Around The World in Eighty Ways
Welcome to Rebel Billionaire, the show where a Billionaire with Bad Hair buys a bunch of Good Lookin’ Americans to dote on his every word and obey him without question while simultaneously kissing his ass. Who would have thought this format would become a reality show staple? But it has, so here we are—looking at Sir Richard Branson, hereafter called Sir Dicque to differentiate him from that fat, gay reality TV guy also named Richard.
Actually, I kind of like Sir Dicque. For a billionaire he seems like a straight-up guy. I wish he would throw that pompous idiot The Donald from one of his pretty Virginal balloons, but that’s not going to happen no matter how many times I click my heels. Sad, but true.
Sir Dicque (who was born in 1950) founded Virgin in 1970 when he finally lost his, and grew it into a really BIG company over the next 3 decades. He was knighted in 1999 for “services to entrepreneurship” which I think means that his company raked in enough taxable money that the Queen was able to reupholster some of that shabby furniture in Buckingham Palace and Prince Harry got an increase in his illicit drug budget. As a reward for this, the Queen (who does not actually kiss ass) boinked Dicque on the head with a big ass double-edged sword thus making him an actual Knight of the Realm.
The credits begin as Branson, dressed in a nice formal tux, says in his very British accent, “The name’s Branson. Sir Richard Branson.” And shades of that other Brit—the adventure begins. “I’m looking for a Billionaire in the rough,” he says. Then a voice-over” “Ten Countries, five Continents, one
My head hurts. The show hasn’t yet begun and already this guy is invoking James Bond, Aladdin and Jeff Probst. Somebody save me—please!
The narrator continues. “The contestants don’t know it yet, but the winner of this contest will be handed the keys to the entire Virgin empire—360 companies worth tens of billions of dollars!” I boggle and disbelieve. How can this be?
Up, Up and Away!!!
The show opens with our sixteen Good-Lookin’ Contestants (GLCs) getting into one of those cool black, British cabs, two and three at a time. Amazingly, they all get the same cab driver—a scruffy looking old guy who attended the Jared School of Over-Acting While Playing a Cab Driver on TV. Suspicious, no?
Turns out, the scruffy cab driver is actually Sir Dicque in a rubber Halloween mask and uncombed wig. Amazingly, none of the carefully selected contestants are astute enough to realize their driver is wearing a full-face latex mask. Which says a lot about how smart they really are, if you ask me.
Anyway, some of the 16 GLCs behave badly in the cab. Oh, the horror! They are rude to the cabbie and fail to help him with the luggage. (Hello? Handling the luggage is his job, innit?) One of them, Aisha, babbles on and on about Jennifer Lopez while holding her right breast, thus invoking the dreaded J-Lo Curse. Sir Dicque is a suspicious billionaire and understandably doesn’t want to be jinxed by J-Lo. I mean, looked what happened to that nice Ben Affleck guy! They all say a variety of stupid things when the fake cabbie asks them about that charming Billionaire, Sir Richard Branson. Steve has a nice little confessional where he says he will make every one of the other GLCs his bitches. These guys are so toast!
And they arrive at Mill End House in Oxford, Sir Dicque’s country home where they are met by two women in red, who totally scare the pants off me. These women are exceptionally well-groomed and perfectly coiffed. They smile with a warm/cold, friendly/unapproachable sincerity. Since I don’t remember their names, I will call them Thing One and Thing Two. We will see them again several times. They will scare me every time. Do not invite these women over unless your mother is out! Really!
Thing One and Thing Two escort each group of GLCs down to the Mill House dungeon to await Sir Dicque’s arrival. At least I think it’s a dungeon. The heavily beamed ceiling is barely 6 feet high and there are no windows. The GLCs mingle and BS each other for a while. Then Thing One and Thing Two escort them above ground to their welcome party which is being held in a big tent.
A big ass black limo pulls into Mill End. The GLCs ‘ooo’ and ‘ahhhh’. Then, oh the horror! Donald Trump gets out of the limo! Yiiiiyyyyyks!!! No wait! It’s a fat Donald Impersonator! That clever Sir Dicque is just having some fun with us. Sir Dicque pulls up behind the limo in a simple black cab, gives two thumbs up to the watching GLCs and runs over to shake hands with each of them. What a nice guy! He wastes no time getting rid of a couple of the idiots, but first we get to enjoy the priceless looks of dismay on all their faces when they realize that Being Kind to Fugly Cab Drivers was the first Test. Aisha is dumped for invoking the J-Lo Curse while riding in a cab. She cries. Spencer is dumped for, uh, for because Sir Dicque just doesn’t like him. Finally! A reality show that doesn’t pretend it’s going to be fair! Shawn is “warned” that he was almost eliminated for being too cocky and stuff. Sir Dicque keeps him around only because his hair is SO bad that Sir Dicque’s own bad hair looks almost good in comparison. Or something like that.
The remaining 14 are sent to bed without supper, and told they must be up at 4 a.m. the next morning for a challenge so bizarre that even Sir Dicque has never tried it.
Thing One and Thing Two wake them up at 3:30 a.m. If you ask me, there is no task that could be more scary than having Thing One and Thing Two shake you awake! Who are these women? What do they do for Sir Dicque? Will they do it in a box? Will they do it with a Fox? Will I get to watch? Uh… where was I?
Outside, on the lawn, in the dark, unnamed men are inflating two hot air balloons. Heather—who produces educational videos for children and thus knows the horrors Thing One and Thing Two are capable of—can’t decide whether to pee her pants or throw up. Sara, who sells kinky pantyhose on QVC confesses that she fears heights.
Sir Dicque explains the challenge. Half of the GLCs will do the challenge. The other half must stay on the ground with Thing One and Thing Two. Everyone clambers to be on the balloon team but Sir Dicque makes some stay behind anyway, telling them they are “safe” in this challenge. The Things giggle. ‘Safe’ is a relative concept you know.
The balloon can safely hold only eight people, Sir Dicque and the 7 team members. Plus of course two camera men with cameras, a butler, the Lloyd’s of London insurance guy, and one parachute (for Sir Dicque.) But not to worry. There are lots of nice soft trees to land on if everything goes to Hell at 10,000 feet. Just to prove that point, the ascending linked balloons brush through the canopy of a big-leafed tree, leaving everyone to wonder if the stupid plank is still really secure or not.
The balloon team is Sara, Michael, Erica, Nicole, Jessica, Tim and Shawn. Because he is an asshole, Shawn is appointed leader of the group. He gets to decide the order in which the balloon team will do their task, which is to walk across a 3-inch plank suspended between the two balloons while floating at about 10,000 feet. All seven must cross within 15 minutes and they can’t touch the safety line more than once. Sara asks to go first before she can get too scared, so Shawn has her go last. That’s leadership, I guess. Shawn, Michael, Erica, Nichole and Jessica all teeter across the plank successfully. Tim touches the safety wire twice and is sent back. With about 20 seconds left on the clock, Sara starts out across the plant, but like Tim her hand brushes the wire twice and she is out. Time runs out and the balloons separate, leaving Sara and Tim alone in the balloon with Sir Dicque.
Then Sir Dicque explains how the elimination will work. All three of them, beginning with Sir Dicque, must climb one of two 150 foot rope ladders to the top of the balloon and have tea. Real English tea. Sir Dicque goes first. He has never done this particular stunt and is surprised at how hard it is. He barely makes it to the top. Lawyer Tim goes next. Have I mentioned how dull Tim is? Well, he is that dull. I get bored watching him in a death-defying climb.
Sara starts out after Tim is about 30 feet up his rope ladder. The Lloyd’s of London guy has to coax her and coach her to get her ass on the ladder. “You can do it!” he exclaims. “Believe in yourself!” And, “Don’t fall because I really don’t want to have to pay out on that Life Insurance policy Sir Dicque has out on you!”
Sara takes a whopping 38 minutes to make the climb—but good for her; she does it in spite of her fears! Once at the top she mistakes the thin balloon skin for terra firma and jumps up and down in joyous victory dance, thus poking one leg right through the balloon’s skin and almost falling into the balloon before plunging to her death. Lucky for her, there is another Lloyd’s of London guy on top of the balloon with Sir Dicque. He grabs her and quickly slaps a patch on the ruptured skin. Lloyd’s really doesn’t want to pay off on that insurance policy!
I wonder just how many people there are up on the top of that balloon. Let’s see-- Sir Dicque, Tim, Sara, the camera guy, the Lloyd’s of London guy, the butler (Hello? This is an English tea after all. Of course there is a butler!). When did they all climb to the top? Were some of them there all along? Who carried up the little table & chairs? Is the tea actually hot? Tim and Sara don’t really care. They are alive—riding on top of a balloon, on top of the world, having tea with an eccentric billionaire. What could be more fun? Far below in his chocolate factory, Willie Wonka looks on in envy.
Now we flash to the tarmac of Heathrow Airport in London. The 14 remaining GLCs are lined up in front of a big ass Virgin Atlantic airplane. Tim and Sara are at the end of the line because Sir Dicque is going to dump one of them right there on the tarmac.
He is very coy about dumping them. First he tells them how great they are, then he hands each a ticket. One is a ticket “back to America” and the other is an invitation to continue on. Dicque has them open the tickets. This should be a really dramatic moment but somehow it’s not. Both Tim and Sara look confused and have trouble figuring out what the heck the tickets mean. Finally Sara fingers it out and grabs Sir Dicque for a slobbery, blubberly kiss before getting on the plane with him. Poor old Tim gets to stand there and watch the jet take off without him.
On the plane, Sir Dicque pops a bottle of champagne and tells the remaining GLCs “We’re going to Hong Kong!!!”
End of Episode One.
Before I begin Episode Two, which is really just the second half of this two-hour Premiere, I want to do some speculatin’. I have no talent for summarizing commercials like Landru does, and I live in a little itty-bitty media market, so I won’t waste your time talking about that—but you have all been wondering why on Earth that Brit, Sir Richard Branson, would decide to give his company to an American? I mean—there are no Brits among the GLCs! Not a one!!! (Of course there are no Canadians either. Everyone knows Canadians are not allowed into reality TV shows because they live in a pretend country.)
So why are the GLCs all American?
Can you say ‘Publicity Gimmick?’ In 2005, Branson is going to launch Virgin Airways U.S.A. out of San Francisco. With a stupid name like “Virgin Airways” who the heck would want to fly on it? But after this show—where every episode begins and ends with a shot of a Virgin Airways jet, linking it to fun, adventure and good-looking people—his airline will have decent name recognition. Then there is the whole Media Event of handing over the leadership of Virgin to some deserving idiot who “earned it” in an intense competition. Free publicity in the very important, media-obsessed California market is bound to follow. All the cool kids will want to fly Virgin.
And on with the show…
The Junke Junk Junket.
Now that all the GLCs are sufficiently drunk on champagne, Sir Dicque breaks them up into two teams. An all-woman team and an all-men team. Each team is asked to choose their leader. Nobody really wants to be the leader, since that looks like a vulnerable, hot-seat kind of position.
Sara, who barely survived by the skin of her teeth last time is appointed leader of the women. She realizes that they are probably trying to put the kiss of death on her, but accepts the challenge. Jermaine decides he wants to be the leader because he is a clueless idiot—but more on that later.
Once everyone is comfortable with their choices and group dynamic that wily old entrepreneur Sir Dicque pulls a quick one. He switches leaders. Sara becomes the leader of the men, and Jermaine becomes the leader of the women. The teams will be doing competitive junk shopping in Hong Kong. No, wait. Their actual task is to create a new in-flight Service Package for Virgin Atlantic’s London-Hong Kong Upper Class customers. They have to brainstorm what to put in the packet and buy stuff for 45 packets somewhere in the Hong Kong markets. All for $500.00 total. The team leader will present their final packet to Sir Dicque at the finish of the quest. The winning team members and their leader will all be safe.
The flight turns into two big brain-storming sessions. Sara does a good job of getting the men to focus. Jermaine, not so much. The women—especially the fiery Candida—find him over-bearing.
Once on the ground in Hong Kong the male team hits the ground with a solid plan while the women are still arguing about what to get. As a complication, Sir Dicque arranges for both teams to be invited to take a boat ride out to Lantau Island to see a famous statue of the Buddha. The men’s team pass that tourist-like visit up and keep working on their packets. Jermaine decides on behalf of all the women that they will go, since he thinks that is what Sir Dicque would do and Jermaine is all about doing whatever Sir Dicque wants even if Sir Dicque hasn’t actually said he wants it.
So the guys shop for junk while the women hop on a junke. Candida especially is against the boat trip, but gets over-ruled. Turns out? This is a slow boat to China. The ride takes forever and the girl’s team wastes precious hours. Meanwhile, the guys are cooking. It turns out that Shawn, he who was almost dumped after the taxi ride, speaks fluent Mandarin! They find everything they want. Mission accomplished.
The women split into two groups and shop on Lantau Island, I think. Anyway—they fight and argue and miscommunicate but eventually find all the lame stuff they were looking for.
I guess Branson didn’t travel all the way to Hong Kong because the GLCs have to fly back to Mill End House in England to make their presentation. Sir Dicque looks very grumpy and disappointed as he comes out to meet them. I think he has already been briefed on the rolling disaster that was the women’s team, and the stupid pillow idea. I mean, really? How many people want a complimentary pillow from one leg of an airplane ride?
Jermaine presents the women’s kit idea—a “Wake-Up Kit”. It contains moisturizer, deodorant and breath mints in a pretty little brocade bag. It seems pretty lame, but Jermaine is quite proud—the contents were all his ideas after all. Sir Dicque seems under whelmed.
Sara presents the guys kit, which includes a mirror attached to the pop-out television in each seat, and a comfy pillow in Virgin red that each passenger can take with them. They even have little ‘Virgin’ labels attached to each pillow. Sir Dicque is impressed by the mirror idea. The guy team wins and they are all safe. Well, except for Jermaine who now has to pick one of the women to do a head-to-head challenge with him.
He picks Candida because they seem to hate each other and this way if he wins the challenge she could be history. The challenge Sir Dicque has planned is an “On Wing” challenge. Each challenger has to climb up onto the top of a bi-wing plane as it flies above Mill End and strap into a brace. Then one plane will turn upside down, swoop over the other plane, and the two wing-walkers have to pass a 5 foot baton between them. And? Jermaine is too big and heavy to wing walk. He has to choose a surrogate to take his place on the biplane. He picks Erica because she and Candida have been feuding. This ‘surrogate’ thing seems like a pretty stupid plan thing to me, but it all makes sense to Sir Dicque. If they fail to pass the baton, then all three get booted. If they succeed in passing the baton, then old Dicque gets to pick one who goes. This is better than the purple rock, I guess.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch Jennifer has her panties in a bunch. She calls her mom and cries, tells her that she just couldn’t do another physical challenge. I think, huh? You were on the ground for the balloon challenge, nobody asked you to climb onto the wings of a biplane. You were asked to buy moisturizer in Hong Kong! How hard is that? What challenge have you done? But Jennifer has never before traveled outside of the United States and she is freaking. What if that mean billionaire boy wants her to actually compete or something? What if she has to do stuff with Thing One and Thing Two?
And back at the airfield, three planes are taking off. Branson is strapped onto the brace for the take-off. Candida and Erica have to climb out of the cockpit while airborne and strap themselves in. Erica has agreed to be the one who goes upside down. I look carefully and see no safety lines during the climb from the cockpit.. If so, this really is a nutzoid stunt!
Also? The biplanes both have the words “Utterly Butterly” written on their sides in bright yellow letters. A buttery plane sounds pretty slippery to me. If I were doing this stunt which I am not actually
stupid brave enough or desperate enough to do, I would want a plane named “Wickedly Stickedly” or “Gooey Gluey” or something more reassuring like that.
Erica’s plane rolls and swoops down over Candida’s plane. I picture the pilots giggling and trying to decide how angry the boss will be if they create a two-girl pancake stack. I mean—this is a test of the pilots’ flying abilities more than a test of the girls’ baton passing skills!
The girls can’t make a successful pass on the first try because the stupid pilots are afraid of making girl pancakes. On the second pass the planes get barely close enough, and Erica passes the baton off to Candida. Success! Everyone cheers! Watching from her post below, Jennifer pees her pants. And after their cooperative effort to avoid elimination, Erica and Candida bond and seem the best of friends. Which leaves Jermaine as the odd man out.
Now we jump to Heathrow for another elimination in the shadow of a shiny Virgin Jet. Who will Sir Dicque decide to send home? He gives them both a little pep talk, and relates what he sees as their strengths and weaknesses, then hands them each a ticket. Once again, the moment seems strangely drained of drama. Candida looks at her ticket, then tries to peek at Jermaine’s. Inside the big jet the remaining dozen contestants turn in their seats to see who will walk onto the plane with Sir Dicque. Will it be Candida or Jermaine who survives judgment?
Amazingly (well—not really amazingly, but let’s pretend) both Candida and Jermaine get on the plane! It turns out that Jennifer decided to go home to mom, so Sir Dicque was not forced to make a choice this week. It looks like Jermaine will survive for at least one more show.
Next week—Africa! The GLCs will go over Victoria Falls in a barrel. Not a wooden barrel, but some kind of high tech, life-supporting barrel. I am under whelmed. Didn’t an 8 year old boy once go over the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls wearing only his Garfield life jacket? Find that kid and give him Virgin Enterprises!