Saturday, March 17, 2007

First Reaction: When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Bacardí Limón

Possums, in honor of this week’s sponsor, the official drink of the Matt Lorenz Drinking Game is not tequila but, rather, Bacardí Limón, which seems rather fitting, since the company’s logo features—wouldn’t you know it?—fruit bats.

We begin with Carisa doing a little obligatory exposition, reminding us that we are halfway through the season. Wait, half is like “middle,” right? Does that make it middling? The midway point of these reality competition series is very important, of course, because it is then that the sleep deprivation, overwork, isolation from the world, confinement with the other contestants, and (as we see this week) access to alcohol combine to create their own form of magic—the catfights, the breakdowns, the Brady Bunch allusions.

In the usual example of Bravo Hubris™ that becomes Bravo Foreshadowing™, Erik tells us, “I’m in the final six, and I’m ecstatic about that. I’m pushing through and seeing how far I can go. My goal is to be here till the end.” Our favorite part of this is not the inevitable result of such pronouncements (similar to the way characters in Lifetime movies always seem to invite leukemia or a drunk driver at the wheel of a city bus whenever they announce how happy they are to have found the long-lost daughter they gave up for adoption after their daddy made them give up the baby when they were teenagers and their unfeeling husbands pooh-pooh’d the importance of the search). No, our favorite part is that Erik tells us he’s “ecstatic” in the most matter-of-fact, sensible, nice-Chicago-boy tones you can imagine. Paging the Pointer Sisters! We can’t wait to see “hysterical.”

Comme d’habitude, the designers are gathered in the “Plaza” of the Pacific Design Center, which, being big and blue, is commonly known as the Blue Whale. Todd announces their next challenge, a party for Bacardí Limón. Excuse us; we seem to be mispronouncing it. Apparently, it’s “BaCARdee LeeMAWN.” And then Todd’s always-freaky voice-over: “Hosted by Elle Décor.” (We’ll get to how odd this really is, but later.)

But the Archangel Todd bears glad tidings indeed, telling the designers, in reference to the place where they are standing, “This is the exact same place where Elton John hosts his annual Oscar bash. So you’re starting out on sacred ground.”

In an episode that had its share of good lines, this may be our favorite. Like the designers, we had no idea that Todd was the Sister Wendy of the PDC, or that we were on such sacred ground. Istanbul that was Constantinople has the Blue Mosque that was the Hagia Sophia; West Hollywood has the Blue Whale that is the Fagia Sophia. And that fountain we’re always seeing shots of, it must be like the spring at the Shrine of Lourdes (Ciccone-Leon); unfabulous pilgrims come from far and wide to be healed by its waters, or to pray at the Blue Whaling Wall. The lame leave lamer, with a penchant for bad hairpieces, magenta suits, near-bankruptcy, royal funerals, and catfights with George Michael. Oh, and does that make the rival Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton’s, a hop and a skip away, the equivalent of the Church of England?

The BaCARdee LeeMAWN party will be a team challenge. Matt tells us, with slightly odd, Yodian syntax, “These team challenges I’m so completely over, because you have to deal with a bunch of crazies on your team.” We take a drink. (The Matt Lorenz Drinking game has grown so sophisticated, and we have grown so bibulous, and Matt has grown so gay-acting, that we take a drink whenever he speaks or laughs.) And then we see him standing next to Erik, both in matching yellow-green tote bags. Totes fab, totes faggy. This deserves two swigs.

The teams are Carisa, Michael and Matt on Team Dis’ and Andrea, Goil and Erik on Team Function. Put ‘em together at a BaCARdee LeeMAWN function, and you get Dysfunction Function, that’s your junction.

Continuing the slight Star Wars feel and demonstrating his very steady grasp of 1970s American cultural tropes, Goil tells us, “Since I got here, the one person I wanted to work with is anDREA. She’s like a better model of me. Like I would be R2-D2 and she would be R2-D345. She’s many, many models ahead of me.”

Todd tells us that BaCARdee “describes themselves as being sensorial.” So that’s where that came from. And like a good teacher, he defines the word indirectly, telling them their design will have to involve the five senses, which he then has to go and list, because we might not know what the five senses are.

Long montages of the designers preparing their designs—Goil referencing Dorothy Draper, Michael shuddering at the thought of “a Disney World of lemons,” Andrea telling us she wants their party tent to resemble a “supermodel party in Iceland.” It’s also not the only time Andrea references parties in Iceland during the episode. Does Reykjavik have a reputation as a party city or a supermodel breeding ground that we don’t know about? Has Andrea watched Die Another Day one too many times?

More montages to demonstrate that three may be a perfect number, but it’s also the most unstable number, always turning into two primes, two against one. In this case, it’s Matt and Michael against Carisa, who, paradoxically, is butcher than both of them put together. And we have Andrea and Erik against Goil. It’s a bitchfest.

Before sending them out to do their tasks, Todd tells the designers, “To help you out with communication, we’ve hooked you up with some phones.” Hey, Todd, as Margaret Russell herself says in her blog, how about hooking them up with some therapists? Maybe that would help them with communication.

Erik and Carisa go fabric-shopping. Matt and Goil go to Wolfgang Puck Catering to pick out hors d’oeuvres. And Michael and Andrea go to a party rental store. Of course, they go in style, in a new! 2007! GMC Acadia! And again, the camera snakes lingeringly over the logo on the car’s curves.

At the fabric store, Carisa peruses—what else?—fabrics, at one point asking, “Are these flame resistant?” We stopped breathing for a second, and Miss XaXa said, “Meow! Is she talking about Matt and Michael?” But then Erik helpfully explained that in California, the law requires flame resistant fabrics at outdoor events.

At Wolfgang Puck, Goil is introduced to the wonders of caviar and truffles, and is endearingly overwhelmed: “I am used to a small hole in the wall in Chinatown. And so this food is all very foreign to me?” Realizing that she’s got a couple of live ones, the Wolfgang Puck lady preens to them about how truffles are thousands of dollars a pound. To which we wanted to say, as Edina Monsoon once did, “You only work in a shop, you know. You can drop the attitude.” Then Goil asks, “Can I take some to-go bag?” And we said, “Good for you, Goil.” Gauche? Perhaps. Understandable? You bet.

Andrea lets it slip that the party is where the staff of Elle Décor is going to be hanging out. Ah. That explains a lot. It may make sense (to someone) for Elle Décor to host a party for a lemon-flavored rum, but a party in the middle of the afternoon? Not hardly likely, as someone we know used to say. So it’s two tents for staffers and hangers-on to hang out (and on) for a bit in the afternoon (who’d say no to free booze and free Wolfgang Puck catering?) while the show is filmed.

Actually, Erik seems to put his finger on the matter when he compares it to “kind of like a Polish wedding in the backyard of Mom’s house.”

After repeatedly talking over Carisa and putting down her opinions, Michael, abetted by a giggling Matt, tells Carisa, “We all should be able to express our opinions without being talked over and put down, and that’s something you’re having trouble with. So please just step back and breathe.”

Wow, just wow.

We hadn’t thought about it before, but Michael is entirely wasted in the design world. His true calling is politics. He’s like a younger, thinner Karl Rove. Need someone to insinuate that John McCain fathered a black baby, or that triple-amputee Vietnam War veteran Senator Max Cleland is a coward and a supporter of terrorism? Michael’s your man. Forget Todd Oldham; we want Michael negotiating with Iran on the enrichment of uranium. After all, if anyone knows about going nuclear, it’s Michael. We hereby withdraw our endorsement of Todd Oldham and propose Michael Adams as Special Ambassador to Iran.

Todd does his supportive walkabout, discussing his “casket concerns” with Carisa and Matt. (Don’t worry, Todd; we’ve got issues with mortality, too.) More footage of Andrea and Erik ignoring or being condescending to Goil. Erik does get off a rather nice line (and as with a lot of what Erik says, it’s all in the delivery and the accent): “Yeah, hang on there, Spartacus. Everybody remain calm.” It becomes even funnier when we see Goil in the White Room sporting a sort of vest that looks very much like a Roman leather cuirass.

(“Shouldn’t we take a drink?” asked Miss XaXa.

“It’s cuirass, not queer ass, and Matt didn’t say it, so no, we can’t drink.” Miss XaXa looked suitably disappointed.)

It turns out Matt had the idea of hiring go-go dancers for their party. We took a drink, which was difficult because we were snickering. Alas, it turned out to be female go-go dancers, and Michael was in charge of hiring one.

Getting on the phone with the danseuse, Michael chases away the carpenters, so the professional shimmy-er wouldn’t be frightened by thoughts of banging and hammering. Tactful as ever, Michael immediately casts aspersions on her ladyship, telling her that he wants her classy, well, “as classy as a go-go dancer could be.”

Matt sends Carisa to make sure Michael isn’t “putting [the go-go dancers] in gold, gaudy stuff.” Carisa—aka the woman with whom we’d most like to play poker—can’t keep her reactions out of her face. Michael summarily dismisses her, pointing a terrible, damning finger at her. He then makes a scene, accusing Carisa of making a scene while he was “on a professional phone call.” And he pursues her with more of the same, again stressing that it was “a professional phone call.” For the sake of argument (the Michael Adams motto?), let us assume that phoning a go-go dancer counts as a professional call, but just how professional is it to tell said go-go dancer that she isn’t classy? But hey, that’s why we’re blogging and not plotting to have U.S. Attorneys fired.

It’s the next day and time to set up the party tents on the homo-hallowed ground of the PDC Plaza. Andrea and Michael go shopping for flowers, and Andrea buys “furry” flowers. More footage of Goil being ignored and seething as he risks life and limb, including the crushing symbolism of being nearly crushed by one of Erik’s wooden wall components. (Apropos of nothing, Goil has great calves.) Goil is especially peeved at being ignored and overlooked because he is some kind of “halfling—half human, half carpenter.”

It’s time for the judging, and we meet guest judge Ben Bourgeois. Been bourgeois, done that, so we won’t snicker, but Ben’s claim to fame is organizing said homo-hallowed Elton John Oscar party, which, we suppose, makes him the equivalent of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and whoever built the cathedral at Chartres.

Jonathan—trying, as always, not to be self-consciously cute—greets the designers thus: “Hey, party people.” The judges will go down to the tents and join the party to appraise the designers’ work, but, in perhaps the saddest words Jonathan has ever uttered, the designers “will have to party from afar.” Then, again trying not to be self-consciously cute, Jonathan says, “It’s time to partay!”

At the after-party in the White Room, everyone has had time to spiff up, including Erik, whose shirt cuffs are undone and at a rakish angle. The judges first address the Matt-Michael-Carisa tent. Kelly, who—surprise, surprise—is a daughter of South Carolina, tells them that her favorite “assessory” was Doc Holiday, the objectified black “doorman” at the entrance to their tent. Ah yes, doesn’t everyone think of black men as accessories?

Matt reveals that they were originally going to hire go-go dancers, but opted for the bouncer because the team felt the go-go dancers “might come in distaste.” We definitely took a drink.

Michael takes credit for the variation of sitting arrangements, which struck us as rather funny, since, during the design process, he had—using his self-proclaimed expertise as a resident of New York, attendee of such parties, and expert on the BaCARdee LeeMAWN aesthetic—shot down Carisa’s idea of sitting arrangements because “people at these things don’t like to sit.”

Michael then admits as how “sometimes being a little nicer is better.” Carisa can’t help interjecting, “And you’re the spokesperson of nice?” Why, yes, Carisa, and that’s why we want him as Special Ambassador to Iran.

Kelly asks if the team had high-fived as a whole, and Michael and Matt perform a high-five that is utterly horrifying to behold, something out of “Men on Film” from In Living Color.

Then the other team airs out its laundry. Andrea gets taken to task for her flowers, Erik takes credit for the overall vision, and Goil complains about Andrea and Erik excluding him and becoming “a kind of club that I cannot join.” This leads to a debate on Confucianism versus Western individualism between Goil and Jonathan. Or maybe it is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 they are debating, where if you are a team player you lose for not being an individual, and if you are an individual you lose for not being a team player.

While the judges deliberate, the Stew Room is indeed stewing. Goil bursts into tears, saying that he felt like Jan Brady. Andrea apologizes for being a leader. And Michael, of all people, puts his arm around Goil. In the White Room, Jonathan calls Erik “an old-fashioned decorator,” which, coming from him, is a left-handed compliment indeed. Margaret “Quip-O-Matic” Russell (there’s a reason she went to Brown) drops her bon mot of the week: “Flowers shouldn’t be furry.”

Team Carisa-Michael-Matt is declared the winner, and Matt the individual winner, so he will have an extra hour to complete the next challenge. Bravo Foreshadowing™ bears fruit as Erik, having taken the credit for the failing design, is sent home. Goil begins to cry, and Margaret surreptitiously gets a little verklempft.

In the design room, Todd continues with the left-handed compliments, praising Erik’s “old-school skills,” and confirms what scientists have known for a while: “the designer gene is in your DNA.”

Well, that definitely explains a lot.