[Note 1: Before we being, I'd like to apologize to all the people trying to use Panera's Internet from approximately 5:30 – 8:15 PM on Monday the 16th, at the store near Manchester and Sepulveda. It was me that was using all the bandwidth for a video stream. And yes, it took me almost three hours to stream 30 minutes of video. I hope that I didn't slow down your Twitter update feed too much. ]
[Note 2: This is only part of my reaction to the first episode. I'll have another piece out shortly, but for now enjoy the running diary of the first episode, and if you're looking for more awkward-gamer goodness, the second episode is aired on Scifi tonight at 10/9c.]
You've probably heard of WCG's Ultimate Gamer. It's the show that's going to finally bring gaming where it's needed to go all along: into the realm of reality television.
Let's face it, we've got more than our fair share of made-for-reality-TV stars. I'm just surprised it's taken us this long to capitalize on our strengths. How many players do you know that are better at creating drama than actual gaming highlights? I'm not sure any of us can count that high, but in my experience there's at least six on every five-man team. And if the possibility of public humiliation for your drama-queen teammates in future seasons (at the hands of a really talented editing crew) isn't enough to get you to tune in for the Ultimate Gamer, then perhaps you'll be enticed by ... uh ... well, if humiliation isn't your thing I'm not sure what else it has to offer. But at least, unlike the CGS, if this thing goes in the tank it won't be during the same time staff and stars are preparing for the next season.
Anyway. Let's get to the running diary of my thoughts, reactions, jokes, and any other random things that popped into my head during the first episode.
0:00 – Intro: "Tonight, an epic battle begins." What I wished they said: "Tonight, an epic battle begins. Mario. Luigi. Only on WWE!"
0:39 – Oh no. Somebody's crying and we're only 39 seconds in. Somewhere, the Real World Intro is getting jealous.
0:50 – They tease what looks like a paint-balling challenge in the intro. Have to admit that looks pretty cool. That would be one of the challenges I would love to try.
1:10 – "SamSung stadium." Over/under on SamSung being mentioned this epside: 342. I'm taking the over. [Post-Watching Note: This turned out to be horribly wrong. I don't think they ever said the words "SamSung Stadium" after the intro, in fact. But that might just be because they had to get through player introductions, one real-life challenge, a gaming challenge, and the elimination challenge. The schedule seemed just a bit tight.]
1:24 – Alright, they're doing the player introductions now. Let's play a little game: one of these things is not like the other. Here are the contestants as they're named in the intro, with the order slightly altered for maximum effect.
Now, I love Swoozie as much (alright, more) than the next guy. But I'm pretty sure it's not actually, you know, his name. How did he get listed as his handle and not his name, unlike the other contestants? Did he bribe somebody to put in Swoozie instead of Adande? Or is he just approaching one-name territory, like Ichiro or Tiger? These are important questions I need answered.
(Not for nothing, but his "Hometown" is also listed as Trinidad on the Sci-Fi site. Pretty sure Trinidad is a town in the same way as Puerto Rico is a town.)
One other name-related note: I have to say that Ciji is a pretty cool name.
2:30 – Also, don't say this show doesn't have anything for the ladies. Let me put it this way. If they suddenly changed the format to a battle royale between all the gamers, I'd be picking Geoff to crunch the most heads. In fact, I think he might be able to crush a controller with a single hand. And yes, he's now my candidate for Most Likely to Break a Controller during the show. Either that or "Most Likely to Break a Fellow Gamer".
3:12 – A name sure to intimidate your opponents: applesauce. Well done, Mark. Strike fear into the hearts of your enemies. Then again, I've heard that all wars are based on deception. And if that's the case, well done! I can't think of anything less intimidating than applesauce.
3:33 – They just introduced one of the hosts as a "gamer extraordinaire". And for once, it wasn't Fatal1ty! That's one point in Ultimate Gamer's favor.
4:45 – The gamers head to the house and we already have drama! Swoozie plops down in a bed, but Chelsea wants the bed because she always "sleeps low." (Did they cut out "to the floor?) Don't give in Swoozie! Be a man! You got there first.
4:50 – Swoozie gives up the bed. Whatever happened to "sharing"? Or is that not allowed until episode 4?
5:50 – Dante says he's worried about Robert. I am too, but my concern is that Robert's electric-blue contacts will burn out my retinas if I look at them too long. Plus, they're just plain freaky.
6:06 – Dante: "These girls are all fairly attractive, and that kinda puts me at ease cuz I don't think that they really have what it takes." And Dante's character (you know, the one that the editing room makes by selecting particular clips over others) takes the early lead for biggest douchebag!
6:16 – Ciji: "Dante is someone I have a history with. Somebody I work with. It's kinda tough seeing him here, I still have a crush on him. [blinks back tears]" Ciji is the first gamer to almost cry during the show – the intro shot doesn't really count.
7:15 – Well, apparently that's all the character exposition we get. If you've been paying attention, the guys don't fear the girl gamers, Ciji and Dante used to be an item and Robert has blue contacts. I hope you've picked who you're rooting for because we're already heading into the challenge. (Seriously, though. If a viewer without a gaming background watched the show, would they even care enough at this point to watch the rest? Don't we need somebody to root for, or at least root against, before we get to the challenges? Maybe that's just me.)
7:15 – Rockband 2 is the game. Not sure how I feel about that.
7:50 – They just revealed that they'll be playing a song in real life, first. I hope, for the sake of the viewers, that some of them have vocal training or this could get ugly.
7:55 – Cut to a nervous smile from Jamal.
7:55 – Not even eight minutes in and we already have our first third-person reference, also thanks to Jamal. "There is no way in the world Jamal is going to be able to learn how to play a guitar." Bravo, Jamal. +1
8:45 – They're getting 20 minutes to create a band name and design a "look" for their performance. For the names, we have Pirates vs. Ninjas, Pandora Rox, and Napalm in the Morning. I'll be very disappointed if nobody on Pirates vs. Ninjas is wearing an eyepatch or carrying a sword.
9:25 – Athena (Amy) says, "There's an amazingly huge difference between playing Rock Band and playing in a rock band." Wait, you mean I'm not really as talented as Slash even if I can play his pieces on Expert? My dreams, they are crushed.
9:55 – Dante insists on singing. JD, his bandmate: "Sure, I'll let the guy with the girly voice take the girl's song." [Post-episode Note: this will be especially funny after listening to JD sing.]
10:12—Practice is over! Heading to the stage where they'll perform. JD: "I saw our name up on the marquee, it was crazy. I mean, I've always told people my name was going to be up in lights, but there it was." Smirk.
Hard to tell if he was kidding or not. They could have edited out his laughter. Still, somebody should tell him that his name isn't up in lights, his band's name was up in lights. Unless his name is really Napalm in the Morning, which is just weird.
Also, he's definitely the front-runner for biggest douchebag now. Pay attention Dante. If you really want that title, you could learn a thing or two from this man.
11:00 – The hosts just revealed that our made-up gamer bands will be performing their song in front of The Donnas, the people that actually made and perform it professionally. What an honor for The Donnas. This has to be in their top hundred-thousand "great moments in life" list, don't you think?
11:18 – Alright, I have to admit that if I wasn't rooting for Swoozie, Jamal would be by far my favorite contestant. He rocked the third person, had the most nervous smile I've ever seen, and now he said this gem: "I've never played a musical instrument and I'm going to be performing their song in front of them. Uh ... I'm in trouble."
11:46 – Pandora Rox -- Alyson, Kelly, Amy, and Robert -- (no hint on whether this is the musical service or a play on Pandora's Box) is up first, and Amy (and the editors) would like to remind us once again that "playing a real life guitar versus a Rock Band guitar is a much different story." Yep. Got it. Fake guitar is not the same as a real guitar.
12:14 - We're only about twenty seconds into the first performance and we already have one disapproving look from The Donnas. When they went to edit this episode, I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Producer: Let's get another shot of The Donnas enjoying themselves at our event.
Editor: Uh, sorry sir, but we only have three seconds of them looking even mildly entertained.
Producer: Damn. Well, just re-run the other clip, then. How much footage do we have of them looking bored, annoyed, or like they're ready to vomit?
Editor: Well, when you include all the different camera angles, about thirty years worth.
[caption 1: Is Jamal grimacing or smiling? Perhaps we have a grimile?
12:20 – The lead singer for Pandora Rox, Alyson, forgets most of the lyrics. Probably not a good sign. Ending shot of The Donnas: decidedly nonplussed.
13:05 – Ciji, before their band went on: "Dante started to choke. Hardcore."
13:30 – First commercial break. We left Dante in some kind of practice room looking like he had equal chances to vomit, faint, or flee, and his bandmates looking like they just got stuck sitting next to the kid that eats his boogers while on the bus. Chances of him nailing the lyrics, at this point? 2%.
14:20 – Second band: Pirates vs. Ninjas (Mark, Jamal, Swoozie, Chelsea).
14:53 – Not gonna lie, Chelsea isn't too bad at singing. Definitely better than Alyson. I couldn't even find that much to make fun of, though I hope Swoozie didn't hurt his back from wearing all that bling.
15:50 – Here comes Dante, leading Napalm in the Morning (Ciji, Dante, JD, and Geoff).
15:55 – Wow. It seems like he's completely averted disaster. He's not a great singer. He's not a good singer. But he definitely came out with a lot of energy and seemed to nail the lyrics. He had the whole "singing but more like melodically talking" thing working for him, like when a rapper "sings". 2% Dante comes through. I'm shocked. Even JD gave him props. That's gonna hurt him in the douchebag race, but I suppose there's something to be said for setting expectations so low you can't possibly fail to exceed them.
(I'm thinking of adopting that as my motto for LANDodger: Where expectations are so low you always come away pleasantly surprised.)
16:40 – First band definitely seemed the poorest from the way they cut the video.
17:00 – Going through the evaluations now. The Donnas seemed pretty forgiving, though they ripped on Donte's pitch and the first singer's lack of correct lyrics.
17:38 – Pirates vs. Ninjas win. As their prize they each get a drum set. Woo-hoo?
18:12 – Ciji is wiping tears away again. My god. I'm sure there were plenty of moments where she wasn't crying, but twice in one episode? Already? What happens when one of her show-friends stabs her in the back?
18:25 – Pandora Rox is last. Not too surprising.
19:10 – Back to the house!
19:28 – I will never for the life of me understand why editors put things in like "last place is definitely not where I wanted to be." I don't blame the people for saying that, because if you shoved a camera in front of my face I'd give you some bland quotes, too. But my god, does the audience really need to be informed that last place is not a good position? I'm dumb, but I hope I'm not THAT dumb.
19:49 – Robert is thinking of creating an alliance. People he can trust. And he guarantees that people in the Alliance will make it into the Final Four. It'd suck to be the fifth person in his alliance.
21:30 – The show is already promoting romance between Geoff and Kelly. I wonder if they will form an "Alliance" too. Heh heh.
22:00 – Twenty two minutes in and no gaming yet. It's not all that surprising, I guess. The Real World has been running for I don't know how many seasons, and I haven't seen anything completely "real" there yet, either.
22:05 – They're forming new bands for the gaming portion of the show. Interesting.
22:45 – New song: Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy". Hey, I know that song!
24:45 – Ciji is yelling at Dante. At least she didn't start crying this time. Meanwhile, Geoff appears to be faring poorly at RB2, Green Team is getting cocky, and they're heading down to the isolation area where they'll be evaluated on both team and individual performance.
25:18 – Robert's disturbingly blue eyes make another (distracting) appearance.
25:33 – Scoring rules: The person with the lowest combined finish between the Isolation Challenge and the Real Life Challenge will be put into the Elimination Challenge, where somebody will actually leave the show. No wonder the whole show feels a little rushed – that's a lotta freakin' stages.
25:40 – Red Band is first. Dante, Swoozie, Jamal, and Amy are heading into the "isolation chamber", which looks a lot like the white room from The Matrix where Neo and Morpheus order up a lot of guns.
26:20 – The white lights dim. Colored lights come on, bathing the walls in red, green, and blue. And Swoozie unleashes an "Aw snap, let's rock." Clearly, it's go time.
26:40 – Green Band walks in (Kelly, JD, Robert, and Mark). Mark says it's like the Matrix. I already took that observation! Thief!
27:00 – Now we're back to Red Band. What the heck was that? Who's driving this thing, anyway? I can understand cutting back and forth, but it seems like we're just randomly jumping between the bands at different points in their performance (per-performance, during, etc), with no rhyme or reason.
27:37 – Blue Band enters without any intro or fanfare. I have to say, I don't like the editing here. Apparently they didn't play so well, either.
28:14 – Kelly says, "JD's singing was an experience I'll never forget." And thanks to the miracle of television, now neither will I. You know how certain images are burned into your retinas? How come we never hear about sounds being burned into our eardrums? That's all I'm saying.
28:20 – Alright, I'll say this, too: I think he went to the William Hung School of Rock.
28:43 – Green band was not looking pleased after the fact. Seems like they didn't do so well after practicing very well.
29:10 – We have a gamer up for elimination – and it's ... Robert? Egad!
29:31 – Everybody seems shocked. I'm a little shocked too, mostly because there was never a clear sense of who was doing well or poorly through the first 30 minutes. Honestly, it felt like they didn't even have time to build drama. They just had to keep moving on to the next challenge – it felt a lot of potential exposition got cut for the same reason, as well. Yuck.
Anyway, as for Robert, he was in the last-place band in the Real challenge, and on the last-place team in RB2. Oopsie. The JD Singing Experience gets to live on, while Robert's Alliance of Allied Gamers faces its toughest test yet.
29:33 – Also, apparently Swoozie was ranked #1 in both areas. Aw snap, let's rock, indeed.
29:50 – Swoozie is announced as the first-place guy.
30:15 – Swoozie gets to select Robert's opponent in the elimination challenge. Why? Because he is the Rock Band king for this episode, and all shall do his bidding. So say we all.
30:30 – Back to the house, where Robert's United Federation of Gamers will surely make its presence known.
30:54 – What an interesting position. StarSlayer, aka Ciji, aka Dante's Bane, aka the Crying One, is apparently a fantastic Rock Band player, but perhaps not as well-rounded as other gamers in the house. This leaves Swoozie with an interesting choice. He could choose the best all-around gamer, hoping to eliminate that person or Robert, effectively eliminating a future threat. Or he send a guided missile (Ciji) towards Robert, who seems to be one of the most-feared gamers there.
31:00 – Ciji thinks it's her. Robert chats with Swoozie, who seems to give away very little. It's a nerve-wrenching time for Robert's Council of Allied Gamers.
31:50 – King Swoozie will announce his choice. It's somebody he "views as a threat." It's … A COMMERCIAL BREAK. NOOOOOOOOOOOO.
32:00 – Alright. I'm not that broken up about the commercial break.
33:05 – Swoozie selects The JD Singing Experience. Interesting. I don't know what to make of that. JD finished 10th out of 12 in RB, but maybe Swoozie thought he'd be trouble later on? Perhaps King Swoozie should have just sent them both to the guillotine.
34:00 – By the way, I think there's no way JD wins this.
34:15 – People aren't on board with the JD selection, including (surprise!) JD.
34:40 – "At the end of the day, Rob is my friend. If I can help him, I will." Swoozie. Awww. Sounds like something got cut off, but Robert's Gamer Coalition of Friendly Gamers seems to be airtight. I find this area of the show particularly dubious, mostly because it's in the show's best interest to make it look like Swoozie is upholding the Prime Directive of Robert's Association of Gaming Confederates.
36:00 – JD practiced hard. Robert didn't. Will that change the outcome? Probably not, but JD jokingly suggested breaking Robert's fingers. Now I feel bad for saying he was the early frontrunner for being the douchebag.
37:06 – While I'm waiting for Pandera's Internet to buffer the show's stream, I'm reconsidering whether Swoozie's decision was the right one. I'll have to ask him about it later, but to be honest everybody looks like they're afraid of Robert. I think it's a smart move if Robert will spare him a bad matchup later in the season. But if Ciji could really take out Robert, who, to be honest, seems to inspire awe in the other gamers? You have to be pretty dang sure he'll not only be in a position to repay the favor, but that he'll do it when given the chance.
38:33 – They're introducing JD and Robert for the 1v1. And I now know that JD is a 6-time Madden Fraternity Tournament Champion. Where does that rank on the pantheon of gaming accolades?
39:50 – Difficulty set on hard, and they'll be playing simultaneously.
40:20 – A narrator/announcer says that JD has broken his hands several times, and it makes playing Rock Band more difficult. No word on whether his singing performance earlier is because he has also broken his vocal cords.
40:30 – Wait, what the hell? The narrator stays with us through the final showdown, simultaneously explaining Rock Band and half-casting the action. We're 40 minutes into a 43-minute show, and they're just now giving us a narrator and explaining the finer points of Rock Band? How idiotic is that? It's ruining the whole feel of the show, not to mention any real drama in the last three minutes. I can't get over this. He's even talking about strengths for Robert and JD, and expounding on other game genres. Way to let the action carry the day, guys. Nothing like taking your penultimate moment for the first episode and completely blowing it by adding a narrator that hasn't been used up to this point, has a vocal inflection totally out of synch with the feeling of the moment, and has to try to explain Rock Band rather than just, you know, showing the score.
Some highlights: "but there's still plenty of song to catch up!" and "I should tell you that Robert is the favorite." [Why not just say Robert is the favorite?] "Look at the bottom of the screen. See the bar that's filling up? That indicates how many notes you hit in succession and how much overdrive you have." Meanwhile, they're actually playing the game. Really, really annoying. A gimmicky ending to a halfway-decent show.
41:24 – Seriously though, why not just have the gamers themselves reacting? They could do a much better job or conveying the flow of the action through feeling, and it'd be "in the moment." Ugh.
41:36 – I really want to fast forward through this. I was pleasantly surprised up to this point, and now it feels like somebody took the last bite of my hamburger and made me eat a turd sandwich instead.
42:09 – Also, they finally show the score, after mysteriously leaving it out of the picture for a while. How's it going? 72,625 to 20,400. "Things aren't looking so great for JD here." Thanks for the status update, narrator.
42:35 – Yeah, it's over. 81,976 to 25,100. Robert's Band of Merry Gamers lives another day.
43:06 – Only 20 seconds for the "goodbye JD" portion of the show. Again, seems a little too rushed here.
43:14 – Host: "JD, we're sorry to lose you, but for you, it's game over. Please leave the stage." Wow, that was a page right out of "The Weakest Link".
43:18 – To summarize, while JD exits. Not as bad as I feared. I wish it wasn't as rushed, because it could have been much better. But that was a slight annoyance for me, personally. Unfortunately, I think it's more of a worry for people that aren't familiar with gaming, which is the audience a reality show like this is supposed to target.
That being said, the ending ruined just about everything for me. I don't even care that much about the hackneyed catch phrase. It was the narration that really killed me. They spent forty minutes building a "feel" for the show and taking us into the world they're trying to create, and then they snap us back out of it with a ham-fisted voice-over. Ugh. How bad was the ending? I think I deleted the word "ugh" about fifty times from the last ten posts or so. That's all you really need to know.
(And yes, I'll still be watching episode 2. Here's hoping the narrator doesn't join me.)