Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Didn't Survive a Japanese Game Show

I Survived a Japanese Game Show
Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m., ABC-TV


ABC rounds up greedy, cultural-insensitive round-eyes for filthy lucre

As a fan of G4's Ninja Warrior and Ultimate Bazuke and Spike TV's MXC, I eagerly awaited last night's premiere of I Survived a Japanese Game show on ABC TV. The premise was great - a look at people competing in those crazy Japanese TV gameshows. Only hitch was the people. They were Americans. Ugly Americans.

Moreover, the "Ten Who Dared" were nothing more than a collection of warmed-over cliches: the overbearing Staten Island Diva (Cathy), the sassy sista (Belinda), the feisty redheaded firebrand (Mary), the superjock bro with bling and stereotyped-to-point-of-caricature hip-hop-laced snaps and raps like "Yo! That's what I'm talking about, Dawg!" (Donnell), the biscuit-fed borderline-berserk Alabama good-old-boy (with nipple rings!) who looks like a cross between Dukes of Hazzard star John Schneider and homeboy terrorist Timothy McVeigh (Justin), the meek emo Mom (Darcy), the hirsute/roly-poly Jim Belushi "average guy" schlub (Andrew), and the self-effacing middle-aged bald guy (Ben)... oh, and two rather nondescript chicks that supposedly represent America's take-no-shit "working class" mettle: Olga the waitress and Meaghan the bartender.

I hate these people. And I hated them after 5 minutes. In fact, I was hoping they'd take the Tokyo subway and suffer a sarin gas attack from a suddenly resurgent AUM Shinrikyo sect (Shoko Asahara, where are you when we need you?).

That is, with the possible exception of Belinda, who actually rose above caricature to seem like a real person with dignity. Maybe because she stood up to the big-schnozzed, asymmetrically-eyed Cathy when the charmless diva and her other teammates were trying to vote her off. You could tell she was ready to tell her all-white teammates, hey, you're picking on me because I'm the big-boned sista and not some Cher-clone skank, but she refrained. And later kicked ass. I liked her pluck. She even gave "big ups" to rickshaw drivers when her team was doing penance for losing the first contest.


Charmless Cathy, the Staten Island Princess

(And I did like the "Japanese" hosts. American actor Tony Sano is the Survivor-esque behind-the-scenes guide on hand to help the young Americans learn about Japan, while charismatic Rome Kanda (a Japanese-born actor who resides in the U.S.) is the host of the actual game show who constantly shouts out "Meikije!" - Japanese for "This is crazy!")

Everyone else plays to the camera because these shows are a fraud. Unscripted my ass! When a Japanese guide points out a bridge the Americans have never heard of, and Donnell gushes, "Man that's wild, this is unbelievable!" I somehow think he's reading cue cards or else the editor is taking liberties to give the show's flow more punch. There's too much "too much"-ness here.

And the whole setup reeks of a post-Survivor dearth of ideas about what to do with the contestants, so they're put up in a domicile, a la MTV's Real Life, where a stereotypical Mama-san (the most egregious Asian stereotyping since Mickey Rooney as the buck-toothed and bespectacled Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffanys) bosses them around, and Tony Sano, acting as a cross between Survivor's Jeff Probst and The Apprentice's Donald Trump, rewards the winners with limo and helicopter rides while punishing the losers with such "degrading-to-Westerners" tasks as wheeling Asians around in a rickshaw. And each week a contestant gets eliminated. Sound familiar? Yes, we've seen this script before. The only difference is the surroundings: Tokyo, which provides the only class in this entire production.


Mama-san and Mr. Yunioshi

And what of the hardships of those "crazy" Japanese game shows. ABC's hype, carefully scripted and reenforced by the wide-eyed Yank contestants, makes it seem like eating Japanese mochi balls or drinking sake is a hardship. Folks, this show isn't called I Survived Hiroshima. If you wanna talk about hardship, let's chat about the Hiroshima Maidens. (The Staten Island Princess actually complained that sake tasted like gasoline. Honey, it can't be any more bitter than the blowjobs you had to give the producers to make the cut!)

And whereas on Ninja Warrior and Ultimate Bazuke, Japanese contestants play for honor and competitive spirit, this show is about greedy, mostly Twentysomethings, Americans out to win a grand price of $250,000. Ah, the Greek Olympic ideal corrupted once again by the realities of crass Western commercialism.

After watching an hour of the degrading comic relief of Mama-san and her spoiled, arrogant American guests, I was even more pissed because I realized that by watching this (and a preceding Japanese-styled game show, Wipeout - which was basically Ninja Warrior and MXC with more cash and fancier sets) I missed seeing Sam Fuller's 1959 rarity, The Crimson Kimono, over on the Turner Classic Movies channel. That movie's about racial attitudes between Asians and Americans and had, for 1959, a pretty shocking premise - interracial love between an American woman and a Japanese man. No wonder it's out of print, while easy diversions like Flower Drum Song and The Loves of Suzie Wong (in which poor Asian women come to their senses and fall for Western men) are readily available. I missed a Fuller film for this crap? Please kill me now; but first, poke my eyes out with red-hot spears.

This show would make George Carlin roll over in his grave and vomit. As he once observed about our cultural decline and fall, "This country is finished." The proof's in the programming.

Addendum:
If you want a good laugh, turn off the set and read ABC's official bios for the 10 American contestants:
Mary Greenawalt, a 23-year-old gym membership sales rep from Matthews, NC

With her bright red hair and devil-may-care attitude, Mary is the epitome of a fireball. Admittedly vain, this vixen has a healthy love of herself and a low opinion of others. She's incredibly silly and relies on her pixieish charm to get by, and even gets paid for being a "party motivator" -- a job tailor made for this wild child.

Andrew Kelly-Hayes, a 28-year-old radio sales consultant from Boston, MA

With his hilarious stories and off-the-wall energy, this flip flop-wearing funnyman could be a long-lost Belushi brother. Whether he's schmoozing old ladies at Bingo, harassing strangers while on "Smile Patrol" or joining his college cheerleading team to meet hot girls, Andrew has a reputation for being a nut.

Belinda Mason, a 38-year-old veterinarian from Charlotte, NC

This independent, career focused woman is a feisty veterinarian who puts making money and friends before any romantic relationships. Belinda's confidence is evident in her vivacious and spunky -- yet poised -- persona.

Cathy Nardone, a 21-year-old affiliate manager from Staten Island, NY

Happily born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Cathy is "Staten Island for life" with no plans or desires to ever leave. This brutally honest tough chick has a mouth like a sailor and will "swear to God" she's not to be messed with in the slightest.

Darcy Sletager, a 31-year-old photo editor from Sandpoint, ID

This small town, single mom is in desperate need of an escape from her lackluster life of the cubicles and from the dating scene of Sandpoint, Idaho. Always putting her kids first, Darcy feels it's time to take herself off the back burner and get back to the fiery blonde she used to be.

Donnell Pitman, a 32-year-old real estate appraiser from Chicago, IL

Although Donnell is usually loud and energetic, this "All American" dad is struggling to provide for his family and fulfill his shattered dreams of playing pro football. Donnell has competition coursing through his veins and would love the opportunity to prove to his family that he can be greater than what they've seen so far.

Justin Wood, a 24-year-old financial representative from Trussville, AL

Charming and good looking, Justin describes himself as a "divine, fine and genuine-grade-A piece of southern beast." A true southern gentleman, complete with the "twang," Justin is a fish-loving, hunting, girl-chasing guru at heart.

Meaghan Cooper, a 22-year-old bartender from San Antonio, TX

Despite being born and raised in San Antonio, Meaghan is the spitting image of a blonde California Valley girl. Hot, ditzy and free-spirited, she uses her sex appeal to her advantage in both her work and personal life. And, of course, she loves to be the center of attention.

Olga Medvedev, a 26-year-old waitress from Medford, MA

Olga's "don't-mess-with-me attitude" comes off quite abrasive, if you're not ready for it, but who can blame her, coming from a Russian family with eight brothers? Not easily forgotten, this opinionated waitress is hilarious and comical with her "tell it like it is" way of life.

Ben Hughes, a 44-year-old from Punxsutawney, PA who serves as Punxsutawney Phil's handler

He's lovable, he's comical, admittedly in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and he's the official handler of Punxsutawney Phil, the ground hog. Who wouldn't fall in love with this modest, cheerful and quirky character?

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