Race to the Altar 8/6/03 Recap: Balls, Chains, and Commitment Pains
Race to the Altar 8/6/03 Recap
Balls, Chains, and Commitment Pains
Who says large companies don’t give a hoot about the environment? Just take a look at NBC! They’re so committed to ecological concerns that they are known to recycle on a regular basis. On “Race to the Altar,” NBC doesn’t just recycle centuries of shopworn wedding clichés, but also every Reality TV cliché in the book. Think you’ve seen it all before? You surely have, and most likely on some other TV program. Vegas (Baby!), limousines, roses, formal wear, “Power Couple” immunity, “Commitment” alliances, solemn elimination ceremonies, tears, scheming and fondant iced cakes (yes, I was recently a bride—because who else other than recent brides or wedding industry professionals know what the hell “fondant” is?)…and this is just the opening credits!
So why bother to watch? If you’re me, it’s because you’ve foolishly committed yourself to recapping the entire season of this program. Or maybe, just maybe, deep down inside your hard, cynical, media-jaded exoskeleton beats the heart of a true romantic that desperately wants to believe in real love and hopes each and every one of these young couples succeeds not only in the game, and in celebrating the wedding of their dreams, but ultimately in building a joyous life together. Or maybe you don’t have cable, and the only channel that comes in decently is NBC. But I digress.
The Remains of the Day
Romping about during the credits in soft-focus slow-mo, are all the couples in wedding gowns and tuxes, who do all admittedly look really cute together, including even Jessica & Scott (despite their having gotten the boot last week). The couples who remain in play are: Grace & Robert, Susan & Coyt, Caroline & Ethan, Cindy & Chris, Tonya and Andree, April & Vinny, and Becca & Andy.
The Morning After
The episode proper begins the morning after the first Altar Ceremony that eliminated lawyers Jessica and Scott, with the couples back in their suites at the Venetian discussing their feelings about what happened on the previous episode. Cindy and Chris describe the ceremony as “hard” and “emotional” over black-and-white flashbacks of teary-eyed contestants. Tonya and Andree express that the first ceremony was especially difficult for them, despite the fact that both Power Couples were from their commitment, because they didn’t know if Susan, Coyt, Becca and Andy would “hold their word”. “A lot more nervousness was then than it is now,” a self-assured Andree says.
Then there is of course the requisite ‘fun in the sun’ poolside montage (i.e. transparent excuse to see everybody in their bathing suits), replete with shots of the girls sunbathing and the boys rough-housing in the pool. We see a relaxed and confident Andy shoot a basket during a game of in-pool hoops, as his voiceover informs that he feels pretty good from where he’s sitting, in the “catbird seat” as he calls it, due to the commitments that he has. I'd warn him not to get too comfy.
Susan declares that she and Coyt are in a commitment with three other couples; namely, Andy and Becca, Andree & Tonya, Ethan & Caroline. According to Susan, “April and Vinny are on the chopping block” because despite April’s injury, they are a strong couple. Cut to Vinny saying that he wouldn’t be surprised if they were eliminated, as the in-room cam shows us scenes of him in heated discussion with April over the severity of her injury, and notifying her that it’s medication time.
Oh Yes, It’s Ladies’ Night
Later that evening, in a bald attempt for the producers to drum up some action, the would-be brides and grooms are both sent out for a separate “Girls’ and Boys’ Night Out”. Here is a handy comparison chart of the evening’s activities:
Girls’ Night Out: Shopping for clothes on the Vegas Strip
Boys’ Night Out: Gawking at go-go dancers on stages that they wish would strip
Girls’ Night Out: Consuming copious amounts of ice cream
Boys’ Night Out: Consuming copious amounts of alcohol
Girls’ Night Out: Evening punctuated with fits of giggling
Boys’ Night Out: Evening punctuated with fits of puking
While the girls appear to have had a evening that is the mallrat’s perfect dream, the boys escaped to the Rumjungle club. We see Robert dancing with a rhythmless blonde (don’t worry, Grace, no threat to you), as he says that he finally let his personality out for the guys to see. We learn that Ethan has multiple personality disorder in the form of a robe-wearing alter ego he calls “Roberto Venetian,” sort of a dime-store Hugh Hefner, if you will.
If wearing your complimentary hotel robe out in public is not your idea of wild and crazy, what about this? Susan says “Time flew and it was like after eleven and we were like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s late!’” Okay, what are you really expecting from someone whose parents are Southern Baptists? This is immediately followed by a shot of a bra-clad go-go dancer shakin’ her money-maker behind Vinny who’s playing drums on-stage, Bob-Crane-style.
The boys finally gather in a parking structure, and engage in bleep-a-riffic, drunk-guy carousing. They clown on a visibly trashed Robert, and ask him things like what he last remembered, and then cruelly alarm him with shouts of “Here comes Grace!” There’s a sedate shot of the ladies filing into their suites toting shopping bags and politely wishing Grace goodnight; contrasted with a rowdy shot of all the guys rolling Robert back to the hotel in a wheelchair, then Robert doubled over a trash bag in a bathroom with a kindly Andree patting his back in comfort. Coyt says that Robert overdid it on the alcohol despite the fact that he only had two drinks! Andy offers that Robert is a “not a drinker” but is instead a “really good kid” that he feels bad for. Before the commercial break, they leave us on a shot of Robert lying on the bathroom floor with a trash bag next his head.
The Morning After the Morning After
We return from break to find a squabbling Grace and Robert in their suite at 9:30 a.m. Grace is big time p.o.’ed at Robert about last night, and scolds him: “Everybody else is all perky and hugging, loving each other, and you’re here lying on the bed asking for a trash can.” In an interview, Grace says that she’s not mad that he went out with the boys, or even that he drank, but that it got out of hand, presumably in terms of the alcohol. “Don’t expect any sympathy from me,” she says, flinging the arm of a hung-over Robert away from her in bed.
Creepy, voyeuristic, night vision cam shows Cindy and Chris in bed, together, playing tonsil hockey—a shocking sight, considering that this is the woman who last week made such a fuss over having her parents see the two of them sharing quarters on national TV, much less sharing bodily fluids. Chris admits that they initially kept a pillow between them, due to her concern of her parents seeing them together. As he explains that she finally relaxed and decided it was not that big of an issue anymore, we are treated to a quick and unclear shot of him getting out of the bed he’s sharing with Cindy, in what I think, hope, and pray are very light, skin-toned underpants.
Meanwhile, things are getting ugly in the suite next door. Carolyn talks about the stress that has come as a result of “the game”. Ethan tells Carolyn that when things get difficult, she has a tendency to get “bitchy”. With handy illustrative hand motions, Ethan says, “I’m talking about you being ‘The Bitch’, angry, tough…Do you want to talk about it, or do you want to just pretend that it’s not true?” while Carolyn says nothing, but freezes over with stone-cold lividity. This sequence makes me think of how uncomfortable it is to witness a couple fighting, and I’m wondering how anyone can consider watching this entertainment.
Challenge #1: “Ball and Chain”
Automated RealDoll Lisa Dergan joins all the couples by the famous wave pool at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino for the physical challenge, the “Ball and Chain”. Couples begin on a platform with a 100 pound ball chained to their legs, and are dropped into the deep end of a cold tide pool with six foot breakers. Underwater, they must detach themselves from the ball, then drag all hundred pounds of it across the length of the pool, on an incline, and to the finish line, approximately the length of a football field.
Lisa also informs everyone that April and Vinny will not be participating in today’s physical challenge due to their “legitimate medical excuse,” but will be automatically be put in 7th place. Vinny says that watching the challenge from the sidelines was like “torture for me.” Well, then, that gives him some idea of what it’s like be a viewer of this thing.
The game begins and the couples are plunged into the chilly water. Tonya, in an interview, says that her and Andree’s strategy was “I pull, you push”; however, the actual footage shows only Andree pulling, and Tonya nowhere in sight. Susan and Coyt decide to trade off dragging the ball whenever the other needed a breath. Carolyn decides to swim over to the shallow end and wait for Ethan to bring her the ball, where she will continue dragging it for the rest of the way, however, Ethan poops out and saying that for the first time he realized he was 36 years old. Wow, break out the Geritol, Grampy Ethan! Chris pushes/kicks the ball with his legs largely by himself. Becca pretty much does all the work for Andy, who admits that swimming is a weak area for him.
Susan and Coyt take an early lead, followed closely and at one point briefly overtaken by Cindy & Chris, then Tonya & Andree. Becca & Andy, Grace & Robert are significantly behind, and Carolyn & Ethan are dead last. Then Robert “panics” and “cramps up” and just swims off from Grace, leaving her alone in the deep end, and effectively blowing yet another challenge for them.
Susan and Coyt win the physical challenge again. However you may feel about this couple, one thing is clear, they work uncannily well together during the physical challenges.
Cat Got Your Tongue?
In interviews, the couples evaluate their experiences in the physical challenge. Grace calls Robert out for his “half-assed” performance. Robert explains his giving up on yet another challenge with the weak excuse, “But I cramped up” to which Grace pointedly responds “Well you wouldn’t have cramped up if you hadn’t drank all that alcohol, would you?” A heated bicker session follows, culminating in Robert pantomiming a swiping cat claw as he ‘rowrs’ at Grace. There is a moment of angry silent tension, that in reality is only about a second but feels five hours long, before Grace gives him an admonitory look and says “Don’t even start Robert.”
Andy talks about being determined to finish the physical challenge no matter how long it took, which is easy for him to say considering Becca did all the work (which reminds me briefly of their argument last episode in which he refused to help her clean and she did all the work anyway).
Back in the Hotel, Andy warns his fellow commitment members Coyt, Susan, Ethan, and Carolyn, that Chris and Cindy are “a serious threat” and even advises Coyt to spend more time with them. Lazy as ever, a confident-looking Andy says, “As long as the guys in my commitment are in the Power Couple position, I’m fine, I’ll just sit back.”
The Commitment mimi-consortium also discusses the April/Vinny factor, talking about how they are tough characters. “She scratched her freakin’ eyeball, and she’s still like “I’m finishing.” Ethan points out. “She’s from the Bronx, she’s tough,” says Susan. Andy deems Vinny “freakin’ nuts”, whatever that means. Carolyn asks “So it’s an understanding that everything’s good, right?” To which Coyt answers only “Yeah.”
In an interview, Andy says that the commitment’s goal is to make them the final four, and in an expected and disarming show of his more sensitive side he says that while he wishes he and Becca win, he hopes Susan and Coyt win because “Gosh, they deserve it.”
April and Vinny return to the emergency room; apparently something, possibly some leftover mascara, is still lodged in April’s eye, which she now cannot even open. She’s eschewed her glittery eyepatch for a huge pair of 70s era Elton John sunglasses. Of course they express their hope to continue in the game.
Challenge #2: “Wedding Betiquette”
Lisa Dergan greets the couples in the casino, in an insanely sheer black camisole that I swear (and I have it on tape) is showing major nipple. I’m not talking outline, I’m talking transparent right down to the nipple. I have no idea how this missed the naughty pixellator guy (or whatever you would call the person whose job it is to censor images for prime-time TV).
Anyway, the couples gather around a table that resembles one that might be used for card games like black jack. The men will be asked questions pertaining to wedding etiquette, and place the card with their response on the table. Meantime, their fiancées are given $2000 chips, and will place bets of either half or all their money on whether their men answered correctly. The couple with the most chips becomes Power Couple #2. April and Vinny, who are absent, forfeit the challenge and will again be given last place in tonight’s game.
Question #1: “What should never be included with the wedding invitation?”
A. Map to the ceremony, B. Registry Info, or C. Travel and lodging info
The correct answer is B. Every guy bombs this question, except for the preternatural Coyt, who answers correctly, leaving him and Susan in the lead with $3000 to everyone’s $1000.
Question #2: “What should the bride and groom do when someone toasts them?”
A. Stand up, B. Clink glasses, C. Sit and don’t drink
The correct answer is—who knew—C. Well, Coyt knew, stunning Susan, and everyone at the table. Andree also gets this one right, though it appears to be a lucky guess.
Question #3: “Who dances with the bride first?”
A. Groom, B. Father of the Bride, C. Father of the Groom
The correct answer is A. which Ethan finally gets correctly, bringing their total to $4,500.
At this point, Susan puts all the chips out on the table, which confuses Coyt. He thinks she doesn’t understand the game, and that they are in the lead.
The relationship game is inter-cut with interviews that reveal, overall, that the women had very low expectations for their men knowing the answers to the etiquette questions, though most did not phrase it quite as bluntly as Grace did when she said, “I hate to say it, but there’s not a whole lot things that Robert knows…and one of the number one places where I think he would know the least would be the wedding.” Ouch!
Question #4: “At one point in the reception is it acceptable for guests to leave?”
A. After the first dance, B. After band or DJ’s first set, C. After cutting the cake
The correct answer is C. Becca & Andyget it wrong and are out first. Tonya & Andree, Chris & Cindy, Grace & Robert get a correct answer that keeps them in play at $2250. Chris & Ethan magically get this right, and beat the other couples out with $9000.
Susan & Coyt are the last to reveal their answer, and the show cuts to an interview with Susan who says that she desperately did not want to win the relationship game, so that they would not be the only couple making the elimination decision, and that she and Coyt had even talked about deliberately tanking to avoid this unsavory situation. “To be the one that shatters someone else’s dream…is the worst feeling which is why I did not want to be the only couple doing it this time.” She was hoping that, by betting all the chips, she was sending a signal to Coyt to answer incorrectly…
Which he does not to do, and Susan and Coyt win again and become Power Couple 1 and 2 for the second episode, and the sole decision-makers for who will stay at the Altar ceremony.
April and Vinny return from the doctor, and the other couples apprise them of what happened during the relationship game. Vinny suspects that he and April will be the next to go, as they would be the easiest cut to make, although in a separate interview Susan says that eliminating them would make them look like “horrible people” for getting rid of the “underdog” and “injured person”.
Susan and Coyt decide to visit all the couples in their rooms to “feel everything out” (hopefully not feel anyone up). They first visit April and Vinny, and ask them they think should leave, and who should stay, if they’ve heard anything that someone might have said about them that might change their minds, etc. Vinny says that the reason they wanted to stay was because they haven’t even had a chance to really participate in the game, although April says she understands why some people might resent them for having not been in several of the challenges thus far.
In Grace & Robert’s room, Robert tells them if he were in their position, he’d get rid of the biggest competitive threat, namely, Susan and Coyt. “I have to be honest with y’all, you guys are like the Lakers, back to back to back.” Susan admits later that she wouldn’t mind keeping Grace and Robert around to the end because they don’t appear to be much of a threat.
Cindy tells Susan and Coyt that she were to be in the Power Couple, she would eliminate Becca and Andy. “I have no doubt in my mind that if they were given the chance, you would be out of here,” Cindy tells them, echoed by Chris saying, “Definitely. I agree.” Susan asks if that was something they heard directly from Becca or Andy, which Cindy denies. Still, this is enough spark to ignite the resentment that already existed between Becca & Andy, Susan & Coyt.
In the Tonya and Andree’s room, Cindy’s remark is vastly inflated when Coyt says that “There’s lots of people that think that we would be gone as soon as they became power couples.” He expresses to Tonya and Andree that he and Susan have just recently become concerned about Becca and Andy and one other mystery couple, based on what they heard from Cindy and Chris. Andree appears to panic, and says that he wouldn’t vote anyone from their commitment off even if he’d heard that they had plans to eliminate them. In private, Andree confides that his trust in Coyt’s sincerity is faltering. Tonya, however, says that if she was in the same position as Susan and Coyt, she would also “get rid” the couple that was considered a threat to their position, especially if the intel came from Cindy. “You have to know, Cindy is a saint.”
Now, in Caroline in Ethan’s room, the ever-expanding rumor game of “telephone” turns into Coyt saying that they’ve heard from “more than one couple” that Becca and Andy have designs on axing them off the show. Caroline and Ethan are shocked, and defend Andy and Becca staunchly.
Meanwhile, Tonya visits Cindy to ask her where she heard that Becca and Andy wanted Susan and Coyt of the show. “Oh no one told me,” Cindy says, “I just know that.” Who is she, Miss Cleo? Tonya basically confirms that Susan & Coyts paranoid fear of Becca & Andy is based on little more than speculation, probably not helped by the earlier resentment Susan & Coyt had from the first episode, at being initially excluded from the commitments Becca & Andy had made.
Finally, Coyt says “There are a couple of people that flat-out heard someone in our commitment talking about us. We heard that Andree said some stuff that he was going to eliminate us.” What? Did I fall asleep and miss a big chunk of the episode (not unlikely) or is Coyt lying again? Andy earnestly denies ever hearing anything like that, and defends Andree. “I don’t want to be in a commitment with someone who’s going to stab me in the back,” Coyt says to Andy and Becca, who appear truly bemused by the whole conversation. Andy says, very firmly, “The one thing I told you from day one, is that I will lose before I abandon this game plan.” And then Andy flat-out asks Coyt, “Are we safe right now?” to which Coyt replies “Yes. That’s not the issue we just wanted your opinion.” Once alone, Becca and Andy mull over what just happened, and Andy proclaims that even if the Andree-business were true, he would not abandon the commitment. “I’m not gonna play dirty,” Andy says.
In the deliberation room, Coyt says to Susan that they must be concerned about “who will destroy us because we’re strong.” In the meantime, Becca and Andy find out from Caroline and Ethan that Coyt has been saying different things to different people, and start to suspect that the Andree story was just a MacGuffin. Andree spills the beans to Andy that Coyt and Susan were coming around from door-to-door selling the rumor that Andy was going to vote them off—and Andy tells Andree, “He came and said the same thing about you.” No one knows the genesis of the rumors, or who to trust anymore.
Lisa Dergan is back, and welcomes everyone back to the altar for the elimination ceremony. Coyt says that he hopes their decision “protects some of the integrity of the game itself”. Uh, okay. Andy says it was much harder being the person who sent someone home, while Vinny remarks that he’s convinced he and April are the ones who’ll be packing their bags, since they did not participate in the last two challenges.
Lisa announces which couples have been invited back, in order of Susan and Coyt’s preference. There are no surprises with the first three couples invited: Grace & Robert, Cindy & Chris, Ethan & Caroline (the trifecta of non-threatening). However the tension mounts when the last three couples remaining are Becca & Andy, April & Vinny, and Tonya & Andree…to whom will the last two invitations be given?
Everyone is shocked when the next to last couple invited back is April & Vinny. And the last couple to receive an invitation? A shaken-looking Tonya and Andree. That means that the couple being eliminated this week is Becca and Andy, pinky-swear pacts not being legally binding, I suppose.
Becca starts crying, heck even Lisa Dergan starts crying and announces that she’s at a loss for words, but Andy’s expression remains cool and unsurprised. Becca says “It’s okay…we played it fair…They want to play dirty, that’s fine.” Andy just takes a hold of Becca’s hand, the one with the engagement ring, and says, “This is all that matters, right here” while Susan shoots them a look that would melt uranium.
As the couples come up to wish Becca and Andy farewell, we hear Andy warn Andree to watch his back as they embrace. To Carolyn and Ethan, he repeats his warning, “You watch your back” after swearing to them twice that he was loyal to everyone in the commitment. Becca whispers to Cindy “I knew it was coming.”
A black-and-white flashback shows Susan and Coyt in the deliberation room, saying that they asked all around and the only thing they’d heard was that Becca and Andy wanted to get rid of them. Funny, I only heard it from Cindy. Maybe that’s because they couldn’t drown out the paranoid schizophrenic voices in their head that were telling them what they wanted to hear from day one—get rid of Becca & Andy, your biggest competitors.
It’s a tense standoff as Coyt and Susan come up to say goodbye to the departing couple. “You blew it,” Andy and Becca say to them, repeatedly. Susan volleys back, “We hear things from other people, what were we supposed to do?” Becca says, “You should have trusted us.”
“We got duped,” Andy says, shaking his head. “I think they’re good competitors. But I don’t think they’re good people,” Becca says.
Everyone is shaken by Becca & Andy’s elimination, as it throws the whole concept of the commitment into question. As Andree observes, it’s now anybody’s game.
You are cordially invited…to write me with your questions or comments! R.S.V.P. to snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com by August 13th and indicate Beef or Chicken.