I'm Going To Need To Borrow Someone's Rosary, And Don't Give Me More Than Four Hail Marys
Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been 437 days since I’ve had any interest in reality television whatsoever.
Okay, so that number is a semi-arbitrary lie. The actual number is however many days it’s been since the first Joe Millionaire ended, and I said to myself “Amanda, it’s really time you started imposing some standards on what you’re willing to watch.”
But now a funny thing has happened. I’m enjoying this show. I’m enjoying this show a lot. I’m a little bit in love with Richard Branson, and I don’t quite know what to do with that. Intensive psychotherapy? Yes, probably.
See, I never watched The Apprentice. The concept of the show just didn’t appeal to me. I’m not especially interested in business, and what people are willing to do to succeed therein. But I don’t live in a cave, and I’ve been completely inundated with all things Trump for a good year now. He’s building some huge tower downtown in my city. He’s crawling out of dumpsters, shilling credit cards on my television screen. He was named one of People magazine’s 50 sexiest men, for crying out loud. I assumed that Sir Richard would be just another Trump clone, and I expected to find him utterly distasteful. But I don’t. Not even close.
If Donald Trump embodies the Gordon Gecko “greed is good” stereotype of the Reagan era, Branson is the kinder, gentler George H. W. Bush of television billionaires. You can almost see the thousand points of light beaming off of his beatific face. Where Trump barks “You’re fired” to his contestants, Branson sends them on their way with kind words and a smile. The end result is the same, but it’s the difference between demanding respect and earning it. This show isn’t going to enjoy Apprentice-style success – I’m guessing it won’t get past this first season – but it’s enough to have renewed my interest in a tired and overplayed genre. So go on with your bad self, Richard Branson. No new taxes, indeed.
And now that I’m done kissing his ass, I’ll make with the recapping.
On last week’s show, stuff happened.
The Hanta Virus Probably Has To Suck, Too.
This week we start off on the Virgin jet, where the contestants learn that they’ll be heading to Zimbabwe. That’s in Africa, for you slow students in the back. Get out your safety pencils and a circle of paper. Just like last week, they’re going to be divided up by gender, with a member of the female team heading up the men, and vice versa. The men pick Nicole, a dark-haired, sharp-featured attorney as their leader, and the ladies choose Gabriel, who is only identified as an entrepreneur. He also looks a lot like Derek Jeter, which, in my mind, is reason enough to have chosen him. He could sell pencils outside of the supermarket if he wanted to – that’s entrepreneurial, yes? – but as long as he continued to resemble Jeter, he could lead my team all day long. Sara interviews that she focused in on Gabriel because “he’s easy to work with, and he can handle a bunch of women.” It’s the first time Sara spoke on this episode, and already she’s pissing me off. “Handle” a bunch of women? Grow a little self-respect, you simpering harpy. Pick him for a legitimate reason, such as his hotness and the striking resemblance he bears to a certain New York Yankees shortstop.
To prove that they actually went to Zimbabwe, and not some LA soundstage, we’re treated to shots of the African savannah. I’ll tell you, I’d give my left arm to have been on that plane with them. Every time I see footage of Africa, it’s all grazing elephants this and galloping giraffes that. Can you even imagine how incredible it would be to witness that firsthand? Absolutely worth the risk of being gored, I’d wager. Maybe not the Ebola so much, but definitely the goring.
As the teams arrive at Gorges Lodge (and a gorgeous lodge it is, har har), they get straight to the strategizing. Why should the fact that they don’t know what their challenge will entail hold them back? The men have decided that they’ll win because they’re “amped, woo!” I hope the challenge is a heads-up contest of who has more ovaries. All the amperage in the world isn’t going to be enough. As for the ladies, Gabriel unleashes the stunningly insightful observation that because they lost last time, they really would like to win this week. He quite sternly tells the ladies that there will be no petty b.s. this time around. No negativity under his watch. Is this what passes for “handling” women these days? Whatever, pal. Go turn a 6-4-3 double play and date Mariah Carey or something.
Kriss Kross Will Make You...
The following morning, the teams arrive at the Victoria Falls gorge. Richard informs them that they’re 360 feet above the river, but no worries: he’s not asking them to jump…yet. No, not yet, but in like ten minutes. Today’s challenge is a bastardization of the classic bungee jump. Each team is going to pick one member to act as the catcher. This person will be suspended on a wire and pulled seven feet back from a platform at the edge of the gorge. The other members of the team are to leap off the platform, hopefully into the waiting arms of the catcher. If they succeed, they earn a point for their team, and yay for them. If they fail, however, they go bungeeing down into the abyss. No points, and boo for them. Every few jumpers, Richard is going to increase the difficulty level of the challenge by moving the catcher back a bit farther from the platform. The jumpers aren’t afforded the luxury of a running start, either.
I know that last week I said that I don’t know what physical challenges have to do with boardroom competence. Fact is, I still don’t. Richard offers up an explanation, though, claiming that entrepreneurship is all about taking leaps into the unknown. I’m not sure he understands the concept of the metaphor, but the man is just so damned likeable that I’m nodding and smiling and thinking he just may be on to something here.
The ladies obviously choose Gabriel to act as their catcher (shame he doesn’t resemble Jorge Posada instead), and the guys pick Jermaine. Their reasoning for picking him dealt with his size; he’s so large that nobody wanted to have to be the one responsible for holding him over a 300-foot drop. I feel pretty bad for Jermaine, to be honest. We’re only two episodes into this show, and already his size has been an issue both times. He’s really not some colossally large guy. He’s well-built, and not even close to fat. I’m sure he never expected to be singled out for his frame two shows in a row. Steve, a pro tennis player, says that Jermaine would probably rip the legs off of anyone who tried to catch him. Oh, if only. Rip those legs off and beat their previous owner about the head with them. That’d get the ratings right up there with Trump’s show.
The men are up first, and Nicole is the first to attempt the jump. She proclaims her feelings of confidence, barks out a countdown, jumps – and misses by a mile. Well, no. I think she got a nice little groin grab on Jermaine, that hussy, but her grip wasn’t kung fu-like enough to avoid the fall. To her credit, she didn’t start swearing until she reached the end of the rope. Let’s see, a freefall is 9.8 m/s^2, right? Something like that. She dropped 300 feet, which gave her time to let loose at LEAST 4 or 5 f-bombs, but she refrained. Good girl. She’s a better woman than I am, without question. When she’s pulled back up to the top, spiky-haired annoying Shawn asks her “Did something go wrong?” No, Shawn. Not at all. She meant to miss the catch. She mumbles something about not having enough loft, and in her second stunning display of restraint in mere minutes, doesn’t attack his face with a nearby rock.
The first jumper for the women is Heather, the catfight aficionado from last week. I’m a little hesitant to say this, because I don’t want to take her allusion that all women are catty bitches and prove it correct, but Heather isn’t the same size 2 that the other women are. Neither am I, so I’m definitely not saying that she’s a bad person for that. I’m just saying that the look of raw terror in Gabriel’s eyes is understandable here. Luckily for Gabriel, and for the men’s team, Heather misses the catch. A graphic appears on the screen, informing us that the game is tied 0-0. Hey thanks. Guess I can put this abacus away now.
Next up for the men is…some guy who looks frighteningly similar to a post-cosmetic surgery Bruce Jenner. We don’t learn his name or what he does for a living, but he completes the jump successfully. Who needs a name when you can jump seven feet into the waiting arms of a guy hanging in a harness?
So now it’s time for the balloon-climbing whiner, Sara. No wonder we didn’t have time to learn the name of the previous guy, because for some reason it’s imperative that we follow Sara’s entire train of thought about this task. She’s scared. She doesn’t think she can do it. She fears for her life. Her knees are shaking. She has the courage of a certain lion in a popular children’s movie. Why do we need to hear all of this in such excruciating detail? She asks Richard why she can’t get a running start. Why would she be allowed to, when nobody else had that opportunity? Ugh, whatever Sara. After a few false starts she makes the jump and successfully completes it. Great, now everyone can laud her for overcoming yet another fear. Never mind that everyone else was afraid too; the fact that she’s vocal about it somehow makes it more impressive. The squeaky wheel gets enabled by its teammates. Tremendous.
After Sara, Richard decides it’s time to increase the distance of the jump to eight feet. Sam is up first for the men, and he completes the jump. Following him is some Barbie doll girl who suffers the same fate as Bruce Jenner over there, as her name and occupation are evidently unimportant. She completes the jump successfully as well. Shawn – whose name I just realized can act as an acronym for spiky-haired annoying…something something. Wacko nutcase? Sure, that works – is next, and he furthers the observation that he’s a failure at the game of life by missing. Candida can put the women in the lead if she can find her way into Gabriel’s arms. Unfortunately for her, she misses. Candida is an incredibly tiny little woman, and she gets banged up really badly by the fall. Ambulances, emergency workers and gauze are all involved, and she still manages to complain less about her turn than Sara did. I’m just sayin’.
Okay, so thanks to that helpful tally graphic, we know that they’re still tied. Fox really doesn’t have much faith in its viewers’ ability to compute simple addition in their heads. Time for Richard to make it even more difficult, and moves the catcher back to a distance of 8 feet, seven inches. Steve, the “amped, wooo!” tennis player will be going head to head with Erica. Erica is apparently a model. Good to know that if some store ever wants to put on a Facts of Life-themed fashion show, Erica can feel secure in the knowledge that she has the Jo job all sewn up. Both competitors complete the jump. Tiebreaker time!
For the tiebreaker, each team has to choose their best jumper. They then have to decide on a distance they’re willing to jump. The team choosing the shorter distance goes first. If their jumper misses, they automatically lose. The only difference in this portion of the competition is that this time the jumpers have to push off with their feet together on the platform. I’m sure there’s some track and field name for this sort of jump, but despite the fact that I spent one marking period on the track team in high school in an effort to not fail gym class, I just don’t know the nomenclature. And also, I still failed gym. In my defense, though, it was 1989 and Aqua-Netted bangs, electric blue mascara and sweat don’t really mix well. And who the hell wants to take gym second period? Answer: Not 15-year-old girls. Fifteen-year-old girls also don’t appreciate having to go to summer school for gym, but I digress. The men, who have elected Steve to jump for them, announce that they’re willing to jump 7 feet, 7.5 inches. The women, who will be represented by Erica, slyly add a half-inch onto that distance.
Since they chose the lesser distance, Steve is the first to jump. He makes it, and clings to Jermaine like he has the antidote. It’s up to Erica, who I’m really starting to admire. She’s competent, dignified and confident in her own abilities. She’s the complete antithesis of someone like, oh, let’s say Sara. She doesn’t make a big fuss about getting the job done, she just does it, and does it well. Hard not to respect that.
(And by the way, yes I see the irony in my constant whining about Sara’s constant whininess. No, I won’t be stopping anytime soon. Yes, I enjoy hypocrisy. No, I don’t still wear electric blue mascara.)
So after that buildup, it’s probably pretty obvious that Erica successfully makes her jump. The girls’ team has won this week, and in a physical challenge, no less. While they’re riding high on their wave of victory and estrogen, Richard announces that he’ll be attempting the jump as well. He’d never ask them to do anything that he himself was unwilling to try, even though he has what he considers to be an irrational fear of bungee jumping. It’s one thing he’s never tried, even though he’s done other stunts that are arguably far more dangerous and less mainstream. I have to say, it’s so cute. He recruits Gabriel to be his catcher, and almost chickens out more than a few times. He’s laughing at himself and his nervousness (“My legs have gone jelly!”), and damned if I just don’t want to hug him. Finally he gathers the courage, but he misses the catch and falls into the gorge. When he’s pulled back up, he’s bleeding but exhilarated, and he says he can’t wait to do it again. Now that, my friends, is joie de vivre.
The Idiot's Guide To Alienation
Since the boys, under Nicole’s leadership, have lost, they have to decide who will be joining Nicole in the elimination challenge. They gather back at the lodge, and powwow about who the unlucky target will be. Nicole goes around the room, asking each person to nominate a fellow team member. Unanimously, they choose Shawn. I even have to give Shawn credit here, because he nominated himself, and made it quite clear that as the only person other than Nicole who missed the catch, he has no problem in being put up. Pretty open and shut, right? Wrong. Nicole listens intently to everyone’s thoughts, and then proceeds to inexplicably choose Sam. I suppose she felt as though he’d be easier to beat than spiky-haired Shawn, but why even go through the pretense of asking others for their opinions? “I appreciate your input, everyone, and I’m totally dismissing everything you’ve all formed a consensus opinion on. Thanks for playing.”
Honestly, I'd Settle For Plucking. Even Threading Would Be Okay. Sugaring. Just Pick One.
The following morning, everyone convenes at the top of the stunningly beautiful Victoria Falls. I spent the majority of my life just a ten-minute drive from Niagara Falls, and therefore I’m pretty nonchalant about water going over tall rocks in general. But even with this apathy toward natural wonders, Victoria Falls – even just shown on a television screen – took my breath away. I hope that when the cameras stop rolling on this show, the contestants take the time to appreciate their surroundings. And I hope Sam was able to see the falls through those forty-pound hair boulders he calls eyebrows. Seriously, hot wax, Sam. Look into it. If you can.
Richard brings Nicole and Sam over to a capsule that resembles the pods astronauts emerge from after their shuttles touch down in the ocean. They’re calling it a barrel, but that’s really not an accurate description. They’re told by an engineer that this capsule was designed by NASA, but hasn’t been tested in this specific environment. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been tested, just not over Victoria Falls. Nicole asks a lot of safety-related questions, and the answers aren’t completely reassuring. No, this isn’t the same barrel design that successfully carried its occupant over Niagara Falls. Yes, the person who tested this barrel was injured during the experimental phase. No, he didn’t die. Yes, there are lots of G-forces involved. No, this isn’t on par with the stunts you’ve performed up until now; it’s much more difficult. Given this barrage of sobering information, Nicole opts out of performing this stunt. This pretty much throws down the gauntlet to Sam, who understandably assumes that all it’s going to take to win is to just get in that barrel and let gravity do its job. After being thoroughly questioned by both the safety engineer and Richard himself, Sam hops in the capsule ready to g-force his way to victory.
Like Sand Through The Hourglass...
Richard, in keeping with his “You don’t have to do anything I wouldn’t do” mentality, straps himself into the capsule across from Sam. They exchange nervous declarations, with Sam putting on a brave face, saying “One life to live, right Richard?” Better than “General hospital, right Richard?”, I suppose. The music swells, the men try to swallow their hearts, which have risen into their throats, and every God ever conceived is hearing urgent prayers. Richard starts the countdown, everyone is on the edge of their seats – and nothing happens. It was a test. Richard gets on his walkie-talkie and asks the engineer to bring them back down. He applauds Sam for his obvious bravery, but explains that there was no way they’d ever be performing that stunt. If they had dropped the capsule, both of them would be “extremely dead.” He only wanted to see if either of them would actually agree to participate. Sam is completely dumbfounded, and I just feel so damn bad for him. If I were in his shoes, I’m sure I’d have done the same thing. Hell, you could throw a NASA sticker on a bamboo raft, and I’d be willing to ride that thing down whatever whitewater rapids you tossed at me. If they can find a way to get clear pictures of galaxies that died out hundreds of millions of years ago, if they can send probes to the moons of Saturn, if they can prove the existence of things that they can’t see or quantify, hell – they can send my ass over 300 feet of water. No question. So the fact that Sam ended up looking bad as a result of his desire to win and his faith that the show wasn’t going to have him do anything that wasn’t basically safe, well, it sort of sucks.
Choke On Your Own Self-Righteousness. Or Your Chicken Kiev. Either Way.
Back on the ground, Richard gives both Sam and Nicole a lecture on the importance of only taking intelligent, calculated risks, and chides them for not even bothering to step to the edge of the falls to look down and see with their own eyes just how far they’d be dropping. Nicole takes this implied pleasure with her handling of the situation, and, at dinner that night, blows it up into an obnoxious display of patronizing condescension. She’s utterly oblivious to the fact that her behavior is inappropriate and incredibly rude, and never once notices the dozen pairs of eyes – including Richard’s – that are rolling in unison around the table. All of a sudden, I very very badly want her to be going home. At this moment, I actually prefer Sara, and you know that’s saying a lot.
The following morning, we reenact the now-familiar routine of the contestants gathering on the tarmac. Everyone other than Sam and Nicole board the plane, and Richard interviews that between Sam’s poor decision-making and Nicole’s ridiculous behavior, he can’t figure out who deserves to leave more. Everyone on the plane is hoping that Nikki will be the one heading home. She’s managed to ostracize just about everyone this week, and isn’t going to be winning any popularity contests with these folks.
Before Richard hands them their tickets, he reviews with them what the challenges of the past few days have meant. He was hoping they’d learn three lessons: how to trust themselves, how to trust their teammates, and taking risks. Sam is lauded for his bravery and his ability to commit to a decision. Unfortunately it was a poor decision. Nicole made the right choice, but didn’t question the task until the liability release was in her hands. Furthermore, as team leader, she should not have allowed Sam to participate if she was concerned with the safety of the stunt. He wishes both of them the best, and forks over the tickets. Sam flashes that red herring big grin, and Nicole follows Richard onto the plane. Nobody seems especially pleased to see her, a fact she doesn’t bother to notice. She blathers on about how happy she is to still be there, and pays no attention to the fact that nobody reciprocates the sentiment.
For his part, Sam says that he’s going to take this experience as motivation to go out and do something he’s never done before. Here’s hoping that he means getting his eyebrows waxed.
Next week: They’re still in Africa, they’re going to help poor villagers, and perhaps Bruce Jenner and Barbie Doll will get a name graphic.
This recap was criminally late. Tell me how much I suck. email@example.com