 8-13)

A predictable victory by the athletic Linz siblings brought an end to a disappointing season of The Amazing Race last night. The next season of The Amazing Race airs in February with two-person teams. February can’t come soon enough to erase the bad memories of the Family Edition.

In its defense, the finale of the Family Edition did have a few good moments. The episode began with footage of the teams eating dinner at the final Pit Stop. The Bransen and Linz families ate together, joking about the meal being the “last supper” and wondering who at the table would betray someone. Meanwhile, the Weavers sat silently at a separate table, cursing the infidels for their sacrilegious banter.

When the race resumed, teams were given airplane tickets from Billings, Montana to Montreal, by way of Minneapolis and Toronto, but were told they could look for better flights. Airport jockeying is one of the hallmarks of the race, and while reserved seats made it easier on the production staff, it eliminated the possibility that a team would be left behind.

Upon arriving in Minneapolis from Billings, the Weavers and Linzes found an earlier flight from Toronto to Montreal. The Bransens, who started the episode in first place, fell behind as their direct flight from Minneapolis to Montreal arrived late.

In Montreal, teams searched The Underground City, which was just a disappointing bunch of hallways and not a cool city of the future, for a clue. Teams chose between curling and log rolling at this Detour. The Weavers completed the curling activity first, although the Linzes seemed to particularly enjoy playing the Olympic sport. The Bransens completed the log rolling task and all teams went to find a bunch of acrobats in a warehouse.

Inside the warehouse, one member of each team had to complete a trapeze maneuver known as a catch. Rolly, the nimblest Weaver, finished quickly. The Linzes brought out their best material as they ridiculed Alex, who had a particularly difficult time executing the maneuver. He attributed his troubles to nervous perspiration; his siblings thought his weight was the problem, helpfully calling him “fatass” as he struggled. As Alex completed his catch, the Bransens arrived. Beth nailed the move on her first try, and everyone headed to the Stade Olympique.

This is where the Weavers lost their will to win. Even though they arrived well ahead of the other teams, they lost time struggling to find the stadium entrance. Inside the stadium, they were instructed to find one of three departure times for a charter flight hidden somewhere amongst the 58,500 seats. When the clues weren’t easy to find, Linda Weaver climbed on a cot and took a nap.

While she slept, the Linzes found a way to the arena’s upper level and found a departure time. The Bransens followed the Linzes and finished the task as well, but not without some serious grousing from Wally. “Walder” channeled the father from A Christmas Story, muttering curses under his breath as he searched for the clue. But persistence paid off, and the Bransens got the first scheduled departure.

As the other teams settled in to get some sleep, Rebecca and Rachel Weaver moped, and a frustrated Rolly couldn’t convince them to wake their mother up. Linda eventually did wake up, but by they time they found their clue, they had to leave immediately for the airport. Even though the flights left only five minutes apart from one another, the Weavers bemoaned being the last to leave.

After flying to Toronto, the families rode an elevator to the top of the CN Tower and used binoculars to search for a flag. The next Detour required them to either climb the rigging of a ship to retrieve a flag or search among 100 barefoot women in a shoe museum to find the one woman who fit a particular pair of shoes. The Linzes completed the ship task first, followed by the Bransens, who chose the shoe task. The Weavers completed the ship task next, but couldn’t catch up to the others.

Teams rode in a jet boat and crossed the border into the U.S. for their last Roadblock. The final task: complete an oversized puzzle of North America. Yep, a Kindergarten level puzzle was the glorious final mission. To be fair, Wally Bransen was competitive with Nick Linz, but the Linzes triumphed. There was mercifully little footage of the Weavers for the last 15 minutes of the show. Production must not have wanted to embarrass the geographically challenged Weavers — who, earlier in the season, didn’t know that Pennsylvania was a state — as their puzzle performance wasn’t shown.

The best moments of this episode came courtesy of the Bransen family. It was hard not to tear up listening to Wally talk about how lucky he felt to have spent so much time with his adult daughters. It was a nice ending to a season filled with lame locations, lame challenges, and lame teams, for the most part. But Wally Bransen, the every-dad, was the quiet hero of the season, much like dads are in most families.

How do the Linzes plan to use their winnings? Look for the Linz Family Curling Rink to open soon in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Who Decided to Keep Her Around (Episode 11-14)

As I predicted before the season began, Danni became the newest sole Survivor on the finale of Survivor: Guatemala. Since this might be the start of a trend for me, I’m predicting the Linz family to win The Amazing Race: Family Edition and Bethenny to win The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

Any fear that Lydia might win was erased early in the episode. The editors suddenly felt that, of the final four castaways, Lydia should narrate the action. After spending most of the season as a bit player, Lydia got more facetime than any of the other contestants–a clear sign that she was not long for the show.

Rafe had reason to believe that both Danni and Steph would take him to the final two, so he didn’t need to keep Lydia around. Danni had already made a promise to Rafe (who would be immune from the vote anyway), and she knew her easiest final two opponent was Steph, so she was ready to vote Lydia out. With two votes already decided, there was no point in Stephenie forcing a tie. Plus, she’s so ultra-competitive that she decided she’d rather lose the final immunity challenge to a better opponent than win over the less imposing Lydia.

The diminutive fishmonger didn’t stand a chance, and the editors let us know it early on.

Before the first immunity challenge of the episode, five local tribespeople performed a ritual in front of the temple. They thanked their ancestors and roasted a chicken as an offering to their gods. What wasn’t clear was how many of the remaining contestants understood that these tribespeople weren’t Mayan. Their ancestors were Mayan, but the Maya empire died centuries ago. The way the final four were talking made it seem like they missed that distinction, which is too bad, since they did spend almost 40 days living in Guatemala.

The first immunity challenge took place in the largest maze ever constructed for Survivor. Contestants ran through the maze collecting puzzle pieces, bringing each piece to their puzzle board as soon as it was found. It was a tiring game, but it didn’t require brute strength, so contestants were pretty evenly matched. Rafe completed his puzzle first, narrowly beating Danni and Steph.

Upon returning to camp, Steph ignored the potential for divine retribution and ate the sacrificial chicken, as did Lydia and Danni. Rafe abstained but wasn’t safe from otherworldly punishment. As soon as they finished eating, the most powerful storm in 37 days rained down on the contestants. Their fire went out, all of their belongings were soaked, and a tree struck by lightning fell into their camp. Despite Lydia’s prayers to every god in the pantheon, the storm didn’t abate until it was time for tribal council, where she was voted out.

On Day 38, the three remaining survivors took the customary hike to honor contestants they’d voted out. There was an unsettling line drawing of each player tied to his or her torch, which was helpful, as no one would’ve remembered Brianna, Brooke, or Morgan without a picture. When the trio reached Bobby Jon’s torch, he voiced over slow motion shots of his eyes rolling back in his head on day two, saying that the experience was a “refining moment” for him.

The final immunity challenge looked as if it would be simple. Each contestant had to stand on a small board that swiveled on top of a base. For the first hour, contestants could hold on to one rope with the right hand, and another with the left. Rafe, Danni, and Steph all balanced themselves perfectly for that first hour until they were instructed to let go of one rope. Immediately, all three lost their footing as the board swiveled underneath them. After a few tense seconds, they realized that they could lean on the post that held the ropes, which stood about three feet from the board, an easy distance for the lanky Danni.

They were allowed to continue holding on to the rope until they reached the 90 minute mark, at which point they wouldn’t be allowed to use their hands at all. About 99 minutes into the challenge, Rafe pushed himself up the pole using his right hand and was disqualified. It’s always sad to see a good player lose because of a momentary lapse in judgement. Danni and Steph lasted another hour before Steph fell while trying to lean in a more comfortable position. She cried while trying to recuperate from a challenge that took a much greater physical toll on her than it did Danni.

As Steph sobbed, Rafe did the unthinkable and released Danni from a promise she’d made to take him to the final two. He felt sure that she’d take him anyway, but wanted to give her the chance to make her own decision. While many viewers point to this as the moment Rafe gave away $1 million, Danni might not have honored her promise, anyway, if she really thought she couldn’t win against Rafe.

After he freed her from her oath, Danni thanked Rafe for being “a great guy.” As any guy who’s ever had a pretty girl call him “a great guy” can tell you, this meant Rafe was toast. Fortunately, the experience of playing Survivor was the real prize for Rafe; the money just would’ve been a bonus.

As expected, Danni brought Stephenie to the final two, knowing that there was a lot more ill will directed at Steph than either her or Rafe. Her assumptions proved correct, as the almost jovial jury lit into Steph about her ruthless gameplay. At the final Tribal Council, Judd accused Danni of skating into the final two, and he accused Steph of lying to his wife. Despite the fact that his accusation against Stephenie was false, Judd had gotten it in his head that she’d hurt his family, and nothing would change his mind.

Steph’s lone advocate was Rafe, who asked her to use her closing comments to explain why she deserved to win. That was her last hope, but she’d known for days that she couldn’t win. She’d angered the two people who couldn’t be swayed by reason (Judd and Jamie), and everyone else resented her because she’d gotten to play the game twice.

Steph’s answers to the jury’s questions were better and more honest than Danni’s, but honesty wasn’t really what the jury wanted. They wanted Stephenie to give them a reason not to vote for her. They didn’t want to hear that Stephenie was willing to do anything to win the game, or accept that her actions were the right ones. Her presence in the final two should’ve been proof enough.

If Stephenie would’ve belabored how sorry she was or said that she should’ve played differently, they would’ve called her a hypocrite and voted against her because of it. Instead, she gave them the truth, and they still cast their votes for Danni because they were mad at Steph. While Stephenie’s gameplay was ruthless, six of the jury members voted out of pettiness and spite. They voted not to give Danni $1 million, but to keep Stephenie from getting it. That hardly puts them on any moral high ground.

The reunion show was as uncomfortable and forced as always. Jeff Probst asked Jamie about his paranoia, and Jamie’s incoherent answer showed that he probably is a bit off his rocker. Cindy rambled about feeling lost now that she’s out of the Guatemalan jungle, and then begged for someone to give her a job since she’d lost hers to be on the show.

Apart from seeing what the contestants look like when they’re not dirty and starving, reunion shows are always a letdown. Jeff never asks the questions the audience really wants answered, like why none of the jury members but Rafe voted for Stephenie. While Jeff remarked on the fit appearance of Amy and Judd, he didn’t ask Danni how her lips got so huge. In the final Tribal Council, she’d said that the prize money would go to good use, so maybe she meant collagen injections and botox treatments.

Curse You, Cindy (Episode 11-13)

Cindy had a chance to break the Curse of the Car on tonight’s Survivor: Guatemala. Instead, she did what every Survivor in her position had done before her and kept the car she rightfully won. All it cost her was $1 million.

Cindy made mistakes throughout tonight’s episode. Upon returning to camp after Tribal Council, she complained about not being in on the decision to vote Judd out. She had a right to be paranoid — Judd wasn’t consulted before Jamie got the boot — but she shouldn’t have let it show. Danni has stayed in the game by smiling and nodding while inwardly freaking out about being next to go. No good can come from showing your competition that you’re afraid of them.

The Reward Challenge brought back elements from previous challenges, and Cindy narrowly beat Stephenie in a race to complete a puzzle. Upon winning, Jeff presented Cindy the keys to a Pontiac Torrent and, surprisingly, not a Buick Lucerne. The Lucerne’s been featured on The Amazing Race and The Apprentice: Martha in the last week, so why not here? Jeff then gave her the option to break the curse by giving up her car in favor of giving the other four contestants their own Torrents.

Had Cindy been from Chicago, and not Florida, she would’ve understood the sign telling her to give up the car. As Jeff was speaking, a man on a goat rode by in the background. If she was from Chicago, Cindy would’ve recognized the man as Steve Bartman riding on Sam Sianis’s goat. Cubs fans know that curses are real, and that you can’t break them with willpower, or superior pitching, alone.

Using the logic that she might not win the million anyway, Cindy kept her car. She got to bring a buddy along for a joy ride and a barbecue, so she asked Stephenie to join her. Steph immediately said that she would’ve kept the car, too, although Cindy didn’t seem too bothered by her decision. She reasoned that the ability to give free cars to people belonged to the Oprahs of the world, not the zookeepers.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Rafe and Danni seemed to agree that whenever you have the chance to give someone else a free car, you should take it. Just like that, Cindy lost her place as Rafe’s gal pal and Danni became his new best friend. Then the two giggled and braided each other’s hair, scenes mercifully left out during the editing process.

The following day, Steph was finally able to win her first individual Immunity Challenge, proving that she really is the threat everyone assumed she was. Danni’s and Rafe’s ill-will toward Cindy directed their voting strategy, and Cindy’s efforts to mark Rafe as the biggest threat were ignored. As Cindy left with her torch, she told the remaining competitors she’d think of them whenever she looked out of her new car’s sunroof. The remark drew smiles from the jury members, and even a little fist pump from Judd.

The winner will be decided on Sunday night, and if Rafe, Danni, and Steph have any sense, Lydia will be the first one voted out. Jury members can’t be given the option of voting for someone they have no feelings for. Lydia is a non-entity to most of them, and if someone’s still feeling betrayed, it’s easy to throw a vote Lydia’s way. Nobody having strong feelings about Lydia is exactly why she shouldn’t be in the final two. Whether they vote for someone they like or against someone they hate, jury members should always be forced to chose.

It’s totally unsatisfying when someone who was a non-factor in the game makes it to the final vote. Lill from Pearl Islands was the perfect example: she made it to the end because everyone thought they could get rid of her at any time, but forgot to actually get rid of her. Thankfully, the jury did the right thing in that case, and Sandra won the $1 million. But if Lydia wins on Sunday, I’ll have to be just like Sandra and “get loud, too. What the f#*k!”