Sunday, August 26, 2012

New Poll–Outstanding Comedy Series

First things first: I’ve decided not to do the “Outstanding Reality-Competition” category this year. There are two basic reasons for this. First and foremost, I want to start the “Which show will be cancelled the quickest?” polls before most of the new shows debut and I’d be pushing it if I ran the Reality-Competition poll. I need better time management for this. Second, the Reality Competition category has basically been dominated by The Amazing Race… everywhere except here. It sort of takes the sport out of it. So let’s skip the category this year.


As usual, the rules are simple. Vote for the series that you think should win the Emmy as Outstanding Comedy Series, and if you feel the urge to comment on the nominees or the poll, feel free to do so right here.


Deadline is Tuesday September 4th at around noon(ish).

Poll Results–Outstanding Actor In A Drama

This one is probably going to have more pictures than text. Nine votes were cast and we have a three way tie. Hugh Bonneville, Steve Buscemi and Michael C. Hall all received no votes. Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm and Damien Lewis all received three votes each (33%).

breaking-bad-bryan-cranston-walt1I’m pretty sure that the winner again this year will be Bryan Cranston for playing Walter White on Breaking Bad. And, from a lot of what I’m hearing – I don’t watch Breaking Bad, by choice – Cranston turns in another amazing performance this year as the former high school Chemistry teacher who started out “just” cooking meth to build up a nest egg for his family, but has increasingly become darker and more evil. The Walter White who was seen at the start of the series is not the Walter White we are seeing today, and that sort of change and growth in a character reflects well on the actor who portrays the character (though it hasn’t even gotten an Emmy nod for Anna Torv *pout*).

Don_DraperThe dominance of Bryan Cranston in this category has had a negative effect on Jon Hamm’s chances of winning an Emmy for playing Don Draper in Mad Men. In three of the four previous years in which he has been nominated for the Outstanding Actor in a Drama Emmy he has gone head to head with Cranston and a performance that – in most years – would have earned him the Emmy has wound up as the runner-up (one would surmise). And the fact is that it would be hard to convince a lot of people that the wrong decision had been made; that Hamm’s performance was in fact better than Cranston’s. Last year’s Emmy’s, when Breaking Bad wasn’t eligible for the awards, may have been Hamm’s best chance for the Emmy and he lost to Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights. Now that is one you can argue about, considering that Hamm submitted a strong episode – The Suitcase – while I think it could be argued that Chandler’s award was as much a cumulative award for five years of outstanding performances as for the episode submitted. But Cranston’s back, and it may be that Jon Hamm’s chance to get an Emmy for the role of Don Draper has passed.

HOMELANDThe dark horse in this race is probably Damien Lewis for playing Nicholas Brody in Homeland. A caveat here is that I’ve always enjoyed watching Lewis in just about everything I’ve seen him in, including the mini-series Band Of Brothers, where he played Major Dick Winters, and the criminally underrated Life where he played Charlie Crews. I haven’t seen Homeland, but everything I’ve heard about the show, and the characters in it – those played by Lewis and his co-star Claire Danes – are complex and not always what they seem, with layers over top of layers. I would love to see Damien Lewis win in this category, but I’m afraid that it’s not to be.

New poll up in a bit.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong 1930-2012

Neil Armstrong was the centre of perhaps my happiest TV moment on that evening in July 1969, when he stepped off the ladder to the footpad of the LEM and then onto the Moon and said those famous if somewhat garbled words: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Most of us never heard the word “a” in his statement.)



A few years before, in 1962, a couple from Ohio appeared on the panel show I’ve Got A Secret. Their secret? Their son had just been selected to be an astronaut that very day. Just watch the clip and listen for the question (at about 4:40) that Gary Moore asks Stephen and Viola Armstrong about their son Neil. Reportedly Neil Armstrong didn’t see this until nearly 40 years later.


Friday, August 17, 2012

New Poll–Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama

As usual, please vote for the actor you feel should win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama rather than for the one you believe will win if they aren’t one and the same. And, again as usual feel free to comment on why you feel they should win in the category – or why someone else shouldn’t. Do NOT feel free to include an ad for Comcast’s “The Hopper” DVR service. I’ve been getting a number of those and they go right to the Spam Bucket.

Deadline for this poll is Sunday August 26 at around noon(ish). By which time I will hopefully figure out what the next poll will be.

Poll Results–Outstanding Actress In A Drama

claire-danes-homelandFirst a couple of housekeeping things. I’ve been meaning to get the next episode of the first season of The Amazing Race finished but I’ve been having some time management issues in terms of finding the time to do the work to finish it up. sometime this weekend…I hope. This got a bit messed up when I added a second Hard Drive to my computer and needed to move a bunch of files to it. Also, I haven’t decided yet but I might cut the Reality-Competition Poll and end the rest of my Emmy Polling nine days early so I can do the Cancellation Polls that proved so popular last year. No decision yet though.

And now on to the poll results. There were nine votes cast, the most in this polling cycle. Glenn Close (Damages), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and “None of the Above” received no votes (and I think I’ll drop None of the Above from future categories). Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law) had one vote (11% of votes cast), and Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) had three votes (33%). But the winner was Claire Danes (Homeland) with five votes (56%). What’s interesting to me is that all of the votes for Margulies came in in the past three or four days, while the single vote for Kathy Bates was the first vote received. Not sure what, if anything, that means but I found it curious.

For myself, I might have used the “None of the Above” option to deliver a protest vote on behalf of Anna Torv because I love her performance in Fringe (and I admit, I’m a bit smitten with her), but on the whole I think the poll got both the person who will win and the person who should win right when you voted for Claire Danes. I haven’t seen the show, but everything I’ve read indicates that the part of Carrie Mathison in Homeland is an extremely complex one and Danes throws herself into the part. Margulies was last year’s winner, and a deserving one, but I just think that between the subject matter and the intensity of the role, Danes has a part that should win her the Emmy. And as much as I’d like to see Elizabeth Moss (or Anna Torv) win an Emmy, this is just Claire Danes’s year.

New poll up shortly.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Two For One

Two for one is an offer you usually can’t pass up in a store, but when it comes to TV reviews – at least from me – it signifies that all or part of the deal is something you can pass up. You can tell because I’m not spending a lot of time on either show. On Monday night FOX and NVC debuted two summer shows. One is “original” and controversial, and one basically recycles another show that is already on the same network in a different setting. I really didn’t like one but could just about tolerate the other. Neither one is a bad as The Glass House, but that’s not saying a whole hell of a lot.

hotel_hellLet’s start with FOX, and it’s new show Hotel Hell. It’s the recycled one. It takes everything about Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – including Gordon Ramsay – and moves it to hotels with problems. While for most people this may have been the summer of the London Olympics, or the summer of the great heat wave, or the summer of the drought, for FOX this has been the Summer of Ramsay, since this is third Gordon Ramsay series of the summer, joining Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef. Shows from Ramsay’s production company, One Potato Two Potato, occupy almost a third of FOX’s primetime line-up this summer.

How much of a copy of Kitchen Nightmares is Hotel Hell? Probably as close as if Xerox had done it. Honestly, I think that there are more differences between X-Factor and American Idol than there are between these two shows. In Kitchen Nightmares Ramsay goes to a restaurant, samples the substandard product, yells and swears at the usually delusional owner and frequently at the staff, and over the course of a week (condensed into an hour on TV) sets the place to rights and walks away feeling it’s a job well done. The fact that a fairly large number of the restaurants that Ramsay has worked with go broke generally isn’t mentioned unless they’ve gone out of business because they reverted to their old habits and ignored all the improvements that Gordon put in place.

Hotel Hell is pretty much the same thing except maybe spread over two hours instead of one. In the debut episode, Gordon checks into the Juniper Hill Inn in Vermont. Which isn’t actually easy because the obvious front entrance is blocked off – something to do with snow load according to the owner. When Ramsay finally does get in he finds a place stuffed with antiques and art work. He’s taken to a beautiful room…that stinks of backed up sewage, and the owner seems surprised when he asks for a different room. Ramsay then goes down for lunch, only to discover that the chef doesn’t serve lunch. But Gordon prevails and gets a lunch from the dinner menu including a macadamia encrusted rack of lamb that’s virtually raw. In fact the desert is the only thing that’s good, and that’s provided by one of the hotel’s suppliers. There are no prices on the menu except for a note that there is a $15 extra charge for the lamb. Ramsay’s total bill would come to $74 for the meal.

During the course of lunch Ramsay discovers that his server, a 70 year-old woman with a crush on Gordon, he discovers that she has had to argue with the owner to get paid regularly. A survey of most of the staff, including the chef, indicates that none of them have been paid regularly and that where wages are edging close to slave wages; the chef’s salary amounts to about $21,000 a year, and the server seems to paid around $7,000 a year, and their pays is usually days and sometimes weeks late. Where I live would be grounds for a complaint to the Labour Relations Board, but this is Vermont not Saskatchewan. The previous chef, who Ramsay interviews but absolutely refuses to set foot in the Inn even after Ramsay gets finished with it, used to buy produce using her own credit cards and then have to fight the owner to get payment. The owner and his partner (Business and Life) don’t live in the hotel but in a motor home – sorry a motor coach (the owner actually corrects Ramsay on that) – parked next to the hotel, and as a result are virtually unreachable either by staff or by customers. When the owner and his partner are reachable they come across as elitist snobs who regard their staff as beneath them.

But perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the Inn’s estate manager who take Ramsay on a tour of the places the owner probably didn’t want Ramsay to see. There’s the now unused office which looks like a tornado of trash had hit it. There’s the basement which is filled with unused chairs. And there are four storage containers stuffed with antiques and furnishings. While the Inn is being run off of the partner’s salary and savings (and now the partner has lost his job) the owner has tied his savings up in “art”; the stuff in the basement and storage containers which the estate manager estimates is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The episode ends after a disastrous dinner service in the restaurant where the owner and his partner insist on serving all of the guests at once thereby swamping the kitchen and drinks orders don’t get written down so the guests don’t all pay. It’s a disaster and Ramsay tells the owners so in his usual manner.

StarsearnstripesNBC had the controversial new reality-competition series Stars Earn Stripes, and for once a reality show featuring a member of the Palin clan (in this case Sarah’s husband Todd Palin billed here as “four time Iron Dog winner” – the Iron Dog is a 1,000 mile snowmobile race) is not controversial because a member of the Palin clan is in it. No, in this case the controversy started when Sharon Osborne announced that she was quitting as a judge on America’s Got Talent because, she claimed, NBC discriminated against her son Jack because of his recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Jack Osborne was on the shortlist of people who could be on the show but was rejected after his diagnosis, supposedly because of a medical exam for the show. NBC has denied discrimination. The more major controversy took the form of an open letter from nine Nobel Peace Prize recipients including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jodi Williams (the only American of the nine) which demanded that NBC not air the show because, “It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People — military and civilians — die in ways that are anything but entertaining.” Mind you, this was while none of them had even seen an episode of the show.

The show is the product of a collaboration between Dick Wolf (the Law & Order franchise and this fall’s Chicago Fire) and Mark Burnett, the creator of Survivor and The Apprentice (and a number of less successful reality-competition series). The show is hosted by former Dancing With The Stars host Samantha Harris, and former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark. In introducing the show Clark states, “I'm doing this series for one reason to introduce you, the American people, to the individuals that sacrifice so much for all of us.” You will excuse me for being cynical but the fact is that there are far better ways of doing that.

The show features eight celebrities (five men and three women) who are participating for a military or police related charity. They are paired up with eight special forces or law enforcement professionals, known on the show as “operatives.” The teams are:
  • Actor Dean Cain with Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle
  • Skier Picabo Street with Navy Seal Brent Gleason
  • “Outdoorsman” Todd Palin with former Marine and current New York MTA police officer J.W. Cortes
  • Singer/ Actor Nick Lachey with SWAT Commander Tom Stroup
  • Former WWE ”Diva” Eve Torres with Green Beret Grady Powell
  • Biggest Loser trainer Dolvett Quince with Marine Andrew McLaren
  • Former Boxer Laila Ali with Navy Corpsman Talon Smith
  • Action star Terry Crews with Delta Force soldier Dale Comstock

The celebrities meet up with their operatives at a training camp where they will learn about the equipment they’ll be using in a specific “mission” and learn a few techniques, like how to crawl under barbed wire or how to breach a door using a sledge hammer. Then they meet with General Clark in the “command center” to get their mission. In the first mission is called “Amphibious Landing.” The celebrities and their operatives are split into four teams of four for this mission. They have to drop from a helicopter into a lake then swim to a Zodiac inflatable boat. Once aboard the boat they are landed on the beach where they have to avoid a “minefield” and make it to some oil drums. At the oil drums the celebrities first have to use a grenade launcher to destroy a guard tower, and then use their light machine gun and rifle to hit six targets, some man shaped and others circle targets. Once those targets are hit the “operatives each have to hit three “transmitters” each (red light bulbs on top of two electrical cabinets. Once that’s done the teams have to crawl under a barbed wire entanglement and recover a box marked “Ammo” from along the beach. The box must be carried to a shed where the team have to breach the door and put the box inside along with a charge of C4 explosives. Then they are extracted by helicopter, blowing the C4 remotely once they are clear. The two celebrities on the lowest scoring team (aka the slowest team in this case) face off on a “shoot-off” with the slowest person there going home, while the remainder earn a “stripe” and money for their charity.

Or at least that was how it was supposed to go. I won’t go into detail about the competition except to mention that two of the celebrities – Dolvett Quince (teamed with Todd Palin for this mission) and Terry Crews (teamed with Picabo Street) were unable to make it to the Zodiac and had to be rescued with a jet ski. Even though their team mates were able to complete the mission (and I have to say that Todd Palin was sort of impressive carrying the “Ammo” crate along the beach, which was really a mud flat) General Clark decided that  it was only fair that Quince and Crews face each other in the elimination round.

The Elimination was a race between the two men. They first had to breach a door and shoot out six targets, some of which were moving. Quince was slightly ahead after this part of the course. They then moved on to a firing range with targets at various ranges including a large moving target at the far end of the range that blew up when hit properly. Quince finished this part of the race quickly and built up a lead while Crews seemed to be hitting the big target but nothing was happening It took him a long time to realise than instead of firing at the centre mass of the target (as police officers and soldiers are generally taught to do) he needed to go for a head shot for the target to explode. Once he figured this out he moved on to the final part of the race, a sniper test. This was the only part of the course that the “operatives” were able to help their celebrities on, serving as spotters as they shot. The target was a plastic strip which joined two pieces of cable together. At the bottom of the cable was a box that would blow up when it hit the ground. Although Quince had a big lead when he moved to the sniper test he simply could not zero in on the plastic strip. Crews settled in and (apparently) hit his strip with a single shot.Crews won his stripe while Quince was eliminated with some money for his charity, Got Your 6 an entertainment industry campaign that “will help create a new conversation in America, one where veterans and military families are perceived as both leaders and civic assets.”

The celebrities participating in Stars Earn Stripes spend a lot of the show talking about how tough the show is physically (undoubtedly) and how it gives them a idea of what the real life fighting men go through (hardly). In response to the letter from the Nobel Laureates Dean Cain has said, “This whole show is a love song to our men and women in uniform ... We're not trying to glorify war, we're glorifying service.” And while Cain may think it is true, it’s a hard idea to swallow. What the show is depicting isn’t the experience of the average soldier serving in Kandahar  Province. The celebrities aren’t undergoing the experience of an attack by a suicide bomber or an IED exploding as they are driving along a seemingly peaceful road. They don’t find themselves suddenly under attack with little warning or having to take a fortified farmhouse that may or may not be booby trapped. The show is putting the celebrities through a variety of probably simplified versions of special forces training exercises. The celebrities do find themselves under fire and are using real bullets, but whoever is shooting those bullets and setting off those explosions is making a very conscious effort to not hit anything or anyone. Not like the real lives of American servicemen in combat at all.

So there we have it; two new reality shows, one of them a competition (the form I prefer) and the one I like better….is Hotel Hell. Yes, the show is a retread of another – better – show and yes the concept doesn’t tread far from the format of the original, but there is something very reassuring about listening to Gordon Ramsay yelling at people, particularly people who absolutely deserve to be yelled at (like the owner and his partner at the Juniper Hill Inn). One could almost call it satisfying. And that one quality alone, that it satisfies a certain desire to see people who provide bad service yelled at by a person like Ramsay who makes an art-form puts Hotel Hell miles ahead of Stars Earn Stripes.

When it comes down to it, after all of the self justifying statements by the participants, including Wesley Clark’s statement at the beginning, this show isn’t about introducing “you, the American people, to the individuals that sacrifice so much for all of us.” The whole show has the quality of a video game like Call Of Duty, rather than the real life of most of the people in anybody’s military, be it American, Canadian, or British. The “missions” may be adapted from real training missions for special forces, but the way they are presented makes them feel just as real as a mission in a video game, which is to say not real at all. With all due respect to Desmond Tutu and the other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who signed the open letter to NBC, this show doesn’t glorify war by making it a game. Nor is it a “love song” or a love letter to the men and women in uniform. It is a blatant effort to shoot off guns and blow things up for the entertainment of the viewers because of course TV viewers love to see things blow up. I’m most disappointed not with the celebrities who participated in the show or with NBC for airing it or even with Mark Burnett for producing it (although come on Mark, you could have worked harder to get another season of Expedition Impossible on the air; that was a show that I liked). No, I am most disappointed with General Clark for participating in this mess and for trying to justify it. It is beneath what I expect of him, and I can only hope that the paycheque that he got for doing the show was worth the shot to his reputation. This show stinks and my advise to you next week is to watch the combination of Hell’s Kitchen and Hotel Hell instead. Or read a book.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

New Poll-Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama

I’m really doing all of this the night before deadline in hopes that I can get everything posted before I head out for the casino. If you’re reading this before noon on August 8th I succeeded, if it didn’t get posted until the afternoon I failed.

Just to review the rules, simply vote for the actress you think should win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama; not who you think will win but who you think should win. If you vote for “None of the Above” or simply want to express why you think the person you voted for is the most deserving candidate to be the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, post them here. I’ve also included a link below the Poll to make it a bit easier once I post my next Amazing Race recap. I’ll try to run the comments with the next set of results.

Deadline for this poll will be August 17tha at around Noon…ish.

Poll Results-Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy

jim-parsons_lWell at least I know where I stand with this week’s single poll results. No guessing about how many of the voters thought that they were voting for who should win even though the poll sais who would win.

And I certainly know where I – or rather those of you who voted – stand on who should win in this category. And maybe even who you think will win. There were seven votes cast. The following received no votes: Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Jon Cryer (Two And A Half Men), and None of the Above. Louie CK (Louie) received one vote (14%). But the overwhelming winner, with six votes (86%) was last years winner of both the Emmy and this poll, Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory).

From my perspective this is a good choice and pretty much the result I was expecting. Of the shows listed here I I have access to either three or four (I’m not sure if Curb Your Enthusiasm is available on a cable channel I receive) of the nominees. I know that I’ve seen moments of two of them – 30 Rock and Two And A Half Men – but there’s only one that I watch and that is Big Bang Theory. And it needs to be said that a huge reason why I watch the Big Bang Theory is because of Jim Parsons. Granted the show has a nice ensemble cast around it and most of the characters elicit some laughter from me, the one who gets me every time is parsons and his character of Doctor Sheldon Cooper. I love the character’s quirks, his enthusiasms, and most of all when one or more of the other characters one ups him.

I don’t know enough about the other performances, and in particular the performances in the premium cable shows to really offer an opinion. I know that both Alec Baldwin and Jon Cryer have won Emmys in the past – Cryer’s came as a total surprise to everyone, probably including both Alec Baldwin and Cryer’s co-star Charlie Sheen. I also know that Larry David has been nominated five times since 2002 and not won an Emmy. I don’t know much about House of Lies, but I do know some of Don Cheadle’s work, both in comedies and dramas, and I know he’s a very strong actor. As for Louie CK, I know virtually nothing about him but professional critics whose work I respect speak highly of him and the show. I just know the enjoyment I get out of watching Jim Parsons in every episode of Big Bang Theory.

New Poll up shortly…or maybe not since I’m heading out to the casino for a few hours.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Amazing Race–Season 1, Episode 4

This is an unusual episode of The Amazing Race in a couple of ways. For one thing, no one uses the Fast Forward, nor – as far as I can see – is there an envelope for the Fast Forward. This is unusual in the early seasons of the show because Fast Forwards were basically available in every episode of the show. Of course, given the way this episode was set up and the way that Fast Forwards were handled in the first season, having the Fast Forward available might have had a disastrous effect on the dynamics of The Race.

The most unusual thing in this episode though is that nothing happens in the first third of the episode. Well that’s not strictly true. A lot happens, but most of it is personal drama between teams and between teammates. It’s the little things that get to some of them. and it’s easy to put it down to the fatigue of participating in The Race. And you can just guess who is at the centre of some of the biggest drama. Hint: they have a little dog too.

The show opens with the usual recap of the previous episode’s events, and includes an aerial shot of Chateau des-Baux and the town of Les-Baux-des-Provence that does justice to the importance of the place as a feudal era fortification and seat of power for an assortment of barons – robber and otherwise.

The order of departure shows just how big the choice of getting off at Avignon rather than Marseille was for the teams who did that. It also suggests that Kevin & Drew went to Marseille rather than disembarking at Avignon; their lead should have been much bigger than it is if they and the second place team had both disembarked at Avignon simply because Kevin & Drew had less to do in Paris and started earlier – when the tea shop opened – than the other teams. Note also the difference between Dave & Margarhetta, who left Paris between 40 and 50 minutes after the other teams but disembarked at Avignon, and the three teams who went to Paris.
  1. Kevin & Drew – 3:53 a.m.
  2. Frank & Margarita – 4:07 a.m.  +14 minutes
  3. Rob & Brennan – 4:15 a.m.  +22 minutes
  4. Joe & Bill – 5:04 a.m. +1 hour 11 minutes
  5. Dave & Margharetta – 5:47 a.m. +1 hour 54 minutes
  6. Paul & Amie – 6:47 a.m. +2 hours 54 minutes, (1 hour behind Dave & Margharetta)
  7. Lenny & Karyn – 6:48 a.m. +2 hours 55 minutes
  8. Nancy & Emily – 6:49 a.m. +2 hours 56 minutes

So the real difference between going to Avignon and going to Marseille is an hour and a half. If Kevin & Drew went to Avignon instead of Marseille – which I’m assuming due to their arrival time – they would have arrived at 2:23 p.m.

Whose Flag?
Not that it matters of course. The teams’ clue is a picture of a man in a fez – or rather a hat that might be taken for a fez – and the a flag with a red Star & Crescent in a white circle on a red ground. Racers have to travel to the port of Marseille and then travel by ship to the capital of the country whose flag it was. There they’ll find the man standing beneath an arch that vaguely (as in almost not at all) resembles the Arc de Triomphe. Once they greet him with the traditional greeting “a salaam” they’ll get the next clue. Passenger ships aren’t common, Phil informs us, but a savvy team could gain ground by traveling in a cargo ship. Of course, first they have to get to Marseille, which seems to be easier said than done.

The liars are lawyers
Smart teams, knowing that they’re probably going to be leaving Les Baux-des-Provence either arrange to call a cab before they leave the Pit Stop from their hotel rooms (on the producer’s dime one presumes) or go back to their hotel room after being released from the pit stop and call for a cab. Kevin & Drew pre-booked a cab, as do Rob & Brennan. On the other hand Frank & Margarita don’t pre-book a cab. They depart before Rob & Brennan, and disappoint the Lawyers by not reading the clue out loud so they can hear it or showing it to them before the guys themselves are allowed to depart. But Frank & Margarita go to the area where the taxis had left the teams in the previous leg as if expecting that there will be taxis waiting there for them. When the cab that Rob & Brennan have called arrives, they expect that they can just take it. The cab driver insists on seeing passports though, because he has the names of the people he’s picking up, and those names aren’t Frank & Margarita. And when Rob & Brennan try – unsuccessfully as it turns out – to keep their cab driver from calling a cab for the other team, Frank & Margarita explode. Rob & Brennan expect to get help from them but they never offered to pre-book a cab for Frank & Margarita or even mention that they were pre-booking. Then again Frank & Margarita have considered their alliance with the Lawyers to have been over after the incident on the Champs Elysee and have behaved like it. But because of this Frank is able to say, “the Lawyers are liars; the liars are Lawyers.”

Bill & Joe also didn’t pre-book their cab, but they are smart enough to head back to their hotel room and call for a cab after they got their instructions. And Dave & Magharetta have a pre-booked cab as well. Things are a little bit different for Paul & Amie. They’ve called and arranged a cab the night before but some reason – whether they weren’t there when the cab arrived or the cab simply wasn’t sent – there was no cab for them. Maybe Lenny & Karyn, who are seen getting into a cab and don’t relate details of how they called it took Paul & Amie’s cab. They see a cab arrive, but Nancy & Emily are there first. They believe it is the cab that they pre-booked, but Paul & Amie are sure it is theirs. They don’t show the driver checking passports, but from Paul & Amie’s demeanour you can tell that it is in fact Nancy & Emily’s cab. Unlike the Lawyers they do allow – maybe even encourage – the driver to call for a cab for Paul & Amie. But the whole incident provokes yet another round of Paul giving up and saying I quit, let’s go home. (for those keeping score this is three out of the first four episodes – he was quite happy in the third episode.

All of this sturm & drang about cabs doesn’t really matter of course. They have to travel by ship to the destination on the flag. There are a variety of guesses about whose flag it is. Kevin & Dew are certain that it’s Algeria having been told by a girl at the port of Marseille that it’s the flag of her country (the Algerian flag has a red star and crescent moon on a green and white background). Another team guesses Morocco (a five pointed red star on a green background) while Dave is sure that it is Turkey (closest of all; a white star and crescent moon on a red field). The correct answer is…….Tunisia. As it happens, there’s a ferry to Tunisia that very day, and while Phil does a voice-over suggesting that teams that were daring might get there faster if they booked passage on a cargo ship, none of the teams seems interesting in taking the risk. And that leads to the big blowout of the episode, the affair of the tickets.

My favourite shot of Dave & Margharetta
It all started when Bill & Joe arrived at the ferry terminal. They’re able to sense the animosity between teams and between teammates. The latter is particularly obvious with Lenny & Karyn. As is their habit they get in line at the ticket counter even though there’s no one there yet. as a result when the clerk arrives they are the first to try to arrange their passage. What they want is a private room where they can get some rest and strategize on their own. When the ticket agent mentions that if they’re travelling as a group there could be substantial savings. On his own, without being asked by the others, Bill decided to make the arrangements for the whole group because he spoke French; or as Margarita put it “Bill decided to be the martyr….” When the tickets came out they were misnumbered, and as Bill put it, “Margarita started screaming for her ticket.” Except that from what we see in the episode it doesn’t sound like Margarita is screaming. She just thinks that there is a better way for Bill to distribute the tickets. Bill interviews rather self-righteously that he could have torn up the tickets if he wanted to and left the other teams to their own devices. He further explains that his purpose in handling the negotiations, and in French was to keep the other teams off balance; as he put it “control the game, play the game our way….Of course, we’re playing them like a violin.” This may also explain why, once the ferry sails they isolate themselves from the other teams. While everyone else dines at a communal table and talks together, Team Guido sits at a table that, in a pinch, might have seated four people.

At this point about a third of the episode has passed, and there haven’t been any “action” in terms of tasks for the players. We’ve seen team wait for taxis, try to figure out the country the flag belongs to, wait at the ferry terminal, and talk about their relationships. And yet as we’ve seen the interlude is not without drama. Even Phil comments on this, before asking the rhetorical question of whether “any of them really ready for the strange and unusual things they’ll find in North Africa.”

The first thing they have to do is find the man in the photograph. He’s standing under or near the Porte de France or the Bab El Bahr, as it is known in Arabic. First they have to get there and that means the usual taxi race from the port, with teams urging their drivers to go faster and to drive more recklessly than they’d be happy with in their normal lives. this leads to some near collisions since the Tunisian drivers aren’t exactly cautious at the best of times. The teams arrive at the gate at roughly the same time and after greeting the man they’re looking for with the traditional greeting “a salaam” they get their next clue. It’s a Detour; the choice is Full Bodied Brew or Full Body Massage.

In Full Body Brew, the teams have to enter the Medina or old Arabic quarter of Tunis find a specific coffee shop and order two cups of coffee. The problem is that the only way they have to identify the coffee shop is through a photograph. In Full Body Massage teams have to enter the Medina and find a Turkish Bath. The location of the Turkish Bath is clearly marked on a large tourist map of the Medina, however to get the clue both players have to submit to a 20 minute Turkish massage. Teams taking Full Body Massage have to hope that teams taking the Full Bodied Brew option will take more than 20 minutes to find the coffee shop. Needless to say virtually every team decides to go for Full Bodied Brew. The only exception is Paul & Amie and their decision seems to be totally based on Amie wanting a massage.

Of course it helps that the teams all find hordes of local youths – and some not so youthful – idling about on the streets and willing to help them. This was ten years before the Tunisian Revolution which unseated the dictator Zine El Abidine ben Ali, but the most basic seeds of the revolution are here; youth unemployment. How else do you explain so many young people (men mostly) with time to spare to help these Americans find a coffee house – or a Turkish massage – in the marketplace at the middle of the day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you’re a pretty girl –Nancy theorized that the reason the group of boy who helped them were willing to take them where they wanted to go was because they thought Emily was cute – or a couple of handsome guys, since Rob & Brennan were the only ones to get female guides who were also quite cute.

The teams arrive at the cafe, and get their coffee and their clue. Some of them like Drew, even drink the coffee, but it seems like there were a lot of full cups left on the tables. The order of departure from the cafe was Rob & Brennan, Lenny & Karyn, Kevin & Drew, Frank & Margharetta, Nancy & Emily, Bill & Joe, and Frank & Margarita. The clue they get is a cigarette lighter with the name El Jem and the picture of a “coliseum” (actually a Roman amphitheatre) with the words “Go here” on the back. Their destination is the town of El Jem (or El Djem according to Wikipedia) and the old Roman coliseum.

Paul's masage
Meanwhile Paul & Amie find the Turkish Massage place. Each has to take off their clothes and wrap up in a towel. Then they go into the main area of the building where they’re given their massages. Amie’s massage seems quite gentle, to the point that when Paul gets the clue after the 20 minutes is up, she doesn’t seem anxious to go, she’s been enjoying it so much. Paul on the other hand didn’t enjoy it one little bit. His massage, administered by a rather beefy man, sees him bent and twisted and pulled, and “no oil.” He’s more than happy to get back on the road with the El Jem cigarette lighter.

There are two ways for the teams to get to El Jem. Taking a taxi is faster but more expensive. Taking the train is cheaper but slower. Most teams decide that taking a taxi would be better. The only teams to opt for the train are Rob & Brennan – taking the advice of their female guides – and Lenny & Karyn. The rest of the teams head out of the marketplace with their guides and find cabs. More specifically, it seems, they have to find cabs that are licensed to operate between towns. Bill & Joe once again build on their reputation. While Nancy & Emily are trying to give their young guides some money for helping them, and trying to make them understand that they need to split the money, Bill & Joe yell at their cab driver to drive through them, which isn’t exactly popular with the crowd.

A bigger problem faces another team though. Dave & Margharetta get a cab but discover that he’s only taking them to a place where other cabs that will take them to El Jem are located. And he wants to be paid. He wants to be paid in Dinars – the local currency – which Dave & Margharetta don’t have. They have American Dollars since the teams are given funds in Dollars at the start of each stage, but they forgot or didn’t know where to exchange their money. The try to exchange money on the street but get an offer of 1 Dinars to the Dollar rather than the official rate of 1.6 Dinars. They seem to believe that it is illegal to exchange currency on the street, and that may well be the case. Alternatively the guy might just have been trying to make a profit off of the desperate Americans. There’s a bank nearby…but it’s closed. Finally they were able to get enough Dinar from a young man to pay the taxi driver and be on their way.

The first team to arrive at El Jem are Team Guido. At the entrance to the Amphitheatre is a clue box. It’s a Roadblock with the clue “Not for anyone whose afraid of the dark.” Bill decides to do it and opens the full clue. Taking a torch the person doing the Roadblock has to proceed in a clockwise direction into the tunnels of the building to find a staircase to the lower level of the amphitheater where gladiators and wild animals were kept while waiting to enter the games. Once at the lower level they have to find a sword hanging from a rope over the “Pit Of Death.” They then have to make their way up to the main level and find a table with the sheaths for the swords. Sheathing their swords completes the Roadblock. The last team to do that will be eliminated because the end of this Roadblock is also the Pit Stop for this leg.

Nancy & Emily are the next team to arrive followed soon after by Kevin & Drew. Emily and Drew decide to do the task. Joe is still outside the Coliseum and “helpfully” instructs Emily as to which way is clockwise. She’s still looking for the stairs when Bill finds the swords at the Pit Of Death. There is a high metal fence there with sharp points at the top. presumable to deter tourists from climbing up to look down into the Pit of Death. There are long wooden poles with a hook at one end for teams to recover the swords but they’re not right beside the pit. Bill figures this out and hooks the rope for the sword. Once he has the clue and the sword he makes his way back to the main floor, finds the table and sheaths his sword…with a certain degree of pomposity on Team Guido’s part.

Emily sets fire to a World Heritage Site
Meanwhile Emily has somehow managed to set a small part of a stone wall on fire and attempts (presumably successfully) to put it out with her feet. Drew does the task for his team and is having the same trouble getting to the lower level as the others. In “talking” to Emily he learns that there’s a staircase to the lower levels but considers jumping down (definitely not a good idea). he eventually finds it and once he and Emily are united they decide to work together to the point where, once they get the swords (with the pole) they run to the Pit Stop together, with Drew carrying the torches and Emily carrying both swords. They are the second an third teams to arrive.

You think maybe a sign would have helped?
Frank & Margarita and Paul & Amie are the next to arrive.They’re looking for the swords – according to the way the episode is edited at least – even as Rob & Brennan and Lenny & Karyn arrive at the El Jem train station. For most people the name “Pit of Death” and the four feet high iron fence with the spikes on the top would be sufficient warning that people like UNESCO and the producers and whoever administers the El Jem Amphitheater locally didn’t want you climbing up and trying to balance yourself over said pit to retrieve a sword tied over it,  but it’s not a deterrent for several of our contestants. Frank finds the swords and climbs over the fence – getting this sweatshirt caught up on the spikes on top of it and sheathes his sword in fourth place. Still, Amie hasn’t found the Pit of Death by the time Brennan reaches the lower level and they both retrieve the swords, by climbing over the fence of course. Paul & Amie finish in fifth because Rob calls Brennan over as he’s about to sheath his sword. As for Lenny, he eventually finds the Pit of Death and even figures out that you could use the poles to get the swords without standing over something called the Pit of Death.

This leaves David & Margharetta of course. When they get there Lenny is still looking for the swords (he pronounces the “w”), so there’s a bit of hope. But David heads in the wrong direction; counter-clockwise instead of clockwise (and remember this man was a fighter pilot with over a hundred combat missions over Vietnam) and then has trouble finding the passage to the lower level. So we’re aware that Lenny has found his sword and sheathed it – dramatically – well before Dave even gets to the lower level. Margharetta expresses some initial hope, but you can see her counting the sheathed swords and working out that they’re going to be eliminated (since at this point no one knows that there are non-elimination legs). Even as Dave uses the pole, left there by Lenny to retrieve his sword. Their departure from The Race is greeted with genuine emotion from the teams – Frank & Margarita, Paul & Amie, Lenny & Karyn, and Rob & Brennan – who are still at the Pit Stop. Even Phil seems a bit unhappy to eliminate them.

Order of finish:
  1. Joe & Bill
  2. Kevin & Drew
  3. Nancy & Emily
  4. Frank & Margarita
  5. Paul & Amie
  6. Rob & Brennan
  7. Lenny & Karyn
  8. Dave & Margharetta – Philiminated

– In his book My Ox Is Broke, author Adam Troy-Castro claims that Nancy & Emily took Paul & Amie’s cab, but Nancy quite clearly states that they called for a cab and Paul & Amie called for one. Meanwhile we have no knowledge of whether Lenny & Karyn pre-booked a cab but there was one waiting for them. Is it possible that Lenny & Karyn got Paul & Amie’s cab? Mmmm could be.

– So why no Fast Forward this leg? Well here’s my theory. In this season of the race Fast Forwards are delivered with the first clue envelope. In this case that would be in France and would most likely involve a task in France. Once the task is completed teams are free to travel to the Pit Stop by whatever means available. So the clue revealed by the Fast Forward would be along the lines of “Now travel to the Pit Stop in El Jem Tunisia. They don’t give instructions on how to travel there, so you would expect a team who used the Fast Forward to travel to Paris – or even Marseille – from wherever they were doing the Fast Forward, fly to Tunis and then take a cab to the amphitheatre at El Jem. Meanwhile the other teams have to travel to Marseille, then take an eighteen hour boat trip to Tunis, complete the coffee/massage Detour Travel to El Jem and do the Roadblock. This would have given the team doing the Fast Forward an advantage that would be nearly insurmountable for some time at least for a long time in race terms or perhaps not at all. There would be a couple of minor instances of this in the second episode and in at least one episode later in the series. Of course what they could have done was to give the Fast Forward clue out once the teams reached their man in Tunis, and in fact that’s what they would do in later editions of The Race.

– The Porte de France is a rather interesting relic of the French colonial period. although the show describes it as a miniature replica of the Arc de Triomphe, the actual structure predates the Arc de Triomphe. It was one of the gates of the original Arabic city and was originally connected to houses on either side which formed the city walls in that area. That particular gate led to the sea, hence the name Bab el Bahr or “Gate to the Sea”. When the French colonized Tunis, they tore down the houses on either side of the gate and made it the boundary between the old city and the new European city that they built.

– In a way I can actually understand Paul’s position even if I can’t sympathise. For the most part his concerns are about Amie’s reactions to The Race. As he says, this is her baby; he didn’t want to do it. He’s pissed because there seems to be something on every leg that is making her unhappy and as far as he’s concerned winning a million dollars isn’t worth her being as emotional as she’s being. All he wants, he says, is for her to be happy, and so far as he can tell being on The Race isn’t making her happy. What he seems to be missing is that between times when she’s angry and frustrated and “unhappy” she is having a tremendous amount of fun. She’s enjoying the adventure way more than he is, and I can’t help but wonder if his concern for Amie’s emotions isn’t masking his own desire to be at home living his everyday life,and that he has a lower “adventure desire” than she does.

– There are a couple of commentaries on the stress of The Race in this episode. On the boat Margharetta, who is one of the most calm and level headed of the people in this Race, even including her husband interviews that the stress is getting to a lot of people, who are reacting in ways they normally wouldn’t. It’s Nancy who has the most poignant comment on things. Interviewing apart from Emily, because she thinks it would embarrass her: “This is hard, with people saying bad things. The language I’m hearing, I don’t like. The back-stabbing, the viciousness, I don’t like it. And  can’t get away from it.”

– Going with Full Bodied Brew was definitely the right choice for the teams but it might not have been if circumstances had been different. If there hadn’t been local people willing and able to help the Racers find the coffee shop, or if the instructions for the task had said that they couldn’t get help from the locals beyond asking for directions things might have been significantly different. It has in fact a complaint from some fans of the show over the years that teams shouldn’t be able to get help from the locals to either be led to a location or help in completing a task. It was particularly strong in the Seventh Season when, on at least three occasions, Rob & Amber had people stay with them most of the day because they recognised the couple from their recent time on Survivor (and in southern Africa from having their faces on a popular magazine). On the other hand it’s an aspect of The Race that is either unforseeable, unexpected or sometimes unavoidable.

– In Roman times El Jem was the Roman city of Thysdrus, which was one of the principal cities – after Roman Carthage – in the Roman province of Africa. The Amphitheatre, built in 238 AD is considered to be one of the most complete examples of the Roman construction to survive, although much stone from the building was taken to build houses in the town and the Grand Mosque in Kairouan. Other damage was inflicted in a revolt against Ottoman authorities. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site (so it might not have been a good idea for Emily to set fire to it).

– Team Guido’s strategy for the trip to Tunis is, to my mind, bizarre. They may think that they’ve got some great master plan to divide and conquer, and to keep the other tems off balance and marching to their drummer, but viewed from an outside perspective it comes across as yet more hubris – assuming that they were superior to the other teams and that they could make them dance to their tune. What in fact they accomplished was to give most of the teams a common goal, to eliminate Bill & Joe from The Race. In a clip not aired on the show, Kevin & Drew stated that the biggest party imaginable would happen if “Bert & Ernie” were eliminated at the next Pit Stop. And, I think that the animosity that the teams felt was also felt by the show’s viewers. They wanted The Guidos to get their comeuppance as much as some of the teams did.

– Ratings for this episode which aired on October 3, 2001 were down again to a 5.7/10. The West Wing won the night with their “Terrorism Special” which has a rating of 18.0/26, whiile ABC’s Drew Carey Show had a 7.0/10. The second half hour on ABC was Carey’s improv series Who’s Line Is It Anyway which earned a 5.9/8.

– Margharetta Groark, who was 59 when she appeared on The Amazing Race passed away in 2008 following a long battle with cancer at age 67.