Monthly Archives: May 2007

Pirate Master: Episode 1

I think I love Pirate Master.

It’s a show concept that, if executed properly, was destined to be enjoyed by those of us with a passion for all things swashbuckling. Fortunately for those of us who’ve actually considered buying the Grog Flavored Pirate Mints from Archie McPhee, Mark Burnett nailed the concept.

The first episode of the series began with sixteen pirately-garbed contestants boarding the ship that will be their home for the season. Aussie host Cameron Daddo filled them in on the backstory of legendary (okay, nonexistent) pirate Henry Steel and the treasure chest he left behind.

The chest has 15 compartments, each of which contains two copies of a map that gives the location of a portion of the $1 million dollar prize. (Fourteen of the compartments are for treasure amounts in the $40,000 range, and one is for the finale’s treasure, which will be worth about $500,000.)

This first week, the pirates were divided randomly into two teams and given one of the two maps and a compass. They then set out in a long boat in a race to the first treasure.

Mercifully, the editors only focused on a few of the main players in this week’s episode, rather than introduce a bunch of people weren’t integral to the storyline. The key players on the red team were cutie Joy and car parts salesman Jay. For the black team, the key players were ex-Navy guy Joe Don, Fabio-ish nerd John, Survivor Rupert lookalike Louis, and young musician Ben.

The black team got an early lead when the red team neglected to use their rudder to steer their boat. By the time they got back on track, the red team had already sailed out of open water and into one of the rivers on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

The teams rowed past impressive-looking pirate skeletons with swords through their heads or strung up in cages, which the map used as route markers. If nothing else, the show’s prop department has managed to capture the look of a Hollywood pirate epic.

After the black team tied up their boat at the first location on the map, they slogged their way through a muddy swamp on their way to retrieve their next clue. Ben’s shoe came off in the mud, and he spent so much time trying to rescue it from the muck that the red team was able to catch up.

Joe Don wasted a bunch of time trying to unsuccessfully open a three-key lock, before scientist/exotic dancer (no, I’m not kidding) John saved the day and released the next map. He opened the lock and the team ran back to their boat.

As they rowed down river, the black team saw a sabotage opportunity — namely a strategically placed rope net that could be raised to impede the progress of the slower team. Ben redeemed himself by diving into the water and raising the net — cleaning off his muddy shoe in the process.

Finally, the black team reached the resting place of the treasure chest. Unfortunately, it was resting somewhere on the bottom of a rather deep section of the river. And as they searched, the red team navigated around the rope net.

John used the power of scientific reasoning to deduce that the section of the river they were in was known as the Crocodile’s Lair, and since crocodiles live under the roots of mangrove trees, he should check under the tree roots for the chest. His deduction was correct, and he found the chest. Score another one for science!

The black team returned victorious to the pirate ship, where they discovered that the chest contained some live crabs and $40,000 worth of gold pieces. Host Cameron conferred with the black team, as the red team waited in the crew quarters below deck.

Cameron instructed the team to choose a captain from amongst their ranks. Naturally, based on his exceptional performance in the treasure hunt, the team chose… Joe Don? John, a self-professed geek, was clearly miffed that his scientific and exotic dancing skills were not being appreciated, and he refused to vote for Joe Don.

Majority ruled, and Joe Don was told that he’d be receiving half of the gold that the team had discovered: $20,000 (though he could redistribute it if he wanted). Then he was instructed to choose two officers, and he picked Deputy DA Cheryl and Mud Shoe Ben. For their position, they were each awarded $5,000.

That left $2,000 for each of the remaining members of the black team, who were all summarily demoted to regular crew members. That meant that, along with the members of the red team, they would serve at the pleasure of Captain Joe Don and his officers.

As another perk, the captain and officers moved into the posh Captain’s Quarters next to the crew quarters. When the lowly crew members asked if they could come in and look around, Captain Joe Don refused and locked the door.

Resentment built the next day, as the crew labored to clean the boat and the captain and his officers lounged around in their coats and tri-cornered hats. The normally jovial Louie muttered about mutiny.

Cameron met up with the captain and his officers to inform them about that evening’s Pirates Court. The captain would nominate three people for elimination from the show, and the rest of the crew would vote on which one of them to cut adrift.

Unless, of course, all ten of the voting crew members staged a mutiny and voted for Captain J.D. If the mutiny was unanimous, and his officers agreed to it, the captain would be ousted.

There was no question that the exotic-but-unruly John would be on the chopping block. Louie, whose mutinous mutterings were overheard by the officers, was also nominated. Finally, J.D. chose the well-liked Joy — who was in no danger of being voted out — as insurance that one of either Louis or John would leave that night.

At Pirates Court, each of the three nominees got to make their case for staying to their crew mates. Louie and Joy both got a favorable response for their good-natured remarks.

But John had a different approach. Before court, he’d stolen the two compasses that the contestants will need in order to locate future treasure chests. If they voted for him, they’d be forced to wander around, directionless.

Captain J.D. was not threatened, and the following exchange ensued:

J.D.: "At night, the Big Dipper points to the North Star… In the day, put a stick in the mud. It casts a shadow. Mark the end of that shadow, wait thirty minutes, it’ll cast another shadow. Draw a line between the two, and you have East and West. Then you know where North and South is. I don’t need your compasses — and I don’t need you."

John (looking up at the cloudy night sky): "J.D., which way is North?"

J.D.: "I have no idea. Perhaps we’re further south than we can see at this moment in time. In the daytime, it’s simple. It’s a piece of cake."

Sure, it’s simple, J.D. — if you don’t mind waiting around for 30 minutes watching a stick in the mud during a treasure hunt.

But the crew wasn’t swayed by the theft, and they voted unanimously to get rid of John. He was placed on a small raft with a lantern, and J.D. did the honors of cutting the rope with a cutlass, and setting John adrift at sea.

Next week, the captain’s powers go to J.D.’s head, and he chows down while refusing the crew food and making them swab the deck.

On the whole, I thought the whole episode was very interesting. By making teams a temporary and ever-changing element of the game, it fosters a sense of unity among the whole crew, rather than pitting one group against another.

Instead, the clash is a class war: the captain, who has all the money and all the power, versus the crew that he can choose to bully or treat as equals. Only the plebes are given the chance to turn the tables at Pirates Court, giving them a measure of power lacking from prior Burnett have-versus-have-nots experiments on Survivor and The Apprentice.

Since there are a number of ways that a captain can choose to wield power, and a number of ways that the crew can respond, it should make for an interesting first season.

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Behind the Scenes at SYTYCD

MOIB reader Marianya was one of the brave thousands who tried out for this season of So You Think You Can Dance. Her performance at the Chicago audition didn’t make it into last night’s episode, but she was kind enough to write about the experience.

The audition process lasted over a span of three days: Thursday through Saturday. Thursday was the open audition call. The people fortunate – or, in some cases, unfortunate — enough to come back for solos (what you see on television) are filmed on Friday and Saturday.

On Thursday, there were between five hundred and a few thousand people waiting in line to see if they make it through the first cut. The joy is that everyone gets a chance — not like American Idol where they just look at you and say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ as to whether you get to sing for the producers or not. It’s just a thirty-second chance, but a chance, nonetheless! I didn’t get to dance until 1:30, and I’d been in line since 7:30 in the morning.

Considering that all you have is thirty seconds to prove that you can dance, the people who move on from Thursday have to have some kind of "X-Factor." Technique and tricks and moves count, but you have to catch the attention of the producer (Simon Fuller) and the choreographer (in Chicago’s case, Shane Sparks) in those thirty seconds.

The majority get cut from the Thursday open call, but approximately 15-25% of the people make it through to Friday and Saturday. Then, approximately 15% of those make it to Vegas — if even that many.

I made it through to the second round. There were about 80 people there on Saturday — forty in my group and another forty waiting in another room. The whole day was saturated with interviews, dancing, interviews, dancing, speech, dancing, more dancing, and a final interview. Cameras were rolling from the beginning of the day to the end. You’d turn a corner and there was a camera.

The day started with a reprise of the freestyles that we’d performed on Thursday, only this time in front of the judges. Then each performer came back to perform a solo. When I was onstage for my solo, there were at least half a dozen cameras rolling from different angles on the stage. There was a little computer monitor for Nigel, Mary, and Shane to see you from those camera angles — they watch your performance not only as an audience member looking directly at the stage but via the cameras, too.

Contrary to what they showed on TV, nobody got a free pass to Vegas after their solos. The judges determined who they wanted to see more of, and all of those people were sent to the choreography round. After they chose who would go to Vegas, they cut the footage of the best dancers to make it seem like they went straight through.

I didn’t make it to the choreography round; whether it was a lack of practice or technique, or whether my heart wasn’t really in it, who knows? Before the audition, I told myself that I was just going to give this one shot — I knew the chances of making it to Las Vegas were slim. But once I got through Thursday, my mentality began to change. I started thinking about the possibility of auditioning next year and, if necessary, the year after that.

Eventually I decided that, yeah, I’d do it again — maybe in two years after I gain some flexibility, polish my technique, and actually create a routine. But I will definitely give it another shot.

Thanks, Marianya! We look forward to reading your report when you make it to Vegas on a future season of So You Think You Can Dance.

Ox Notes: May 30, 2007

Former Spice Girl Melanie Brown (aka Scary Spice) and former Beverly Hills 90210-er Tori Spelling are both rumored to be interested in participating in the next season of Dancing with the Stars.

Julianne Hough fans, prepare to open your wallets — she’s working on a country album. Her single, "Will You Dance With Me," is currently available on iTunes.

Season 1 Dance-Off winner John O’Hurley and his partner, Charlotte Jorgensen, will release an instructional DVD set — "Learn to Dance with John and Charlotte" — on July 31.

If you’ve got an extra $45 laying around, you can get a Maksim Chmerkovskiy calendar or beach towel (shipping and handling are extra). Or if you’d prefer a more hands-on experience, Maks will be teaching a Latin dance workshop at his New Jersey studio on June 28.

Likewise, Tony Dovolani will be teaching two workshops at the Fred Astaire Chicago North Studio in Buffalo Grove, IL on June 12. Tony & Elena Grinenko are the special performers at the Chicago Open on June 10.

Ox Notes: May 29, 2007

Reality shows dominate the most recent TV season. Paris and Nicole aren’t the only fake things on The Simple Life. And a protest against poorly written TV romances.

Reality Rules
The incentive for networks to put more reality shows on the air each season isn’t just the cheap costs associated with their production, but the fact that people are watching them. Six of the top ten network shows in 2006-2007 were reality shows — specifically the performance and results shows for American Idol 6 and Dancing with the Stars 3 and 4.

For a list of how other reality shows fared in the 2006-2007 season, check out Reality Blurred.

Simply Staged
The Simple Life 5 debuts tonight on E!, and the show is barely even pretending to be a reality show this season. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie are supposed to be camp counselors, only the camp is fake and the other counselors are actors.

Unnecessary TV Romances
MSN featured an interesting article about the TV writer’s favorite cop-out convention: forced romance between characters. The article focuses on the most recent season of The Office, but cited plenty of other examples.

Thanks to Spike TV, I’ve been watching Star Trek: Voyager, which I missed during its original run. In the final few episodes of the series, 7 of 9 pursues a romance with Chakotay in one of the worst examples of this bad writing convention that I’ve ever seen. When the only emotional response a plot twist elicits is a gag reflex, it’s time to work on a rewrite.

Ox Notes: May 25, 2007

Hassel-stache
The fight between Rosie O’Donnell and Elizabeth Hasselbeck on Wednesday’s episode of The View was amusing, but not as amusing as this new development: after the fight, someone drew moustaches on all of the photos of Elizabeth in the studio hallway.

According to TV Guide, ABC’s human resources department is looking in to the matter. But gossip site Perez Hilton reports that Rosie’s writer, Janette Barber, was escorted from the building in connection with the incident.

Re-United State
Thomas Lennon said that the members of the sketch comedy show The State were considering reuniting for a new project.

Network Season in Review

As the 2006-2007 TV season comes to a close, networks are assessing what worked and what didn’t. Their biggest concerns are the decline in primetime viewship and the changing nature of the evening news.

Who are the networks counting on to save them next season? Nerds!

Ox Notes: May 24, 2007

Dominic Monaghan Dishes
TV Guide featured an interview with Dominic Monaghan about his role on Lost (warning: the interview contains spoilers, in case you recorded the Lost finale and have yet to watch it). Dom mentions a possible reunion with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, as well as a desire to follow in the furry footsteps of fellow hobbit, Sean Astin, working on nature programs.

Fox’s Summer Reality Season Starts in Earnest
The third season of So You Think You Can Dance premieres tonight with 90 minutes of audition footage. I’ve never watched SYTYCD before, and the show preview at Reality Blurred mentions the reason why: burnout. After spending two nights a week for almost three months watching Dancing with the Stars, I could’ve used a break before committing another two nights a week to watching dancing on TV.

SYTYCD 3’s premiere episode will be followed by an half-hour episode of On The Lot, which itself premiered on Tuesday night. If you didn’t catch the debut, you didn’t miss much, according to TV Guide’s Surfer Girl blog.

He’ll Always Be Jm To Me
Jim (formerly Jm) J. Bullock — who’s pulled a Deborah "Don’t Call Me Debbie" Gibson and put the ‘i’ back in his first name — is developing a reality show that will chronicle his quest to run a hair salon.

Ox Notes: May 23, 2007

DwtS Finale Reports

In People’s What You Didn’t See report from the Dancing with the Stars finale, Heather Mills says she’s working on her college degree in biology and chemistry to give more weight to her positions on the environment and animal rights. Heather said,"If I’m not a full-fledged scientist, nobody will want to listen to me."

Maksim Chmerkovskiy told TV Guide, "I’m going back home to get my life back. I’ve got studios to run, kids to teach, and championships to be won with straight-up judging according to your dancing. I definitely need a little bit of time off." Does that mean that Maks might not be back for DwtS 5?

People and Access Hollywood have further reports on Apolo & Julianne’s victory.

Laila & Maks and Joey & Kym appeared on this morning’s edition of The View, where Laila said her dancing days weren’t entirely over. She and her fiance, Curtis Conway, will have to do a special routine at their wedding reception, since their guests will be "expecting a show."

Apolo & Laila will appear on tomorrow’s View.

Tuesday Night Ratings

The Dancing with the Stars 4 finale pulled in 22.6 million viewers — down 4.6 million from last season. But the finale did steal viewers from the premiere of On The Lot, which debuted to fewer than 10 million people.

Veronica Mars Finale

With so much material left to explore, even after last night’s Veronica Mars series finale, show creator Rob Thomas said, "I wouldn’t discount my taking a stab at a feature script." Michael Ausiello points out that the series to big screen transition worked when cult favorite Firefly spawned the film Serenity.

I know I’d be one of the first in line for tickets to Veronica Mars: The Movie.