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Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

There are just two days to go before The Amazing Race launches its first (and I hope not last) All-Stars Edition. I'm getting a little excited by this - although not that excited partly due to the manner the TWoPpers have been panning it. There are lots of teams that everyone would much prefer to see, but I guess you can't have them all.

Here, then, is a quick thumb through the teams that make up this All-Star version. We've seen them all before, so the introductions are going to be a lot shorter than usual. But things can certainly get pretty interesting just thanks to these people. We've got a swell powder keg coming along, I'd say!

(And as usual, for more details, see the TAR:AS - that's The Amazing Race: All-Stars for you - homepage at CBS!)

Kevin and Drew - the famous Frat Brothers, the prototypical fun-loving and highly witty partnership that ended up in fourth place. In fact, "Curse of the Fourth Place Finish" is a term well-known among the most religious of TAR watchers, after seeing how so many teams that were so loved by the fans ended up getting eliminated just one step short of the Final Three. So now these boys are back, and they'll certainly have plenty to do if they are to take the fight one step further. Where will they finish? Considering the field I'd say they have a pretty tough fight, so somewhere in sixth place wouldn't sound too bad at all.

Oswald and Danny - another pair to love, this was the incredibly famous Team Cha Cha Cha that actually spent one hour of one leg in their original season just chilling out by shopping in Hong Kong, when everyone would have just freaked out because time is a-wastin'! I kid you not - see this! For their absolutely cool attitude, they kicked even bigger ass than the Frat Brothers, but that wasn't enough to keep them away from the "Curse of the Fourth Place Finish". Let's see if they get better luck this time. Where will they finish? These guys are so gay I actually love them, so I really hope history won't repeat itself. I do think they've the bottle for it, so a Final Three finish is entirely plausible. Winning it could be tougher though.

John Vito and Jill - the girl kicks ass, and the guy kicks even more ass. They also absolutely loved each other and worked pretty well with each other the last time they partnered. The sad thing for all the people who loved TAR was learning that these two actually broke up. But there is hope! They've stayed friends all this while, which could always open them up to the possibilities of a dramatic reunion. In the meantime, expect them to kick some ass like they did the last time they were on the screen. Where will they finish? I'd tip them for the prize if not for a certain team that's sure to have the method and planning, but they surely have to survive long enough to at least make it to Asia.

Uchenna and Joyce - the only team to have won it before among this pool of racers, you really have to wonder why they're back again. Word has it their marriage is failing again because of the "no kids" thingy, so I'm actually not that thrilled to see them return. Something's wrong with the dynamics, according to the TWoPpers. Plus, the manner in which they were able to even snatch a win the last time was really questionable, mostly because of that crucial final flight back to American soil. Their feud with Rob and Amber is still quietly simmering, so the tensions between these two teams will be worth the watching. Where will they finish? It's strange for me to suggest it, but the luck they had when they won their season feels a bit on the short side now. They should avoid being one of the first teams to go thanks to a few other guys, but I've a sneaky feeling they could drop out around the middle of the show.

David and Mary - these guys are fresh faces, apparently, having just completed the tenth season of TAR not that long ago. One wonders why they are invited here, although there seems to be something about how this couple is so incredibly wide-eyed at the notion of being in this race to start with. I'm not very impressed by this team, because we've seen so many misfit teams before, like Debra and Steve from the fourth season for example. A sixth-place finish in their original season might have made them look good, but please, the difficulty level's gone up with this field, so don't be fooled. Where will they finish? They absolutely have to be one of the first teams to go. They're that bad.

Charla and Mirna - probably the most well-known dwarf on reality television, Charla has certainly milked her minutes of fame since appearing on TAR5. She was pretty impressive back then, but sadly for her, cousin Mirna was just one hysterical harpy that made the team's eventual exit seem such a relief. They're back now, and one can only hope Charla's more positive performances in their original season would take the camera's eyes away from Mirna. Where will they finish? They look like credible options for a surprise run into the middle of the field, but anything more than that could be difficult if the producers design plenty of physical tasks that would invariably handicap Charla. On the other hand, if they actually design tasks that are too Charla-friendly, public reactions could backfire, so the producers may have to sit back and watch them bow out close to the Atlantic.

Rob and Amber - without doubt, this is the All-Star couple of all reality television. They're good, bloody good, and they showed it when they crossed over from Survivor to TAR7. Rob Mariano is quite the television personality, and he's really smart when it comes to playing the game. The Meatblock - where he strategically bailed on a task - is perhaps the ultimate example that showed the producers how the game could be 'played' at an altogether different level from what most expected. Certainly it shows how Rob can think out of the box. They were immensely unlucky not to take the million last time, so this return could see them finally do it. Where will they finish? Opinions on this team, especially Rob, are divided, and there are those who can't wait to see them disappear. But everyone acknowledges, however grudgingly, that these two are top class, and with no Colin and Christie to compete against them, the million is a serious possibility.

Teri and Ian - they were quite an irritating old couple when we saw them in TAR3, each bad in his or her own way. Now that time has passed, are they still as bad? Or can they get their act together as far as treating each other publicly is concerned? Say what you will against them, they were pretty good when Ian had to drain a diesel tank that he had wrongly filled with petrol. In the words of Teri, "that was cool!" Where will they finish? I feel bad tipping them to bow out before five rounds are done, but that's the way this field is. Don't rule out a surprise, though, because no one expected them to finish in second place back in TAR3 either.

Eric and Danielle - this, I am told, is a hybrid team, after Eric seemed to have taken some kind of liking to Danielle (who was partnered by Dani the last time around). I don't know what's so good about Danielle apart from her figure, but that's me being shallow, not to mention that I actually didn't watch Season 9. But Eric made it into the Final Three before with his buddy Jeremy, so he's got some experience in lasting the length of this Race. Will that be enough to carry Danielle? Or will Danielle have to carry Eric sometimes? Where will they finish? A bit tough, this one. They seem destined for an early exit on the back of the other teams' reputations, but they could cluster up nicely somewhere in the middle and try to sneak their way into the latter stages.

Bill and Joe - the villains of TAR Classic, known to all as Team Guido, are back. They were incredibly evil with their little antics, but that evil wasn't enough for them to win it as they lagged further and further behind after Thailand. Many hated them for their dirty tricks, but they appear to have rehabilitated in subsequent public appearances, most notably in interviews with TWoP's Miss Alli. Has that taken anything away from their game, though? Or can they still cut it with the best of the subsequent races? Well, we'll know soon enough. Where will they finish? For the sake of the nostalgic old guys I hope they actually do much better now, which isn't nearly so hard since such huge time gaps are rarer with better planning by the producers. But I have a funny feeling about them becoming the new 'cursed' team and going out in fourth place.

Dustin and Kandice - they're called the Beauty Queens, usually a term of reference for those dumb blondes who walk around in swimsuits and do little else. But these girls are pretty smart, and they're pretty too. Not to mention the fact that they've got personalities of steel. Who knows? They could be the greatest all-female team ever on this Race, and that's despite a number of very good tough cookies like Lena and Kristy, Tian and Jaree, and the like. They're yet another member of the "Fourth Place Finish" club, but as new as they are, they'll surely give everyone a tough fight. Where will they finish? There have been teams that were good but crashed out early; this team won't be one of them. A good fight towards the middle is very much certain, but anything beyond that will be determined by whether they or others will be the first to make the crucial little mistakes. Worth a watch.

So that's all the teams. Wish them all luck! And get used to seeing them on television. You'll love them - well, most of them anyway!

gambitch [ 8:51 AM]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fancy getting my hair done and putting together an interview on Valentine's! It's just one of those days, I swear.

But I didn't mind it.

It was a good interview, and I was actually a little surprised my voice was able to hold after losing it for a couple of days. The guy was pretty nice too, a young man like me, with very simple and noble beliefs. He's rich and he's privileged, but he doesn't act like he's some bigshot.

This story could be pretty fun to write.

Before that, though, I'll definitely need to have a good bit of rest. My voice isn't totally back yet, and I want it to come back soon. Lots of water, honey, and sleep would help.

gambitch [ 7:10 PM]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Turns out we are counting down to a little less than a week before the first leg of The Amazing Race: All-Stars. I didn't know that until I checked the CBS website recently. Due to work reasons, I hadn't been watching The Amazing Race since the Family Edition, which was back at the tail end of 2005. I made it a point to tape down Season 9, only to never find time to watch those tapes before the tape recorder broke down. Season 10 never got aired here, so that's two seasons I've missed.

No matter. The All-Stars Edition will be a huge make-up for that.

And they've picked a pretty decent bunch of people to play this one. There's the original super-cool evil devils, namely Team Guido, who I never got to see because I missed Season 1 (also called TAR Classic by the purists). There's the oh-so-very-good John Vito and Jill. There's Danny and Oswald (Team Cha Cha Cha). There's the Frat Brothers, another huge favourite among TV viewers. There's the highly controversial Rob and Amber - who really know how to milk their minutes' worth on television. There's a whole bunch of other guys too, and I don't quite want to go through them one by one here. That's for later.

But since the show's on, I know where my Monday mornings are going for the next eleven weeks or so. Sorry, I'm turning down all work so I can watch this. Having a good dose of TAR comes first!

Accordingly, the links on the left will be fixed to access the new homepage.

Go Race!

gambitch [ 12:02 AM]

Monday, February 12, 2007

Oh, sheesh...

My voice is gone now.

This. Is. Bad.

Just when I've got an interview to do, too.

gambitch [ 2:39 AM]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

While they went celebrating, I watched a different show.

When a man of small ambitions and incredible frugality is persuaded into getting himself a new overcoat, he finds himself spending a tiny fortune on more than just a garment, but a status symbol that sees him catapult from the most nondescript and unpopular nerd in the office to the man everybody wants to hang around with. How does this sense of being wanted by those around him affect the man, and will this new change in attitudes stay even without that overcoat?

Those are the questions explored as we were presented with the tale of Akaky Akakievich, the lead character in Nikolai Gogol's famous short story The Overcoat. This story, by the way, is often rated as one of Gogol's best works, and is in itself a compelling reason for Gogol to be hailed as a leader in modern Russian literature.

The text is actually available for public reading, so I won't go through the full expense of detailing the actual plot - you can just find it yourself in any decent library. I just thought it would be good to share a couple of interesting moments in the play as I had watched it, pertaining in part to the text, but also to the manner in which it was presented. My reaction to the story and the production, if you will.

Let it first be established that Akaky is a very impoverished government clerk - the kind that informed readers of Russian literature would know is a common choice for the profile of the 'little man' protagonist of the time. Yet he is more than an impoverished clerk - as a human being, he is not very alive unlike many of his colleagues. They do not ask him out for lunch, and it is not as if he even really wants it. He's just too obsessed with his relatively mundane chore of getting documents and copying them. He is a manual copier, the kind that laboriously reproduced things exactly as they were before photocopiers came along. And he seems to love his job, so much so he doesn't interact with anyone else because that's seen as distracting him from his job.

He is also very content with what he has, with little material wants of any kind. In fact, he has next to no real wants, which explains why he only wants to mend his overcoat every time it takes some damage. Mending it is cheaper, and it allows the coat to retain its function. Of course, it does make his coat a bit ugly after many mendings, but he doesn't even seem to realize it. I don't know whether to admire his frugality (because my own financial circumstances aren't exactly brilliant either) or to laugh at it, because it does make him such a total social outcast.

Of course, eventually even his boss can't take it anymore and asks him to go get himself a new overcoat when it finally goes to pieces. Yet even at that point, he refuses to pay for a whole new coat, preferring to save himself some money by asking his good friend Petrovich the tailor to just mend it. Petrovich refuses, of course; whether you consider it a bad piece of business to mend a hopelessly unmendable coat or a case of Petrovich actually showing some sympathy to a neighbourhood friend, he insists it has to be a new coat. But this is not before an immensely fun scene where Akaky and Petrovich play a game of cat and mouse.

You see, it's good ol' Russian wintertime when Akaky visits Petrovich, and Russian winters being what they are, it's terribly cold out there. Even with coal-powered heaters, it can still get pretty bad in a shop, so most of them close their doors really tightly and only open them to visitors. Akaky, having made his way in, tries to leave his tattered old overcoat behind in Petrovich's shop, so that Petrovich has no choice but to take it and mend it. That's not what Petrovich was about to stand for, so it's basically a case of Akaky leaves coat, Petrovich takes it and goes out to give it to Akaky, Akaky tries again, etc.. Plenty of room for Tom and Jerry style humour.

Then there is the scene where, unable to avoid having to spend money on the new coat, Akaky is forced into saving up for it. Most of the other things he does are extreme enough, but then he runs into a bit of good fortune as a revolutionary-type guy comes to him and offers to reward him handsomely for a copying assignment. He didn't speak actual lines, but the way the revolutionary-type guy muttered the things he did was really tickling. As was the scene where Akaky went to look for him, only to run into a place of some kind occupied by a bunch of Chinese labourers playing a game of cards.

I should mention at this point that the show was brought to us by a theatre group from Hong Kong, so we've got quite a mix of Chinese actors who spoke in Cantonese. They exploited that little fact to give us a bit of relief as the "Chinese labourers" played a traditionally Chinese game of cards, complete with Cantonese utterings. The entire play was otherwise in English, but that provided for a few moments of distractive humour.

Of course, Akaky eventually manages to raise the money he needs for his new overcoat, and his colleagues, amazed by the new acquisition, promptly throw him a party. He goes for it and enjoys himself for the first time, which of course means he enjoys it in a rather awkward manner. Kinda like learning to walk only when you turn 12.

Then he decides to go home, and while he crosses the road at one point, his coat gets stolen. Too eye-catching a coat, so of course it draws the attention of thieves. And that scene where the coat was taken away from him illustrated perhaps the impact The Matrix had on so many productions on different media thereafter, with its classic use of slow motion. Nowadays, that's all referred to as Matrix-style technique.

Anyway, I don't really need to elaborate on what happened thereafter - you can find it in the original story. But it was certainly most impressive seeing how these guys used their props, shoving Akaky's office in particular into a modified metallic wardrobe-cupboard, the kind you can find in military bunks. That was one particularly good piece of set design, I thought, which allowed the use of the wardrobe door to tuck Akaky away for spells. I also thought the use of papers as a means of creating images of snow was nice, although most people would point out to me that throwing paper shreds into the air to simulate snow is a pretty common technique.

So, theatre takes a brief break after this as the shows stop coming for a moment. It has been a fun couple of weeks, and I'm sure that I will find other sources of fun in due time.

I need the fun, really.

gambitch [ 12:16 AM]


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