February 2004 Archives

The Suspense is Killing Him

It's hard to feel bad for anyone who's getting a chance to win ten million dollars, but pity the final contestant on last night's Super Millionaire finale. Succeeding at an nth hour attempt to get into the hotseat, he's now trapped in limbo at the $5,000 level for three months in the carryover from Hell. Brutal. It could be worse-- he could be at the $50,000 mark with no lifelines, spending the next three months wondering if he'll get a $100,000 question he knows cold. And I'm sure he'll be getting a lot of media attention in his local area. But my one night carryover was stressful, and I already had $32,000 locked in. Three months and I'd have been a wreck.

Comments (2) | last by Matt Jones, Mar 2, 10:55 PM

See Dick Leave

Thank God. I couldn't take much more of that smarmy prick, or the man it belonged to. Hamming for the camera, daring everyone else to just deal with his nakedness-- a truly baffling attitude if he had any designs on the prize at all-- and oozing smuggery (yes, smuggery)... all he needed was a handlebar moustache to twirl. I couldn't be happier to see him go. Next week, however, his legacy lives on. The previews show Sue railing at Jeff over Hatch's naked confrontation during this week's immunity challenge, and Internet scuttlebutt says (possible spoiler, highlight to read) Sue quits the game amid threats to sue because nobody stepped in and told Richard that getting naked in a physical challenge was inappropriate. If true, it should be a very interesting show.

Dissolving the losing tribe in the reward challenge was a great way to shake the game up at just the right time, and I can't imagine a better thing happening to Saboga. That was the tribe of the damned. I'm happy the game put a fork in them.

Of the two remaining tribes, Mogo Mogo actually looks stronger to me. But Rob-- assuming it was his idea for everyone to just jump off the platform and let him back onto the course-- is proving to be even craftier than I thought. Bravo. Meanwhile, Kathy continues to impress with her savvy, general demeanor, and good sense. As far as my hopes for the winner go, I'm jumping off the Rupert train-- sorry big guy, but you were a far better pirate than an all-star-- and hitching the first ride to Kathytown. Go get 'em.

Comments (3) | last by Stephen Glenn, Feb 28, 9:06 AM

Double Dip This

By popular demand-- OK, one loyal reader left a plaintive request on my voicemail-- my thoughts on Super Millionaire.

They're giving away too much money.

Look, on the original show, reaching a million dollars was a terrific goal. "A million dollars" has a mythic stature in our culture that no other dollar amount rivals. It's the ultimate goal. That's part of the genius of the original Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. In the new version, reaching a million after twelve questions is an anticlimax with three more questions left to come. Sure, there's a ten million dollar carrot dangling in the distance, but for most players that's a pipe dream. A million dollars, however, is very reachable. Hell, from $100,000 to $500,000 is a free freaking guess. And therein lies the problem.

On the original show, nobody was really satisfied at $64,000. Happy to have gotten that far, yes. But wanting to go on. Disappointed not to have made it to triple digits. Tempted by the phenomenal pot odds-- risking $32,000 to make an additional $61,000 and get a look at the next question-- into taking a chance. But now, how can anyone not be satisfied at $500,000? Wanting to go on? Sure. Disappointed not to have made it to 7 digits? OK. But also absolutely thrilled to be leaving the game with half a million dollars. And that takes a lot of the tension out of the game.

The dollar figures are just too large.

It's always heartbreaking to watch a contestant leave with $0, but when last night's contestant botched the Tinkertoys question it was gut-wrenching. Her lost opportunity was much greater than any llama before her. It wouldn't surprise me if she was bawling her eyes out backstage, as the realization hit that she'd thrown away an easy $100,000 with a solid chance at $500,000 or more. On the old show, there was always a chance at a life-changing amount of money, but the odds were heavily against you. Now the odds are astoundingly with you, and that makes failure far more painful.

Meanwhile, they've overhyping the "next dimension" of the game-- enough already. The harsh lighting looks terrible. The centrifugal barfometric camera has got to go. The artificial drama of "who are the wise men tonight?" is overplayed, especially given their tiny bit of game involvement. As for Regis, he's got some great qualities as a host, but an unfortunate tendency to make the game about HIM. Witness his vaguely racist presumption in spontaneously nicknaming the first contestant "the Kimmer" because his last name was Kim, or making jokes at the contestant's expense. He calls attention to himself instead of making the contestant shine. Regis has great energy and enthusiasm which takes the show to a more vibrant level than Meredith Vieira's more low-key approach. But Meredith comes off as a nicer person, making her version more pleasant to watch.

That's not to say, of course, that I wouldn't jump in Regis' hotseat in a nanosecond if given the opportunity. Which somehow sounds dirty.

The truth is that throwing vast sums of money at people makes for compelling television. We want to see contestants agonizing over the risks. We want to see them in their moment of elation. Super Millionaire will be back in May, and probably every sweeps thereafter for a long time to come.

Comments (9) | last by Kayla, Jul 18, 7:13 PM

Lamb to the Slaughter

Rob has no excuses. As a self-styled expert on Survivor, he should have worked harder to save his butt. And he especially should have known better than to trust Boston Rob. Whenever that guy moves he leaves a trail of slime behind.

What amazes me most is that the other members of Chapera, seeing the bond forming between Boston Rob and Amber, didn't nip it in the bud and axe one of them. That kind of strong alliance is too big a threat to leave unanswered. After Big Tom, Amber seems the most expendable. Give her the heave-ho and you still have a strong tribe, plus you've kept Rob M. in check. Voting out Rob C. just didn't make much sense.

I've got this sinking feeling that Amber and Boston Rob face off against each other in the finals (and no, I haven't read any spoilers so it's just speculation). Slimy Guy vs. Under the Radar Girl. Talk about choosing the lesser of two evils...

Comments (2) | last by Scott Hardie, Feb 26, 6:37 PM

Last night's Angel was, on the whole, terrific. How can you not love demonic puppets? And when puppet Angel vamped out, I nearly busted a gut. The sound work on David Boreanaz' voice was poorly balanced, however-- he never sounded like he was in the scene with everyone else. And you'd think they could have made a puppet that looked a little bit more like him.

Meanwhile, next week threatens to jump the shark as Fred gets possessed by a demon and the gang may be powerless to save her. Now where have I seen that before... wait, it's coming to me... oh yeah-- most of last season, only it was Cordelia doing the soul-swapping. Yawn...

Comment (1) | last by Larry, Feb 20, 5:56 AM

You Win Psalm, You Lose Psalm

I wonder which of these is more represented in their mailbag:

Dear Alaska Airlines,

Thank you so much for including an excerpt from Psalm 107:1 with my in-flight meal. In these troubled times I'm more nervous about flying than ever before, and reading this reminder of the Lord's endurance and goodness comforted me as I partook of His bounty. It gives me tremendous peace of mind to know that Alaska Airlines places so much trust in God.

Sincerely,
Maya Soltukeep

or...

Dear Alaska Airlines,

I was horrified to find a psalm included as part of my in-flight meals during a recent round-trip on your airline. I'm sure the intent behind this handout is noble, but it is utterly inappropriate for a corporation to foist a particular belief system on its paying customers. It is not Alaska Airlines' place to instruct me to "Give thanks to the Lord." My relationship with God-- or lack thereof-- is my own personal business. A sermon might be the price of a meal at a soup kitchen, but it has no place on an airline. This underhanded proselytism is offensive, and it has cost Alaska this customer. I will not be flying with you again.

Sincerely,
Nan Christian

Comments (8) | last by Betrand Russell, Dec 8, 9:04 AM

TSA agents at Newark airport wouldn't let me take a cast iron skillet onto the plane, for fear of its use as a bludgeoning weapon. Who are they kidding? First of all, we're talking about a new Le Creuset enameled cast iron pan-- any use not involving onions would be high heresy. Second, it was clearly a subjective judgment call-- there don't appear to be any fixed standards being applied. Laptops would make equally effective bludgeoning tools, yet they're allowed. Dental floss and belts can be used as garrottes. Keys and ballpoint pens can puncture the carotid artery. No self-respecting terrorist is going to hijack a plane with cookware, and certainly not Le Creuset.

All I'm saying is, there's a fine line between reasonable precaution and being a douchebag.

Comments (4) | last by David desJardins, May 29, 4:13 PM

Lordy Lordy Lordy

This weekend I attended the bat mitzvah of a long-time family friend who, having never become a bat mitzvah as a child, spent the past year and a half studying to do so now. This put me inside a temple for the first time in many, many years, and I discovered that my opinion about organized religion hasn't changed.

I hate it.

Many of the great evils of history-- the Crusades, the Inquisition, the PAX network-- have been performed in the name of religion. I despise the way children are indoctrinated to the rituals of faith without questioning or fully understanding the tenets behind them. These children grow up to put more importance on the rituals themselves than on their meaning. Rather than being taught to open their minds, embrace multiple points of view, and discover for themselves which beliefs inform their lives, the indoctrinated fall in line and adopt a rigidity of thought that not only holds no room for opposition, but feels threatened by it.

Yes, I'm oversimplifying. The point remains. More importantly, I personally have no use for a God who cares for form over function. No God worth worshipping would care if my head was covered, or my clothes had fringes, or I starved myself for one day a year. In fact, no God worth worshipping would desire that worship. It's something of a catch 22, although God himself would of course be unfazed. "What, you think I'd trip over a paradox, you little pischer? I was bending the rules of space and time before I gave birth to myself."

I don't believe in God. The concept was something created by man to explain the unexplainable. Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. God is the ultimate magician. It's not a matter of lack of proof. We have no proof of extraterrestrial beings, and yet logic compels me to believe that Earth is not the only cradle of life in the infinite universe. Similar logic leads me to believe that God is a fiction, and that organized religion is simply a means for a select few to gain and retain power.

If God does exist, I'd like to imagine he's a lot like the one who talks to Joan of Arcadia. No fire or brimstone. No right or wrong belief. Just a benevolent patriarch hoping his creations find their way, who looks and sounds a lot like Mrs. Landingham.

I have no problem with people who believe in God. OK, that's not entirely honest. I can't really understand how intelligent adults can conclude that there exists an omnipotent being who can hear their thoughts, be everywhere at once, and yet care one iota about whether or not they eat pork. It just makes no sense to me. Now add that such a being allowed the Holocaust and Dude, Where's My Car? to happen, and I no longer care-- he's lost my vote. But you're entitled to your own opinion, and personal faith should be just that-- personal. If belief in God brings you comfort and joy, terrific. It's when your belief starts crimping someone else's style that I call a party foul. "In God We Trust"? What this "we", kimosabe?

The thing is, I recognize why organized religion thrives. It's not because of God. Or fear. Or inertia. It's because of the deep, abiding human need for community. We want to belong. And what organized religion does really well is create an environment where people can feel like they belong. All they have to do is drink the Kool-Aid. Presto, instant community. There are very few secular organizations with such a strong feeling of community. Some, like the Masons, are shrouded in secrecy. Others, like the Elks, are glorified boys' clubs. If you want to plug into a social network for your family, religion is really the only game in town. Sure, the kids hate to dress up on Sunday and sit on hardwood pews for a couple of hours. But they see all the other kids in the neighborhood, and their parents get to know each other, and there's all that Bingo. Non-believers like me-- the ones who aren't willing to just go through the motions-- get squat.

Maybe I should start my own Church of the Dueling Pianos, with Beatles sing-a-longs and collaborative NY Times crossword solving every Sunday.

Comments (12) | last by David desJardins, May 29, 4:12 PM

This week's Angel marked Charisma Carpenter's swan song with the show. Angel's been sub-par all season, but it wasn't until this episode that I realized what's been missing.

The show is greatly hurt by Cordelia's absence. Angel might be the lead of the show, but Cordelia was the emotional center. Her relationship with Angel-- and the Powers That Be-- anchored the show, and without it Angel has been adrift. Cordelia had an electricity and vibrance that Amy Acker's Fred can't approach. Carpenter was particularly strong in her farewell appearance, turning in a sweet, moving performance that brought home how far her character has come since the show began.

I didn't miss Cordelia at all when she left Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but her departure from Angel leaves a surprisingly large hole.

Update: The WB has announced that this will be the final season of Angel. Suddenly that hole doesn't look so large after all.

Comments (3) | last by Erin, Feb 13, 12:34 PM

Timing is Everything

I agree with Alicia. If I was that worried about a loved one dying while I was away, I don't think I'd have gone to Panama in the first place. Jenna's reason for leaving Survivor tonight was about as good as they come, and prescient-- I got a little chill when the final text appeared. But her poor judgment in coming into the game in the first place had two powerful effects-- robbing someone else of the spot, and handicapping her tribemates. Given what happened, there's no question she made the right decision to leave. But she made a very wrong decision to come in the first place-- a decision that may have hurt others more than herself.

From a production note, I'd love to know the sequence of events leading up to that psuedo-council at the challenge. Did Probst know about Jenna's plans beforehand? How long did taping stop while the producers figured out how to play it? Minutiae like that fascinates me.

Meanwhile... what the heck was Rupert thinking? Digging a basement in the sand, by the water? Insanity. Sheer insanity. It's a good thing Rupert had his time in the sun last season, because this time around he's looking a few logs short of a life raft.

Comments (2) | last by Chris Lemon, Feb 13, 8:44 AM

The payout schedule for the upcoming Super Millionaire will look like this:

$1,000
$2,000
$3,000
$4,000
$5,000 (lock-in)
$10,000
$20,000
$30,000
$50,000
$100,000 (lock-in and two more lifelines)
$500,000
$1 million
$2.5 million
$5 million
$10 million

That's quintuple the former payout at the first plateau and triple the former level at the second plateau. But it's after that second plateau that it really gets interesting. Instead of doubling your money from $32K to $64K, you can now quintuple up to half a million dollars on a free guess! Throw in 2 more lifelines, including the most powerful one yet (see below), and we can expect to see a lot of millionaires.

The two new lifelines are Three Wise Men, in which the player can ask a panel of three trivia experts for help, and Double Dip, in which a player gets two chances at providing an answer. The catch with Double Dip, however, is that if you invoke it you are not allowed to walk away from that question. But combine it with the 50/50 and you're guaranteed a correct answer (although the producers are expected to prohibit this combination).

Expect a lot of drama with the Double Dip lifeline. It, and Three Wise Men, only become available after you reach $100,000. So using it will always mean high stakes.

I envy the 15-or-so contestants who'll be getting their shot in this hotseat. Assuming the difficulty of the questions remains the same, ABC is going to give away a LOT of money.

Comments (5) | last by Free Megabucks For Megapolis, Nov 2, 9:30 PM

Smellovision

Things That Make Me Happy (a new series)
#1. Thanks to a spontaneous cooking binge last night (chicken mulligatawny soup and spinach lamb), my house is now suffused with the delightful aroma of Indian spices.

Comment (1) | last by Larry, Feb 9, 6:33 PM

Debate and Switch

Political correctness is evil.

No, I don't think that's too strong a sentiment. It's evil. It's the conceptual embodiment of Thought Police. It panders to special interests by distorting meaning and obfuscating language. It creeps into people's subconscious and heightens their own sensitivity, causing them to take offense not because something is truly offensive to them, but because they're afraid it might be offensive to someone else. It squashes discourse when people confuse intellectual debate with personal animosity. It is the sword of Damocles hanging over the free expression of ideas.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled weekend, already in progress.

Comments (3) | last by Dugrless, Feb 9, 10:05 AM

Brawn, But No Brains

Rupert, I love ya man. I'm rooting for you even though I know it's a lost cause. Being a nice guy will only get you so far-- you have to be smart. And you're blowing it.

Saboga got a gift when their boat just floated to the surface on its own. And then, in a feat of stupidity that would make Jessica Simpson proud, Saboga proceeded to bail out the boat a bucket at a time. I couldn't believe my eyes. Inverting the boat on top of the pontoon was the obvious play. Even if nobody on Saboga thought of it before the game began, someone should have noticed both of the opposing tribes doing it! But Saboga doggedly continued their doomed bucket brigade, and threw away what should have been an easy victory.

And this after they gave up their reward to give all teams fire.

Back at the ranch, Rupert then flat-out told his tribemates that he had a pact with Rudy! That was an incredibly boneheaded move for Mr. Boneham. If Rudy stayed, their alliance would then be public where it could have backfired against them. If Rudy left, the broken alliance would make Rupert look weaker and more vulnerable, and voting against Ethan would make it harder to pull him over to Rupert's side. Which is precisely what Rupert needs to do now to stay alive.

Well, that and win some damn immunity challenges.

Well, Rupert, at least you caught a fish. Maybe that'll count for something.

Comments (4) | last by Chris Lemon, Feb 9, 6:45 PM

It's official: the phone game's back for the upcoming Super Millionaire. If you want to be a contestant, call 1-800-999-7878 between 7PM and 3AM (Eastern time) from Feb. 16 through Feb. 24. One call per day. If you correctly answer five questions, you must select a tape date which enters you into a random drawing for that tape date. Once you're in a tape date drawing, you are ineligible for any other tape date. In other words, once you get 5 questions correct in a phone call, you're done-- don't bother calling again.

Ten people will be randomly selected from the pool of qualifiers for each tape date, and they'll all be flown to New York with a friend to compete at Fastest Fingers for a chance to sit in the hotseat and win up to $10 million.

Boo-frickin'-ya, baby.

Sadly, as expected, past hot seat players are ineligible. But that's no excuse for the rest of you. Good luck!

The Butterfly Effect

Rarely have I been as pleasantly surprised by a film as by The Butterfly Effect. Apparently the secret is to get your expectations set excruciatingly low, and then see the film for free. Worked like a charm here.

That said, for much of the film I felt like I was watching a TV movie-- the production values, the way it was shot, the pacing. I think a lot of the blame goes to Melora Waters' shrill one-note voice, which created no pathos for her plight as a single mother with a child who just might have the same mental illness that hospitalized her husband. In a cast of odd performances, hers got my attention in much the same way as fingernails on a blackboard.

The high concept is that Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has the genetic ability to travel back in time simply by reading his own journals (or viewing photographs) from the past. When an old friend commits suicide, Evan starts jumping in time to try to save her, and winds up causing changes he didn't anticipate.

Like most time travel films (with the notable exception of the Back to the Future trilogy which gets it right), the metaphysics are murky and convenient to the plot. When Evan changes a pivotal event from his youth, the impact is significant enough to turn him from a gifted student into an obnoxious frat boy. A key incident from later in his childhood, however, is unaffected-- neatly allowing him to jump back to it when his idyllic frat-boy life goes horribly awry. Hmph. In fact, his journal entries seem to remain constant throughout all the historical rewrites. I kept waiting for Evan to find himself trapped in one of his new timelines, with no journals or photos to use as a launching pad. But that's not where this movie was headed.

I liked how the new timeline's events were painfully dumped into Evan's brain upon his arrival, but there's no explanation for why the memories from old timelines remain. Visually, in fact, we see them disintegrate-- so the film is inconsistent even on its own terms. Of course, we never get any explanation for why Evan and his father even have this time-traveling ability in the first place.

The butterfly effect-- the notion that very small inputs can have far-ranging and unexpected consequences-- is of course the whole point of time travel films. I'd have liked to have seen this explored on a grander scale, with Evan's changes having consequences beyond the film's characters, but that too was beyond this film's scope. Instead, the film tries to explore as far as possible within its own narrow parameters, and on those terms does a credible job.

And it has what may be the single unintentionally-funniest sequence in film history, when Kutcher runs through the halls of an asylum like a doofus. Watch for it near the end of the film. That alone was certainly worth my price of admission.

Comments (8) | last by Nathan Beeler, Feb 7, 1:35 PM

Doomed to Repeat Them

Rupert, Rupert, Rupert. What were you thinking? Of all the castaways, you're the one whose loss is freshest. The mistakes you made should be burning brightly in your mind. How could you possibly be making the same ones all over again so soon? Ethan was completely honorable and trustworthy throughout the Africa game. Maybe he won't be this time, but he's proven he's inclined to be. Tina never did anything brazenly traitorous, either. Jerri and Jenna are obvious schemers and inherently untrustworthy. The choice of whom to back was a no-brainer! Not to mention the shield factor-- as previous winners, Ethan and Tina are far more likely to get voted out later than you would be, so keeping them around would have kept you alive longer.

There's still hope. If you're smart, you'll approach Ethan and accept him into your alliance with Rudy. Then the three of you have a strong chance of survival, as long as Rudy doesn't collapse from the strain.

Going into tonight, the yellow team was my clear favorite. I'll still be rooting for them going forward. The Rob/Rob/Alicia/Amber/Tom/Susan team does nothing for me. I wouldn't mind if Rob C. won the game this time (since he was robbed in the Amazon), but I'd love to see that team just get knocked off one by one. On the other team, Kathy and Shii-Ann have my support with Lex a close runner-up.

In past Survivors, the first tribe to tribal council has always returned with fire. It's a reasonable consolation prize, considering the loss of a tribemate. Depriving the yellow team of that silver lining was brutal! This is obviously going to be an impossibly grueling game. My hat is off to whomever outlasts the rest-- because for the first time, it seems like that element is going to be at least as important as outwitting and outplaying.

Comment (1) | last by Scott Hardie, Feb 2, 12:16 PM

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