LAST EDITED ON 10-06-04 AT 07:57 PM (EST)
Official Summary, The Benefactor, Episode Four: "Spencer: For Hiring"
Previously on The Benefactor: Cuban rents out a mansion in the swank part of Dallas. Sixteen people show up and start setting new speed records for getting booted. Interviews are performed. Jenga is played "for a million dollars", then both players are booted as quickly as possible. Cuban is introduced to what plebeian Dallasites (defined as those of us who can't afford Mavs season tickets) do for fun. Second-graders are exploited. Cheesy websites are built. Bad music is made. Viewers from Texas eastward patiently wait for Monday Night Football to come on.
So now that we're down to an almost-manageably-sized group, let's review who's left:
Dominic - Rock-star type, right down to the complete and utter lack of talent. This show's Rupert (or Colby if you prefer).
Femia - Cutthroat competitor, and as such the closest thing this show has left to a villain.
Kevin - Opraholic nanny. Did a good job on the toothpaste marketing challenge.
Tiffaney - Watermelon queen. My spell-checker's least favorite contestant.
Spencer - Computer geek (which I mean as a compliment). First person in reality TV history to declare himself "the smart one" and not get instantly booted.
Linda - Football player. Sentimental favorite, whether we like it or not.
Mark - Joe Billionaire. Acts like he's in charge or something. While other billionaires have Fortune 500 companies lining up to get plugged on their shows, is unable to convince Dave & Buster's to pay ABC's "logo-unblur" price.
We open with an establishing shot of downtown Dallas, then cut to an oil derrick somewhere out in the Midland-Odessa area. Well, hey, seen one bit of Texas, seen it all, right?
Mark Manor. We open on Kevin, who VOs that he's getting excited now that it's down to the final six. He goes on to talk about how he's never had a vacation until now. I badly want to mock the idea that he's taking a "vacation" in his hometown, but then it occurs to me that since the telecom meltdown a few years back I haven't exactly been taking as many trips out of town as I used to. Then he talks about how people he talks to find the concept of a "paid vacation" to be humorous. Tell me about it -- I think I interviewed with those people last month.
Femia and Linda trade VOs over who they believe doesn't belong in the game. In fact, it turns out that this show is about two-thirds voiceovers and confessionals, far too many of which describe actions and emotions which we can see perfectly well for ourselves. It's all part of the running thesis I have that ABC Just Does Not Get Reality TV.
Cut to the group gathered before Mark, who is this early in the morning forging new frontiers in sounding dorky. "Preseason is over, the regular season is about to begin," he announces. Unless you're in the NHL, in which case golf season has gone into overtime. Mark divides the group into teams of three which might seem familiar: Femia, Dominic and Tiffaney, the remnants of Team Rock Star, now comprise Team Silver, and Linda, Kevin and Spencer, late of Team Linda, become Team Blue. The new names are not exactly "Chabogo Mogo", but apparently all the creativity got used up on Mark's new nickname for Spencer, which even Spencer seems to find appallingly dorky.
Today's challenge is a "modified game of H-O-R-S-E". Something tells me we're not going to be getting "through the window, off the wall, off the scoreboard, one bounce, nothing but net" in this version. And in fact, it's not a game among the contestants themselves, but between two teams of players recruited by the contestants. And not just any three players, but a man, a woman, and a 12-and-under child. And no pros, not that any of them would be dumb enough to recruit Antoine Walker for their team anyway.
This is of course Mark's cue to confessional-brag about how he took over the Mavs at a time when they were one of the jokes of the NBA, and through savvy and effort, built it into what it is today: a team that chokes in the playoffs every year. This he accomplished by carefully scouting talent, meticulously evaluating it, and then signing Dennis Rodman out of retirement as a publicity stunt.
Spencer opens the cockiness sweepstakes by referring to the the Silvers as "Team Beautiful" and calling their biggest talent their ability to get a good tan. Or in Tiffaney's case, her ability to remain pale despite living in Laredo.
Outside, the Blues sit down for a strategy session. Linda and Kevin proceed to have the least fascinating power struggle ever over leadership of the team, so much so that Spencer walks off about ten seconds into it.
Meanwhile, the Silvers are inside, doing research on a laptop and zzzzz.
Back to the Blues, where they have a discussion of what Linda means by the term "bitchy". Kevin, in confessional, talks about how Linda "will turn on you like a cat that's been caged up". As if cat needs a cage as an excuse to turn on you.
After commercials (DishPVR! Never have to recap another commercial again!) we catch up with Team Silver, on the road to the south side of Dallas, which I might as well tell you is the have-not side of town. We're at an unnamed rec center, where a digital clock tries to be helpful in telling us that it's 11:06 AM. Given that the game isn't until midday tomorrow the deadline doesn't seem particularly pressing, but hey, they paid for the clock, so we might as well use it. So anyway, at the rec center, Tiffaney asks for "the best player here" and thus narrows the field down to... everyone present. Gee thanks, Tiff. After we watch a few shots of one guy doing some pretty good dunks, Dominick calls him over and recruits him, whereupon we learn his name is Bernard. He becomes the first shooter for Team Silver.
11:43AM. Apex, I mean, Team Blue is still spinning its wheels at Mark Manor. Finally concluding that there are no basketball players hanging around there, they resolve to hit the streets. As soon as Spencer gets out of the john.
12:12PM. Beckley Saner Rec Center. Team Silver. After a bit of footage we see a boy identified as "Junior". Which... I dunno, I just think of having that name at age seventy and feeling really silly. Anyway, since we know his name he obviously makes the team, so let's move on.
1:08PM. Finally on the road, Team Blue is approaching a "local elementary school", unnamed for reasons soon to become clear. They spot a boy shooting baskets, by which I mean, chucking the ball roughly in the direction of the basket and kind of up. Moving on, Kevin asks a group of people walking by if they play basketball, but none of them seem to have heads, so no luck there. Humor involving stepping in dog poo is attempted, but that fails as well.
2:11PM. Team Silver arrives at the Lake Highlands Rec Center (a considerably wealthier part of town now). They interview a woman who played "five years of college ball". There's a few questions about that that seem askable, but instead we just see her drain outside shot after outside shot, so let's welcome Amy, the last shooter for Team Silver.
3:27PM. Team Blue arrives at the Premier Club, an obviously posh outfit which Google pegs as being right in the Park Cities area near SMU. First they talk to Paul the manager, who agrees to help them scout. Next they come across another employee, who plays up his shooting skills. They take him out on the court, where we find? Not so much. Meanwhile, Paul waves Spencer in to get him on the phone with someone named Rhonda. Spencer asks if she can help them, and she appears to agree with Paul's glowing review of herself.
By now it's 5:42PM, and Kevin and Linda break off to meet with a guy who works at Foot Locker whom they'd called earlier, while Spencer stays back to keep on scouting. They meet the fellow, presumably coming off of work, and they ask him to show them his dribbling form. He gives them the "between the legs, behind the back, off my right leg and out of bounds" routine, which Linda loves. Next, they ask about shooting, and apparently his wrist is limp enough for their liking, so let's welcome Keenan to Team Blue.
6:37PM. Kevin and Linda are supposedly heading back to the Premier Club, but the landmarks in the driving footage being shown has them going in completely the wrong direction, north on the tollway into Plano. Anyway, they speculate that Spencer is, if anything, scaring off potential players with his scrawny physique. Back at the club, Spencer, out of desperation, pulls a freckled youngster off a squash court where he's presumably playing with his dad, and asks to see his basketball shooting. His technique seems a little iffy, but the shots are going in, so Spencer welcomes ten-year-old Lucas to the squad.
7:01PM. Kevin and Linda arrive at the Premier Club and meet Lucas.
7:47PM. Spencer gets another call from Rhonda, who still agrees with Paul's assessment of herself. It's not entirely clear, but I guess she's called to say she can't make the audition, so Spencer signs her on sight unseen. It's at this point that on your first-rate reality shows, the editors would splice in some kind of sound effect to mock such an obviously boneheaded move, but on this show the generic jazz rhythm doesn't even skip a beat. Oh well.
American Airlines Center, Game Day. The Mavs Dancers are in attendance as we see Mark sink a half-court shot. (Over/under on how many takes that shot took: 15.) We hear from the contestants, but I don't quite catch it, because... Mavs Dancers.
Just because he can, Mark arranges for the recruited players to be introduced onto the court as if they were there to play in an NBA game. Presumably this does happen, but the overdubbed announcer we hear is clearly standing in a sound booth somewhere else entirely. The editors get a belated dig in, as sound-booth-announcer introduces "Rhonda, The Mystery Woman".
"Welcome to my boardroom," begins Mark, and didn't we already overdo the Apprentice references two episodes ago? Anyway, Mark spells out the specifics of the game. It's HORSE, only "better", apparently because the word being spelled is "LOSER". Well I have to say that's not the five-letter word I'd have expected. I mean, you just know that that other rich guy would have had his players spelling out "T-R-U-M-P".
Mark goes on to explain that, oh by the way, he gets to pick the shots. And apparently he has to make one first, so no, we're not going into McDonald's-commercial territory anytime soon.
Mark starts out with a shot from the free-throw line. Silver huddles, and designates Amy to try her luck. She takes the ball, and without even dribbling, puts it up and swishes it. She totally put her toe on the line, but nobody notices. Blue counters with Lucas. Ooookay. He gets it up there, but it rattles out, and that's an L for Blue.
The second shot is from halfway between the foul line and the basket. See, now this shot was clearly intended for the kids, so Blue's clearly screwed up here. They send in Rhonda, who proceeds to shoot way too hard, the ball hitting halfway up the backboard and coming down off the front of the rim. Spencer is like, 'but her resume said...'.
Silver, not to be outdone in the nearsighted thinking department, decides to send a man in to do a boy's work, and gives Bernard the honors in putting in the short shot, giving Blue L-O.
Team Silver's folly quickly becomes apparent as Mark selects as the third shot a three-pointer from the corner, one of the hardest shots on the floor because the backboard isn't placed where it can bail you out. And, by elimination, the shooting matchup is Keenan vs. Junior. It's an M&M'er, bay-beeeee! Sorry, channelled Dickie V for a second there. Anyway, Junior gets rim, but Keenan gets net, so Silver gets an L as we move on to round two.
Shot four is another three-pointer, this one from about a 30-degree angle. The men go up on this one for both teams. Keenan's shot is just off the mark, Bernard's shot is a swisher. That's L-O-S for Blue, and even Tiffaney is joining in on Silver's trash-talking of the opposition.
Back to another "kids" shot, from the same angle as the last shot but the same distance as the second shot. Junior goes first and banks it in. Lucas' shot rolls off. That's L-O-S-E for the Blue Team, or, if you're the sound-booth announcer, the Silver Team. Please pay that slip no mind, it totally doesn't give away what's going to happen next.
Shot six is another short one, at a slightly tougher angle. Amy for Silver sinks hers no problem, and it all comes down to Rhonda. Rhonda banks it in to keep hope alive. Amy goes again... and her shot rolls off. I would have thought Rhonda would now need to make it again, but I guess not, as Silver gets L-O, and the competition survives to the next round.
And for round three, Mark moves us into the realm of trick shots. Shot seven is from the same spot as shot two, only with the shooter's back to the basket. Mark demos the shot by leaning way back and tossing it in, but our shooters will have to keep their eyes looking straight downcourt, making it an actual blind shot. Bernard tosses it up... and bangs it off the rim. Keenan's go, and he totally looks up as he's making the shot, but again, nobody seems to notice. Anyway, it's nothing but net, and Silver is now at L-O-S. Mark again needlessly VOs that Silver is looking less confident than they were two letters ago.
Shot eight is a killer. The shooter is right under the basket, but is facing away from it, has to shoot one-handed, and, oh yes, with the eyes closed. Over/under on the number of takes for Mark's demo: off, because we don't actually see it go in directly from the shot he makes. Both teams send in the women. Rhonda lays hers up... and in. Amy's all, what have I gotten myself into, but she gives it a game effort, and clanks it off the bottom of the rim, thus making it a LOSE-LOSE situation for everyone involved.
Last shot, and it's down to the kids. No tricks here, just a straight-in shot... from just inside the three-point line. And just to totally mess with the kids' heads, Linda suddenly hits on the idea of yelling during the other team's shot, a trend which soon catches on among everyone. Junior heaves it up... air ball. Lucas with the heave... and another air ball. Junior again, more catcalls... and this one is nothing but net. So it's all down to young Lucas, who hasn't hit a shot the whole time. Can you feel the drama? Can you? Well, let me know what it feels like. Lucas heaves it up, and we go into slow-motion, as the ball hits, rims around a couple of times... and falls out. Game over. Needless to say, Lucas totally feels like what Linda stepped in yesterday, and it's to the show's credit that they mostly spare his dignity.
Back from commercial, the shooters have left and the contestants gather for "hell to pay" time. The voiceovers are running thick even as my desire to care about them sinks further. Because we haven't stolen from enough reality shows on other networks, we're changing up and stealing from one of ABC's own shows. Mark first shows us an envelope containing the name of his next victim, but then announces that he's going to offer the members of Team Blue a bribe to exit the game voluntarily. Mark produces $10,000 from his gym bag and overdramatically drops it on the floor in front of them. Arbitrarily moving from left to right, he first asks Linda if she wants to accept. Linda is all, the website isn't "tenthousanddollarmom.com", beeyotch. Kevin's turn, and he mulls it over a while before also declining. Finally we turn to Spencer, who's says thanks, but I've already got one of those.
So Mark pulls out another ten g's and drops them next to the first pile. Basically we get the same responses, only this time with a needless VO from Kevin about how much he's thinking about it. All right, says Mark, how do you feel about thirty grand? And another commercial break to think it over?
Linda is still playing insulted, saying she has shopping sprees bigger than that. Over to Kevin, who's about to blow, and Mark knows it, so he presses him a little harder. And finally Kevin breaks down and takes the money. So Mark hands it over, and doesn't even bother with the "lost your chance" catchphrase. Later Kevin is quoted as saying, "Oprah is going to be so proud." Actually I think she's just glad that he isn't going to get tax squeezed over his prize.
But Kevin doesn't get off completely, as Mark now has him open the loser's envelope to see who would have gone. He opens it, and it was... Dorothy. No, actually it was Spencer, of course, for his blunder of hiring Rhonda sight unseen, even though she worked out reasonably well in the end. Spencer is actually shocked by this somehow, but recovers enough to say thank you to Kevin for saving his bacon. Exuent all.
Oh, but look! We've still got some time left. So let's have drinks over at Chili's (Official Desperate-Enough-To-Actually-Be-A-Sponsor of The Benefactor), and now let's drop the next bombshell. Tomorrow's task involves two teams of two. Now comes the tricky part: two plus two does not equal five. So, someone's gotta go. And because Mark's totally out of ideas, he's going to leave it to the contestants to figure out who that someone is. Femia VOs to the effect of, great, well I'll just be packing my bags then.
Mark Manor. Linda and Spencer are sneaking around the grounds for reasons best known to themselves. Finding a secluded spot, they agree that they'll stick together as one of the teams of two. We don't see the pinky swear, but I guess it's implied. The others soon spot them and Linda spills the beans. So Team Silver has to vote out one of their own. Various ideas for resolving the three-way are proposed, including picking numbers, drawing straws, and that old standby, roshambo, but in the end, they settle on...
Or, as I like to call it: 'GAH!!!
So they set up the tower and take turns and if you can make Jenga translate effectively to words you're a better recapper than I. We skip quickly forward to what looks like about the fourth go-around and Dominic is probing the tower for a loose piece and manages to push the whole thing over just like that. I'll give him this, Dominic takes it amazingly well, as he's practically in hysterics over his own clumsiness.
Linda gets the news and confessionals that this was the best development she could have hoped for, as she rated Dominic the brains of the Silver group. I guess we have to take her word for it but he certainly wouldn't have been my choice for that label. There's a lot more confessional chatter but you know? I've had it. We're done. Let's get out of here.
Next week: Random acts of kindness! Fat suits! Fake flowers! Criticism! Arguing! And, what exactly does Mark do to Dominic? On camera, I mean.
Credits outtake: Spencer woos the Mavs Dancers, and they actually react favorably. Go fig.