Survivorman Calls it Quits

Filmmaker and Discovery and Science Channel star Les Stroud, known for his show, Survivorman, is calling it quits after three seasons. The 47 year-old Canadian earned street cred amongst survivalists by filming himself completing various week-long survival challenges. Unlike Man Versus Wild’s Bear Grylls, Stroud traveled without a camera crew and survival experts. I, for one, found his solo approach to film-making and survival refreshing compared to Grylls’ preening in front of the camera.

Stroud explained his decision to call it quits to Reuters: “You can only do seven days surviving without food a certain number of times a year. I’m pleased with what I have done, I’ve been copied around the world, but 25 times I’ve not eaten anything for a week while sleeping on rocks. I need to move on.”

Filming for the third, and now final, season is wrapping up in Papua this month. Though the tag Survivorman will probably always remain with him, Stroud plans to move on to other projects. He is writing a book about wilderness survival and is planning a new show where he will follow in the footsteps of famous explorers.

Travel Channel to show Season 12 of Amazing Race

To tide you over until Amazing Race 13 begins on September 28, tune into The Travel Channel. Starting September 3 at 8 p.m. EST, season 12 will be shown.

Although the winners from season 12 are known– Rachel and T.K., the couple who had smart ideas about how to use the dough (although with the abysmal showing of the current market and housing crisis, I wonder how that went?) there are travel tidbits about each of the countries the contestants visited and host Phil Keoghan’s commentaries.

My favorite episode was the Burkina Faso leg, particularly when most teams didn’t know how to say the capital Ouagadougou when they found out where they were heading. The camel milking made for the best TV. Plus, of all the locations, this was probably the one that was the most obscure to many of the folks who tuned in to watch.

Here’s a review of that episode on TV Squad to refresh your memory or to catch you up to the crazy antics that can happen as teams of two people race around the world on a chase for a million dollars.

Jason Hughes, at TV Squad wonders if The Travel Channel’s airing of the show may mean that CBS is thinking about pulling the plug since it is only picked up season by season. In that case, The Travel Channel could take it over. I hope it will stay on CBS so people can see it without cable.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Round three. Back on track

When traveling time zones, it’s a good idea to remember that TV schedules change. When I sat down to watch the 3rd episode of “I Survived a Japanese Game Show,” in St. Cloud, Minnesota where were were visiting friends on our way to Montana, I forgot it was Central Time.

The show comes on ABC at 8:00 p.m. in St. Cloud and not at 9:00 like in Columbus. The show had just ended. We proceeded to watch the sunset and drink wine.

Watching online a day later in Bismarck, North Dakota at the Seven Seas Best Western was just as entertaining. To catch you up for tonight, here’s the recap. If you can’t head to Japan any time soon, here’s one way to feel like you’re there in an unusual sort of way.

What I liked so much during the first episode is back. There was more about Japan and the contestants reactions to being in the country. Everyone loves being in Japan.

There was also more footage about what it’s like to be on a Japanese game show. Less time was spent on the contestants’ chatter about their strategies to win, therefore the bickering was minimal which left more time for more interesting footage.

Another positive change in round three was Mamasan’s increased TV time. I particularly liked observing the contestants reactions to her. The hugs, the thank-yous, the being ever so polite, even when served a gritty version of green tea that isn’t what one likes is so typical of trying to be a gracious guest in another country.

“Good?” said Mamasan. Not exactly, but they drank it.

This episode drew me in for other reasons as well. I loved the behind the scene details that showed how the game show is put together and the crews’ reactions to the Americans.

“What’s that noise?,” one person asked from the control room before the contestants came out for the first game, “Pedal Fast, Big Splash.” The contestants were in the green room getting pumped up.

“They’re screaming.”

“Too much green tea,” said another.

When host Rome Kanda shouted, “Let’s go Americans! Come on out!”, the crowd did their normal going wild routine with their stash of noise makers as the Americans waved enthusiastically, bounding through the door. All seemed happy to be involved with this crazy completion.

“We don’t care who wins, said Kanda, “as long as someone gets wet.”

“With Pedal Fast, Big Splash,” there’s no way to avoid getting wet if you’re the person on the tricycle. No matter how fast two team members pedaled their bicycles to slow down the treadmill, the tricycle rider couldn’t keep up and eventually went backwards into the pool of ice-water.

The Yellow Penguins won by four seconds which meant the Green Monkeys became rice farmers for a day for losing. The Yellow Penguins were given a tour of Tsukiji Fish Market for winning.

Rice farming is not easy. Watching the Green Monkeys slog through muck in an attempt to plant rice reminded me of why I’m astounded that rice is not more expensive.

The Tsukiji Fish Market is as large as several airplane hangers and the place where 4,000,000 fish are sold a day. The Yellow Penguins loved the tour and proved that one doesn’t need a lot of pomp and circumstance to have a great time traveling. Any time one can learn something new is a bonus. As Andrew said, “This was a once in a life experience.”

As a testament to trying new things when traveling, Cathy, known for being a picky eater tried the tuna sashimi. And just like what often happens when trying new things with an open mind, she found out she liked it and downed another piece.

The next day, back in the studio for the elimination round, Darcy and Meaghan dressed up in suits covered with Velcro strips in order to hurl themselves at a wall in an attempt to match shape outlines that looked similar to what is drawn at crime scenes.

The hurling involved bouncing on a trampoline. Meaghan nailed the task all three times. This time Darcy’s lost on a positive note. As she pointed out after the men in black suits carried her out of the studio, she’s the only contestant to have played every game. Even though she didn’t survive a Japanese game show, she sure knows how one is played.

The previews for tonight’s show look excellent. The contestants seem to have decided to just have fun more than anything, except for Meaghan who thinks she’s on “Survivor.” What was the deal with walking around in a bath towel?

Now all I have to do is figure out where I’m going to watch the show tonight. We’re without a TV since we are staying with friends in Montana who don’t have one. There’s the online version that shows up about a day later.

Photos are from the gameshow Web site gallery.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Round two and its getting nasty

This week was round two of I Survived a Japanese Game Show. Here’s the recap of last week’s show. Now that the American contestants know the framework–they’ve been whisked to Japan without their prior knowledge to appear in the Japanese game show Majide, that element of surprise is gone. Still there were plot twists that added some flavor, and some people just don’t like each other.

The first twist was when Ben from Punxsutawney clutched his stomach and said he wasn’t feeling well. Off he went to see a doctor never to return. Was it something he ate? A travel bug–not the good kind, but the bad kind? Whatever sent him to the hospital wasn’t part of the banter.

Personally, from a cross-cultural/travel perspective, I wish Ben’s trip to the hospital had been included, at least minimally since going to the doctor in another country is always enlightening–I’ve always had great luck no matter where I’ve been, but since that wasn’t part of the planned show, it didn’t fit the format.

Here is what was part of the format:

Mamasan made a Japanese style breakfast of shaved fish and soup. The shaved fish wasn’t a fave and folks weren’t sure how to get the soup out of a bowl with chopsticks.

Justin had the right approach to the meal, “I’ll try anything,” while Cathy’s attitude is the type that courts travel unhappiness. “You can take the girl out of Staten Island, but you can’t take Staten Island out of the girl,” she said.

With breakfast over it was back to the studio.

Next surprise, Darcy, who had been eliminated for not being the better bug, came back replenished and ready to replace Ben. She won’t be back in Idaho any time soon after all.

The Japanese audience was still as rowdy as last week, happy to beat on drums, shout out and make a racket at every opportunity while Rome Kanda, the game show host, dovetailed between speaking English to the Americans and Japanese to the audience. The games were as nutty as last week.

For the “Human Crane Finds Fluffy Bear,” a member from each team became part of a giant-sized arcade game–the one where you drop in money and tell it good-bye as you attempt to pick up a stuffed animal with a metal claw in order to win it.

In Majide’s version, a person is attached to a contraption so that the claws become part of the person’s arms and the person can be lowered and raised by remote control. The other team members operated the controls with each member controlling a different movement. One person’s button was up, another was down, another left and another right.

Justin, always ready to try anything, said, “I’ll hang” and scored ten bears–not easily at first, but he let the team members control away as they saw fit and did his part to pick up the large pink bears and dump them into the chute.

Meaghan, a 22-year old bartender from San Antonio, Texas, on the other hand, is a control freak who is used to getting her way. She tried to direct from her suspended state and failed miserably–only one bear was dropped into the shoot making the Yellow Penguin team this week’s winner.

For losing, the Green Monkey team had jobs working at a pachinko parlor and the winners, the Yellow Penguins were treated to a Japanese style massage.

Whether a team is the winner or the loser, members learn something about Japan so from my perspective, it doesn’t matter so much what side you’re on.

Pachinko, a Japanese version of a pinball machine of sorts, involves several small steel balls that players dump into the machine that bounces them around between metal pegs. The more balls come out, the more the players wins. It’s loud. The parlors are garish and bright. Plus there’s blaring music.

As the pachinko boss explained to the Green Monkey losers, who were decked out in pachinko parlor wear, what they would be doing, no one could hear him. Eventually, Darnell is polishing balls, Mary is outside in the rain passing out fliers and Meaghan is picking steel balls off the floor. Taking drink orders is another job.

As for the Yellow Penguins, their massage involved being buried in warm sand–they loved it, and letting small catfish eat the dead skin off their feet. That treatment is called Doctor Fish. They loved that too. So far, Japan has been a big hit.

Through a bunch of haggling that wore me out Olga and Darcy were picked for the elimination round which meant each struggled through a wind tunnel to drop packages in slots while the other lobbed objects like the large pink pandas, blow up dolphins and air matresses. Despite her difficulty staying on her feet, Darcy won and Olga was carried out of the studio by the men in the black suits.

Last week I gave the show a rousing thumbs up but a few commenters disagreed with me. One thought host, Rome Kanda was arrogant and one didn’t like a few of the comments Kanda made about the American contestants. Other commenters agreed with me and liked the show.

This week, although the show was entertaining, and I enjoyed the glimpses into life in Tokyo, I wish the game had a different way to eliminate people. Instead of the back biting, and sucking up that happens as the team members pick two players to be eliminated, I think all the losing team should compete against each other. This other way seems like a waste of time and takes away from what makes the show entertaining.

This episode made one thing clear; if you need a traveling companion, pick Justin. He’s a gem.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Thumbs up

Yesterday, I wondered if ABC’s I Survived a Japanese Game Show would be really awful or very funny. I had some concern that there would be cultural insensitivity that would make for very bad TV. My teenage daughter, who I corralled to watch with me, and I laughed and laughed.

Hollywood got it right.

Whoever thought of this show likes people and knows something about what it feels like to be thrust into an unfamiliar environment, but wanting to stay open to the experience. This was like Lost In Translation meets The Amazing Race, Average Joe and the game show, Beat the Clock.

Because the cast had no idea what kind of show they had signed up for when they arrived from their various homes across the U.S., even the quick trip from the domestic to the international terminal at LAX in Los Angeles was funny.

“Huh? Say what?” they wondered after the short hop from one building to the other.

“You’re going to Japan,” said host/interpreter Tony Sano.

“Great!” ” Wonderful! ” was shouted out in a flurry of excitement. Most had never been out of the U.S.

After arriving in Tokyo, Ben Hughes, age 44, and the official handler of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania summed up the feeling, “I was sitting on a couch in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and now, I’m in Japan.”

After briefly establishing Tokyo as a bustling, bright lights, big city kind of place, contestants were taken from the busiest intersection in the world across Rainbow Bridge to their home away from home –Kansai House run by Mamasan.

Mamasan, a stout Japanese woman has the role in the show of keeping these folks in line and teaching them a bit about Japanese culture. ” No shoes in the house,” she barked. “Now, you go to bed.”

The sake, the traditional style Japanese beds and the remote control toilet were points of interest before shut eye.

Here are a few of the reactions:

  • Of the sake, “It’s lighter than a wine cooler.”
  • Of the beds, “I don’t know if I want to sleep on the floor,”
  • And of the toilet, “Tokyo is way far advanced than the United States of America.”

The next morning, still without a clue about the purpose of this Japan jaunt, the contestants were taken to Toho Studio where Sano told them, “Many classic Japanese films are made here.”

All nodded and murmured in their what I imagined was a jet-lagged, “I don’t know why this is important really since I’ve never seen a Japanese classic film, but I’m happy to be here anyway” sound.

Then the fun really began. The intro to the game show was perfect.

As they trotted through a door while Sano told them that this was where one of the most popular game shows was filmed, one of them said, “It’s completely pitch black.”

Sano said, “The game show starts right now,” and the lights came on.

Surprise! There they were in the middle of the studio floor. “Hello, America! Welcome to Japan!” shouts out game show host, Rome Kanda. The Japanese audience on both sides goes wild.

The Americans are up for anything, even though they have an inkling that they are in the middle of a cross-cultural joke.

The look on their faces reminded me of how my Peace Corps group and I must have looked the day we were whisked from our Western-style training site to live in an African village only three days after arriving in the country. Totally unprepared, but willing to give it a go.

“This is Majide,” Kanda, explains. “It means you got to be crazy.” For the chance to win $250,000 the contestants are willing to be crazy.

“Wave to the crowd,” says Kanda.

The contestants wave.

“Wow, they do whatever I tell them,” says Kanda in Japanese to the Japanese audience, who laughs and continues to stomp, beat on drums, generally make excited audience sounds, and shout out “Majide” whenever Kanda gives the cue. This is a non-menacing audience, though, and the impression is they are rooting for the Americans to do well.

Gamely, and good-natured, the contestants divide up into two teams: the yellow penguins and the green monkeys.

The first game is called, “Conveyor Restaurant.”

In a nutshell: One person from the team is the eater. The other members have a helmet like contraption on their heads that holds a mochi, a sticky rice ball cake. Running on a treadmill, they make it to the spot where the eater is. The eater, without using his hands, has to lean over, grab the mochi with his mouth and eat it all up while the treadmill runner drops to the treadmill and is briskly dumped into a vat of flour.

The team that downs the most sticky rice balls in four minutes wins. As the game continues the treadmill goes faster. It was a hoot.

“There’s no cheating and no hanky panky,” warns Kanda.

“Good fall,” says a member of the yellow penguins who are watching from the green room. Zip goes a green monkey into the flour.

Later, covered from head to toe in flour, Ben says, “I hate treadmills,” but runs his heart out anyway.

“The mochi ball was so gooey I couldn’t chew it and swallow it,” said Donnell Pitman, age 32, and a real estate developer from Illinois who was the green team’s eater.

Sticky or not, he downed 10 of those babies. Which was enough to win the game. The yellow team only managed nine, even though 28 year-old, Andrew Kelly-Hayes, a radio sales consultant from Massachusetts ate like a champ.

“I don’t even know what that was. It was like putty,” he said later.

Once, while Andrew was chewing away, Kanda said in Japanese, “Look at that chubby face go to work, ” making the audience chortle with delight.

Fellow teammate, Darcy Sletager, a single mom and photo editor from Sandpoint, Idaho couldn’t stay on her feet long enough to deliver one mochi ball which caused the yellow team to lose.

“Darcy looked like a crash test dummy,” lamented Justin Wood, a financial representative from Alabama, and another yellow penguin.

For losing, the yellow penguins got to dress up like rickshaw drivers the next day to haul amenable Japanese people around.

For their win, the green monkeys scored a helicopter tour of Tokyo.

Each of these segments helped fill out the hour time slot of “How I Survived a Japanese game show,” but also established the personalities of the players. Cathy Nardone, age 21, for example, was described as a “Staten Island Diva.”

After the rickshaw experience, one of them said what is a mantra that ensures pleasant travel, “We took a bad situation and made it pretty cool.”

Still one of them was to be eliminated. The team chose Darcy because of her lack of “Conveyor Restaurant’ performance and Bilenda Madison, to compete in the game “Big Bugs Splat on Windshield.”

Dressed like bugs, the two took turns running towards a trampoline that they jumped on which hurled them at a mock-up of a car windshield with targets. The one who deposited green goo on the windshield closer to the targets got the most points.

“Are you exciting? ” Kanda asked Darcy. “Yes, I’m exciting, ” she said before running towards her last jump. She was exciting, but came one point short of winning.

At this point, guys in black suits ran into the studio, and after dancing around winner Bilenda, picked up Darcy carrying her out of the building.

The show ended with Darcy walking out the studio gate still dressed in her costume, her bug wings bouncing and her antennas swaying ever so slightly.

Yep, I was impressed. This is a good-natured show, at least so far. It teaches a bit about Japan, generates fun–perfect for the summer, and shows just how willing Americans are to put on a game face when they have to, and liking it.

I’m tuning in next week.

*Photos are from the “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” Web site.