I am, by nature, a solitary creature, and this is especially true while I'm at work. I do chat with my co-workers, and time permitting, I do enjoy the occasional lunch breaks with them. However, I rarely if ever accept invitations for get-togethers outside of work.
But there are three types of invitations from co-workers that I never accept:
(1) any party involving drugs;
(2) any invitations to come see their collection of anime;
(3) and I would never, ever play paintball with them.
Paintball seems to be the bonding experience of choice among certain people that I encounter.
"Paintball, paintball!" they'll say excitedly. "Let's go out this weekend and play paintball! Do you have your own gun yet?"
"Well, let me see," I reply. "You want to know if I want to wake up before dawn on Saturday, meet with you and a bunch of your dorky friends I don't even know, wear a white-colored potato sack and run around in the woods, all the while people jump out from behind trees and bushes and try to shoot me with painful projectiles made out of a colored substance? Is that what you want me to do?"
My coworker: "[...] A yes or no would do."
Lest you think me anti-social and cruel, perhaps reading about Teams Concad and Femron's experiences with paintball may change your mind.
You Are Cordially Invited
Rise and shine, Femron and Concad! It's morning, and Concad team member Kerry is padding around the penthouse in her sleep clothes. She congratulates herself for surviving in the IOCOR conference room against Tonia.
Damian commends Kerry for evolving from a Kerry-centric player into more of a team player.
The viewers are rescued from listening to the players squabble or spew more platitudes by a messenger who delivers a note from Mr. Todd.
Whitney reads the note to the other players. Mr. Todd has invited them all to a retreat at his lake house.
For some reason, this elicits squeals of joy from the players, who are unusually happy that they're going to a corporate retreat.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Todd tells the viewers that corporate retreats are often filled with "boring crap," but he smirks and promises that he has a different agenda planned for Concad and Femron.
I'm with you, Mr. Todd. I've only been to one retreat. I was in high school, and the retreat was put on by our local Rotary Club to help "young people succeed in the world of business."
It was one of the most boring events I've ever attended.
I did, however, get to sleep and eat and meet people on the Rotary Club's tab, which taught me one important business lesson: If presented with the chance to go on a boondoggle, go for it. And that's a lesson I've never forgotten. (Thanks, Rotary Club! Feel free to use my comments as a testimonial in your next newsletter!)
Domo Arigato, Todd-san
Mr. Todd invites the team members of Concad and Femron to dine with him after they arrive at his lake house.
As the contestants arrive at the dinner table, things are not what one may expect.
For one thing, the table is a low Japanese table, and everyone is expected to sit cross-legged or kneel in front of the table, per Japanese tradition.
As this room seems to be a formal dining room, I'm surprised no one asks Mr. Todd if the Japanese table is a permanent fixture in his home.
Now, having spent 94 percent of my entire life in the United States, I'm as American as the next person, so I, too, am both fascinated and horrified (often both) with stories about authentic Japanese dining, as you are probably aware that most of the Chinese food and Japanese food we eat here in the States is culturally adjusted to be more suitable for the Western palate.
I have heard stories that would turn your stomach and are not suitable for this forum, but the story that most fascinated me has to do with an American co-worker of mine who served in the US military, stationed in Japan. According to him, one of the best breakfasts you can buy in Japan is at--wait for it--Denny's. Yes, that Denny's. This gentleman went on at great length about a rice dish. He must have loved it very much because he described it in great detail until tears nearly welled up in his eyes.
I nodded and asked him, "So what do they call it? The 'Tempura Slam'?"
To this day, I remain on his list of people he would kill if he should ever flip out.
(And, now, back to the regularly scheduled recap.)
After dinner, Mr. Todd discusses a Japanese associate who introduced him to the Japanese concept of "Non-barrier worker feedback." (I don't know. I'm no expert on the Japanese language, but that sounds awfully a lot like English to me.)
According to Todd, in Japan supervisors treat their employees to a night on the town, and during the course of the night, the employees are allowed to criticize their supervisors and say anything on their minds without fear of reprisal.
Say, isn't that something? We have something like that, too, in the United States, only here we call it "getting 'faced at the annual Christmas party."
(And, oh, how I've longed for the day that I can tell my boss he's a "fat mental midget with the English comprehension skills of a four-year-old and the tiniest manhood in recorded history," but for now, I'll have to stick to writing that in my blog.)
Mr. Todd looks to his left and offers David the chance to speak first.
David thinks carefully and comments that with Mr. Todd, there's "too much focus on power and money."
Todd asks David, "So I'm a greed-driven whore?"
I sense that this is not going well, but David impresses me. He impresses the hell out of me with his cannonball cajones. Instead of backing off, David adds, "That was my first impression."
Todd replies, "I appreciate that."
"I appreciate that" and "Thank you" are going to be his stock phrases as he takes hit after hit from Concad and Femron.
With David having broken the silence, the other team members follow his lead.
Robert tells Todd that the stunt on the golf course "really pissed [him] off." Annette calls him "a bit arrogant." (A "bit"?!) Damian, when given a chance to lash out at the boss, comes up with something feeble about IOCOR's business plan. Most early stage firms want to stay out of the public eye, blah blah, but why is IOCOR using this show for PR...? etc., etc.
Right around this point, I realize something: I don't like Damian very much. This won't be the last time that he pulls a stunt like this, a stunt that is familiar to every kiss-ass high school junior/senior or first-year college student: He's not asking a question because he wants an answer; he's asking because he wants to show off how much he knows. (Weasel.)
Douglas comes up with a head-scratcher: Todd didn't name his net worth. Gee, Doug, what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Or the price of candy bars on The Apprentice?
Michael scores a laugh with Todd when he mentions the golf course (like Robert did) but adds: "You pulled a JV [junior varsity] move, and you should be varsity. And don't patronize me by saying 'Thank you.'" (It sounds like Michael is riding the "no repercussions" train to the end of the line.)
Todd's response to Michael is, of course, "Thank you."
Behind the scenes, Mr. Todd grins and promises that payback's going to be "a bitch."
Bacon, Eggs...and Boobs
The next morning, the men come outside the lake house to the sight of a personal chef grilling steaks and bacon. They are duly impressed, and as a man, I understand how they feel. I, too, have often dreamed of walking outside my house first thing in the morning to the sight of a cook preparing steak, eggs and bacon.
Robert remarks, "That bacon was awesome" in the same tones that some people reserve for religious conversions. But again, I understand how he feels. Bacon, along with butter and cheese, is truly one of the great culinary guilty pleasures. It ranks right up there with picking off the toppings from a pizza.
It's boys-only at the breakfast table, and Todd tells the viewers that this should give them a chance for some "male bonding." I don't know where the women are, but I imagine they are wearing satin lingerie and having a huge pillow fight. I don't understand why they had to be excluded, though. After all, I know many women who are just as enthusiastic about steak and eggs as men are.
Leave it to Damian to ruin a perfectly good session of male bonding. He wants to know what the "investment horizons" are for IOCOR. To those of you who actually care, Todd tells Damian that it's ten years. (Whatever the hell all that means.)
I have "investment horizons," too, you know. If I invest wisely and carefully, I think I can afford a cheeseburger for lunch this Friday. But that's just a wistful, long-range goal.
Like me, Mr. Todd doesn't want to talk about "investment horizons." Mr. Todd wants to talk about boobs.
He tells the guys that he feels like a "wolf in the henhouse" around the women participating on this show and makes a particular comment about the size of Whitney's breasts.
Robert jumps in with "I've seen them...and felt them!"
Now, I should tell those of you who are not watching this show that Robert's a short kid. His eyes are about chest level with Whitney's body, which may explain how he "saw and felt" her boobs. If he turned too quickly while she was standing behind him, he would be face-to-boobs with Whitney. And if he turned real quickly, his face would be planted between her boobs, which would explain how he "felt" them.
Or maybe I'm just jealous and have spent too much time thinking about this. (Nah.)
Other David (Mr. Todd's "assistant") pipes up but has no comments about women or their boobs. Other David wants to know what Damian does to warm up for a workout and when and where Mamma Mia is playing in Chicago. (It's playing all this month at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts...What? Why are you looking at me like that?)
After breakfast, Mr. Todd invites the guys out for a little three-on-three basketball game. It's Mr. Todd, Douglas and Mike versus David, Damian and Robert.
Todd looks terrible on the court. He's getting shoved around like a first-grader with glasses and can't make a shot to save his life.
Behind the scenes, August, the actor playing Mr. Todd, confesses that he's "holding back and not showing his best stuff." His "best stuff" comes from his years of playing pro basketball in Europe, apparently.
Look, being a good basketball player in Europe is like being the fastest sprinter at the convalescent home: It's something I wouldn't brag about. (And no comments, please, about the US Men's Olympic Basketball Team. It didn't happen, okay? It didn't happen.)
After the first three-on-three game, Mr. Todd wants to know if anyone wants to play a little one-on-one for $1,000. David gamely steps up to the challenge, and Robert wants a piece of the action for $500.
David scoffs at the fact that Mr. Todd is in his 50's and he's a fit under-25.
The game will go to the first player to make 11 baskets, and at first, the score is pretty close. But around the time that it's three-all, Mr. Todd starts trash-talking David. He trash-talks David something rotten. If trash-talking were art, Todd would be Dogs Playing Poker or a velvet Elvis--in other words, a masterpiece done by a master.
Todd calls David a "bitch," "his girlfriend" and "girly." He wants to know if David needs "Eco-Pons" for virility. Surprisingly, David is unable to shut out Todd's abuse, and the final score is 11-6 in Todd's favor.
The Paintball Challenge
Teams Concad and Femron are ordered to report out on the lawn of the Todd Estate in full business attire.
Jamie and Other David meet the two teams and Other David offers the following: When you're a boss, people will try to take you down, and you need to surround yourself with people who would take a bullet for you.
Say what? Listen, if I saw my boss changing a flat tire on the side of the road, I wouldn't slow down to see if he needs help, much less take a bullet for him!
After David's ridiculous announcement, Mr. Todd comes marching toward the two teams, dressed in khaki fatigues and carrying a semi-automatic paintball gun.
The challenge is this: the two teams must protect their team boss from being shot by Todd as the boss navigates an obstacle course and performs a series of typical business duties.
This is one of those "so ludicrous, it's funny" moments of television. First of all, the idea that anyone would "take a bullet" for his or her boss in the "real" corporate world is hilarious enough, but here you have a genuine physical challenge based on that very shaky premise. It's brilliant and very, very funny.
First up is Femron, and the challenge is to protect Annette (just appointed team boss) from Mr. Todd's assault.
Michael, Douglas and Whitney (1) burst through a door and usher Annette into a (2) waiting limo. At the next station, Annette manages to (3) sign some paperwork without being shot. Next, she either has to (4) fax or photocopy the paperwork. (The team members say "photocopy," but gee, that looks like a fax machine to me.)
This is where the team first runs into trouble. As Annette is handling the last page, the machine gives a paper jam. Damn paper jams! Who hasn't had one? See, Xerox, Brother, HP and Lexmark? I wrote and told you that someday, paper jams would end up killing someone, but you never believed me. Maybe you'll believe now.
The paper jam is finally cleared, and the team proceeds to (5) file the paperwork. As they (6) head for the finish line, Annette gets hit. Once hit, the entire team has to return to the last station and start over again.
On their second attempt, the team makes it past the finish line. Todd scores one point against Femron.
Concad's David, Robert and Damian envelop Kerry as part of their strategy with David staying low to take most of the hits. (It's an usual strategy, and I don't understand why David doesn't simply stand up.)
David takes hit after hit and yells "Dang it!" and "Frick!" And that's not editing on my part to keep this recap clean. David never uses foul language but does repeat "dang" and "frick" a lot, so much that my brain gets mixed up and starts to think that this is some form of cursing.
Ten feet from the finish line, Concad takes their first hit, on nearly the same spot where Femron took their one and only hit. Concad eventually makes it on the second attempt, just like Femron.
Todd assembles both teams to announce the results, and since both teams each only took one hit, it's a tie.
The tie-breaker consists of each team choosing one player to handle the paintball gun. The shooter has ten shots to hit a briefcase set out as a target. The shooter who hits the briefcase the most will win the challenge for his or her team.
Mike shoots for Femron and makes half his shots: 5 out of 10.
Rob, the ex-military contestant, steps up and takes aim. Apparently, Mike has learned something from Mr. Todd about trash-talk and head games because he counts off each shot that Rob fires.
Rob manages to hit 4 out of his 10 shots, losing the challenge by 1 point to Femron.
It's...an...Interesting...Elim ination...Session (Five Words)
In the conference room, the first thing that Todd does is collect $500 each from David and Robert from the wager he made with them over his one-on-one game with David.
"Good game," David says, to which Todd replies, "Candy from a baby."
Todd begins his weekly lecture on corporate culture by admiring the "loyalty, selflessness and trust" that he witnessed during the challenge but then quickly dismisses those qualities as "temporary assets."
He tells Concad that Jamie and Other David would take a bullet for him, but they would also shoot him in the back to get ahead.
"I mistrust them, and that's why I trust them."
This corporate paradox brings nothing but frowns around the table, and rightfully so. It sounds like the reason one of my crazy ex-girlfriends gave me for our break-up: "I trust you, which is why I can't trust you." (Ah, dating in college. Good times, good times.)
Todd tells Kerry to name two people for elimination, and she names David and Robert.
After Kerry and Damian leave, Todd tells David and Robert that he once heard that the greatest ideas can be expressed in only a few words and therefore, they have to keep their responses under five words. Watching David and Robert--who are both generally nice guys--struggle with this challenge reminds me of a similar challenge issued by Mr. Burns on The Simpsons with results just as hilarious as we're about to see.
Todd asks David what his personal mission statement is. David thinks, and you can almost see on his face that he's doing a mental word count to make sure he doesn't exceed five words.
"To impact peoples' lives," David finally answers.
"Who cares?" Todd asks.
Another long pause, and David answers, "I care...to fully utilize my strengths." (At this point, I'm almost falling out of my chair since David proclaims this with such earnestness under such difficult conditions.)
Jamie snaps, "Try again!", perhaps noticing, like I have, that David exceeded his five-word cap.
"I care...and you care." (I have tears in my eyes from laughing at this point.)
Todd puts the same question to Robert: What is your personal mission statement?
Robert's had more time to think, but the best he can come up with is: "To have fun in life."
Why do you want a job?
"To make lots of money," Robert replies.
The same question is put to David, who replies "I now respect the boss." Once again, David has me in stitches.
Todd doesn't let him off that easily. Once again, he asks, "So what?" and David replies, "I like following good leaders."
"So what?" Todd again hits David.
"To utilize our greatest strengths."
I guess Todd doesn't care this is a non sequitur because he lets them off the hook.
Todd next asks them to tell him something they wish they'd already told him.
Robert: "In business, I'm your man."
David: "I want more than money."
Todd dismisses them into reception and tells Other David, "Time to see the boss." (Yes, five words.)
Todd confers with the Mystery Boss and returns to the conference room.
"Go...get...the...young...men," he quips, ticking off the number of words on his fingers.
"Me go get them now," Other David replies with a smirk.
Okay, say what? First of all, that sentence can be reduced to even less than five words ("I'll get them"). Secondly, you can be grammatically correct and still use that sentence: I'll go get them now instead of Me go get them now. This brings me to one inescapable conclusion: the other David is a complete moron.
When David and Robert return, Mr. Todd tells them that now that they've had a chance to criticize him, he's going to enjoy the same opportunity, and he expects them to give the same answer he did: "Thank you. I appreciate that."
He tells David that he's easily distracted and judging from his reaction to getting trashed in basketball, "You're not a 'clutch' performer."
He adds to that by telling David that he's "educated, handsome and too nice" and insists that nice guys do finish last.
Amazingly, what strikes me about this scene is that (1) "don't be too nice" and "don't get distracted in a high pressure situation" are very valid (if obvious) pieces of business advice, and that (2) said advice is probably better than all of Donald Trump's platitudes combined after two seasons of The Apprentice.
Mr. Todd tells Robert that he has a tendency to run his mouth and that "Big mouths can blow big deals."
"It's been fun, Bob," Todd tells Robert. "Get the hell out of my office."
As Robert leaves the offices of IOCOR, he continues to muse about Mr. Todd's "I trust them/I don't trust them" paradox.
"Trust-not-trust is asinine," Robert correctly points out.
Next week: We may not know a lot about art, but we know it when we see it made out of garbage.