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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

After starting on the bios of the various people, I figured I might as well start early and bitch about the teams.

DISCLAIMER: gambitch does not have inside information on who will win the race, or what juicy stories are going to appear. Everything gambitch says is purely a personal and subjective opinion. Pre-season thoughts are primarily based on information provided on the official website and personal impressions for which there may not be much reasonable explanation. Therefore, if you disagree, feel free to comment and we can start bitching about the show.

There will again be twelve teams of two in this season's The Amazing Race (henceforth shortened to TAR4). The team bios are out, so check the official website. Now here's what gambitch thinks about each of the teams, in no particular order.

Debra and Steve - married parents, 40-year-old man with a beard, 49-year-old wife who honestly looks like the typical American educated homemaker wife - bad hair, glasses, fat. They look nice and harmless enough, but can they really last very long throughout the race with that kind of build (or lack thereof?) Teri and Ian from last season looked like they were seasoned enough and had grit - this couple does not look like they can do the same. Where will they finish? Elimination in the third leg sounds about right.

Steve and Dave - air traffic controllers, both are about 45 and seem like benign suburban folks who should be able to handle high-pressure situations thanks to their job. Their airport jobs might help them in the long-distance travel legs of the race, provided they survive the first banana skin in Latin America. As long as they don't have to do 24-hour rides from Mexico City to Cancun like in the previous episode, they should get by fairly far, but not far enough. Where will they finish? Depending on whether the producers want to go to the Mediterranean or Scandinavia, they ought to get about five to seven legs. Reaching Asia will be an achievement.

Steve and Josh - father and son partnership. So many Steves! This pair of Californians might last long, or might crash out early. Dad's a juvenile detention facility supervisor, which probably means he's seen enough young criminals. Son's a computer technician, and we know how geeks have all these strange abilities and interests. Father-and-son teams have traditionally not done too well at the competition, though they bond very well and learn much about each other. It looks like this team will end up much the same way. Where will they finish? Be grateful if they complete the second leg.

Russell and Cindy - a younger man, an older woman, friends who have been dating for a while. He's an entrepreneur, she's an inventor - a potent business partnership if ever there was one. But will they be able to strengthen their private relationship on TAR4? I think they could. In fact, this couple could last very long into the race. The guy seems to have great mental strength, and the woman is an Irish who's lived in Europe and Asia. If they don't get stuck in Africa, they might make quite an impact. Where will they finish? Being one of the last two teams to be eliminated would be a cruel punishment for a strong and lovely pair, but it has happened before.

Monica and Sheree - two young black Americans who claim themselves to be NFL wives, whatever that means. Both are about thirty, both are supposedly outgoing and fun-loving. Both are also the token non-white pairing on the show. Last season, the two blacks who made Team 911 crossed the halfway line before being eliminated. But perhaps the better guide would be the Soccer Moms who were promptly eliminated in the first episode last season. It would not be nice if the racial AA team got dumped this early, but it's hard to think they will go much further. Where will they finish? Don't expect the two of them to cross the Atlantic.

Millie and Chuck - one of many sweet couples on TAR4, this team's from Tennessee, home of the bluegrass. So what's supposed to differentiate them from everyone else? Maybe the fact that after twelve years of dating, they're still virgins. Maybe the fact that the woman speaks several languages and has been to Taiwan, Israel and Russia among other places, while the man has never flown out of North America. They have quarrelled before while travelling though they still love each other. One wonders whether the high tension will get to them, but that's something we can only tell once the show starts. Where will they finish? Given the fact that they aren't very careful spenders, they'd have to work quite hard to stay alive. But this team appears to be final three material.

Amanda and Chris - a South Dakota team of close friends, these two actually do not have much of a travel history. Amanda has never left America, while Chris has a fear of heights and doesn't really like to fly. So how are they going to cross the Atlantic? Nobody has any idea. But it will be a big pity if the two of them don't get beyond the first three or four legs, because Chris promises to be a really bad boy in the course of the race and piss every other team off, while Amanda will smile a lot and make peace with the rest. Can they pull it off? Where will they finish? Nasty boy Chris will probably not take too long before making the rest of the teams gang up against him and Amanda, so they'll probably drop out by the fifth leg.

Reichen and Chip - two men, ho-hum... Two men who are married, not too uncommon... Two men who are married to each other, now that's newsworthy stuff. These two are probably the first married gay couple to ever participate on a major game show. While that will be sure to draw much media attention, you'd have suspicions over how far they will go in TAR4. The reports so far look good - they're fit and have strong willpower. Maybe they'll go far, or maybe they'll collapse from knowing that everyone will be talking about them - even if they won't be hearing much of this during the race. Where will they finish? Getting past the halfway mark should not prove too hard, but I suspect they won't make the final three.

Kelly and Jon - another loving couple; this one's engaged to each other. Apart from their strong love for each other, this team looks like it has potential to go far. Both have done water sports, and both love travelling and have a good travel history, especially in Europe, to show for it. The only little problem is Kelly fears heights, and with lots of challenge in the course of the race involving heights, you wonder whether this team can pull through. Where will they finish? They look good for the final three. Who's willing to have a wager that they'll pick up the million?

Jon and Al - they say that everyone who appears on a reality TV show is a clown. How about having two professional clowns competing for the million? The middle-aged duo work well as a partnership at shows, but will they be able to entertain everyone with a couple of tricks, or are they going to laugh all the way to the bank? Given Al's long travel history and his ability to motivate his teammate, you fancy their chances. But given Jon's tendency to procrastinate and his tendency to be too nice, they could get into a bit of a bother before the final leg. Where will they finish? They should see out the first five legs. Anything beyond that depends on how well they hold their nerve.

Tian and Jaree - two young models/actresses, and one of them sings. A pair of performers, and they don't look all too bad actually, so this is probably the eye candy team for all of you boys. It helps that one of them seems to be bi, so while last season we have the intelligent babes Heather and Eve, this time we may well have two sexy bimbos. But can they go far? One of them has a fear of heights and the other fears being lost, so they'd better not get into a Roadblock involving skydiving or make a wrong turn somewhere. Where will they finish? Limping somewhere near the halfway mark before crashing out looks the likeliest ending.

David and Jeff - probably the alpha male combination of this season. Derek and Drew's surprise elimination in Vietnam last season broke the trend of alpha males crossing the finish line first in TAR. David and Jeff look like a good bet to restore that pattern, but both contestants fear heights, and that could cost them dearly. Apart from that, though, both men look very fit and enterprising and have the cool to get on top of a bad situation. As long as they don't have to rappel or skydive too often, they look like they can get far. Where will they finish? It would take quite a courageous person to bet against them for the million, but Kelly and Jon are my sentimental favourites to just pip them in the final leg.

gambitch [ 11:31 PM]

A news snippet today said something about Japanese police breaking up a major doomsday cult and raiding its facilities. The cult claimed that the world was going to end soon and people should join the cult to save themselves (what else is new?).

What I would really like to see is a cult which claims that the world was about to end soon and that its members should leave the cult to save themselves.

In other news, an old friend makes his return to television as an emcee. The market out there must be very bad for him to consider a return to showbiz, years after he left. Surviving in an environment of global recession is tough if you do not have that many skills that are of any real use. Which of course makes people wonder why they study so hard.

In still other news, the world's most exciting reality TV game show (according to gambitch) is about to make a return!

The Amazing Race 4

Watch out for some bloody bitching on this blog in another two weeks...

(Afterthought: At least there is something to fill the void left by the end of football's regular season.)

gambitch [ 9:29 PM]

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

While sitting up and cheering over Alex's eighth League trophy in eleven years, I have been drawn to think about the whole issue of success. Since Manchester United have won the trophy eight times in a little over a decade, this must necessarily mean that everyone else has largely been starved of success. Indeed, only two other clubs have managed to take the trophy away from the Theatre of Dreams - Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers. Everyone else has failed, including the great Liverpool (today that has become a rather painful oxymoron).

Let's talk for a little while about Arsenal. They were the team poised to take over from Liverpool in the late Eighties, with Kenny Dalglish at the helm in the northern club and George Graham running the boys from London (both were great names already in that time). Indeed, they already had the fundamentals in place. Seaman, Adams, Winterburn, Parlour, Merson, Wright... These were magnificent players in that period, and together Arsenal was really a difficult side to beat. They pipped Liverpool at the turn of the decade, and we seemed ready to herald the rise of a new football superpower. Then Leeds spoiled the party in 1992, sold off one of their star players in Eric Cantona at a snip to Manchester United, and the trophy moved further and further away from London for another six years or so.

In this period, Arsenal was still a pretty strong team on the overall. Some player movement happened, but the key elements had not changed. They, along with Liverpool, Newcastle and the like have challenged on and off for the trophy, but have never quite tasted the success again until George left and the club briefly flirted with a manager whose success at a lesser club flattered to deceive. It was not until Arsene came and revolutionized the club in the mid-90s that things took a change for the better. Arsenal finally won the trophy again in 1998 and 2002, but could not add more to the trophy cabinet in spite of a rich array of stars across the years.

The lesson to learn from Arsenal was that a strong squad was by no means enough on its own to earn glory. It takes a lot more than that to translate potential and ability into trophies.

Blackburn Rovers on the other hand was the classic example of a fluke. They had a hardworking, industrious team that had an exceptional season in 1995, with Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton knocking the goals in to bring the trophy to Ewood Park. If I remember correctly, they had been promoted to the league not too long before that. So perhaps people would not expect the team, run by one Kenny Dalglish (sounds familiar?), to challenge for the trophy. But challenge they did, and while the race went down to the wire on the final day, Kenny won. This was to be his only trophy at Rovers.

They say success breeds success. I think it depends. With Blackburn that obviously did not happen, as they promptly lost the trophy next season, and even found time to finish so low in the table they got kicked back into the Nationwide for a little while. Shearer and Sutton were sold, as were a huge number of other players. Kenny moved upstairs into some desk-bound position, and things have not been the same. Blackburn were not going to mount a sustained challenge for the big trophy again for many seasons to come.

The lesson from Blackburn Rovers was that sometimes ordinary people can outdo themselves and perform minor miracles, bathing themselves in glory before they eventually get found out and return to the mediocrity from where they came.

Success does not always breed success. It does always breed hunger for more. This gives people the extra impetus to want to do well. For those whose hunger is sated once, they will continue to be hungry, and the more you feed the successful, the hungrier they become. But if they are not sated a second or third time, one of two things can happen. They either become ever hungrier and perform better, or the acid burns through their stomachs and they slump into a state of strained mediocrity, wallowing in old glories that increasingly lose relevance.

How does all this fit in? Well, if you're part of a team of people who have won trophies before, you will want to stick with the team and see it win again. Some people try to do something so that they will succeed in the unenviable quest to bring back a second helping of glory. Others basically hang around and cheer on the ones doing the hard work.

It does not take much to make a team hungry the first time. It does not take exceptionally much to win one trophy; as long as there is a trophy, there will be someone to win it. The tough part is sating the hunger of people who have already won something the first time. You have to whet their appetites, coax and cajole them to keep them interested, while trying to avoid growing a couple of stomach ulcers. And if you fail in the quest, someone else will come in and try to succeed where you failed.

In most cruel conditions, the man who fails will simply be dismissed by the higher management. Things become a trifle trickier when the gaffer cannot be fired, but can be retired. The gaffer's retirement necessitates the appointment of somebody (some say anybody) to fill the void. The big question then is this: Who can do the job?

Something for me to think about as I go to sleep. Somebody has been nagging at me for keeping late nights. I am not too frustrated at people nagging - people nagging at me has become part of my life - but there are things to do, and as long as they have to be done at certain times, I might as well get some rest now to turn up at the office later.

The chess pieces have been collecting dust. Tomorrow they should get a bit of polishing.

gambitch [ 2:37 AM]

Monday, May 12, 2003

While rummaging through my collection of CDs, I came across this song that was the main theme for the Japanese drama Beautiful Life.

B'z - Konya Tsuki no Mieru Oka-ni

The lyrics' beauty doesn't express half the song. You must actually listen to the track.

For the record, B'z usually do something along the pop-rock variety, and this track is not that different. They were also responsible for a number of main themes for other successful Japanese dramas.

As a side-track, the title Beautiful Life is rather abused. A quick search will reveal many television shows with this name. Either the title is so beautiful everyone just loves it, or there is not enough creativity internationally.

gambitch [ 9:07 PM]

Happiness is when you know you have your opponent upon the rack, you know exactly what you have to do to finish the job, you do exactly that, and you don't feel a thing until ten minutes later.

gambitch [ 12:51 PM]

I occasionally have dreams of myself waking up in the morning just like I would in real life, and getting to read or hear the latest news. Yesterday, I dreamt that the first piece of news I read was from the sports pages - West Ham United getting relegated. This was just less than 24 hours before the actual match itself.

I woke up today and checked out the teletext. Lo and behold, the Hammers were relegated.

A very big pity for Glenn and Trevor actually. I honestly thought West Ham were very unlucky in the first half of the season when Repka was mostly asleep at the back. Not that I thought Sam Allardyce's boys in Bolton deserved to go down either. Unfortunately, somebody had to take the last spot in the bottom three, and that somebody was West Ham. They can bounce back, though, if they don't start losing all their star players like Cole and Carrick.

Leeds United meanwhile managed to win their last match to steer well clear. Lucky bastards. They do not deserve the kind of good fortune they had. I wish they have to sell off two thirds of their squad and still get relegated next season.

On a more positive note, though, Alex sees his team finish the season with a victory at Goodison. Finishing on a high is always a good thing, even if in fairness David deserved a point for doing so much to a team that has lived in the shadow of its own illustrious history. It has been many years since they have slipped into mediocrity, and even though Alex's boys have been winning trophies for the past ten years, I can empathize with David. Alex probably can too.

Yesterday was fun, as I went about more blood-letting, this time on unsuspecting children who decided they would not wear their school uniforms for a change. After working with an acquaintance and a stranger in a last-minute decision, it has occurred to me that I might actually be better than I think I am. Or it may just be a classic case of the big fish in a small pond. But the children do need to be properly humbled and made to see a different world. It is the only way they can grow out of their comfortable beds of cushions. A more curious description of these children would be flowers nurtured in greenhouses. I am more like the wild vine who had to drink in acid rain and find shade from the blinding sun's glare.

gambitch [ 12:43 PM]


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