The Contender – Recap – 1.3 (03.13.2005) – Mike Sage


Apologies for having missed the second episode of our favorite new reality boxing TV show, the Contender. As NBC keeps juggling the show around the network, it must be in a struggle for good ratings. Despite what William Shatner and Chuck Norris’ ringside attendance might imply, the Contender hasn’t quite caught on to be the next Survivor.

Ditto for the following recap, which wasn’t live for similar reasons.

On the last episode, Jesse apparently led the West to their second victory, over the East’s Jonathan. A dying shame I missed it. With a rugged physique and slickly smooth cranium veneer, this piece of meat is the closest guy we have to Jason Statham duking it out in the ring.

The episode begins back at the Contender gym, where Jesse and fans cheer on the West for having achieved 2 and 0. Jonathan got the boot and Jesse boasted he made it out without getting beat up.

The team gives Jesse a supposedly un-homoerotic pat on the bat after he returns to the Contender / Big Brother home. He only stays ’til night time when it’s the family’s turn to give congrats to their skinhead daddy. Apparently the kids behave better when daddy’s home and boy, is mom excited.

Jesse wonders who the cowardly Ishe Smith is gonna fight. He’d better not help boost Ishe’s spirits, because he’s gonna kill Jesse if Jesse gives him too much confidence.

Sun rises for Daily Training. The focus seems to be on Ahmed from Denmark who’s talking the talk with Tarick. Tarick and Ahmed are both Arabs, and therefore have something in common, and therefore must compete to give their heritage a good name, blah, blah, blah. Jesse is given the ceremonial gold necklace; it looks fabulous on him.

The Trainer comes in and takes the winning West-end boys on a tour to see how the “other half,” the rich part of society, apparently, lives. This means a road trip to designer duds emporium ‘Liona’ to be decked out in fine clothes. Pimping suits for Ishe. Sergio makes it tearfully clear that he’s never owned a suit and this is a momentous occasion. Tailors coordinate them from head to toe. Alfonso looks sharp in his custom-made tuxedo. The Trainer lays the sap on thicker than molasses with his commentary as we watch the poor men learn how to tie ties. It doesn’t get much more emotionally corny than watching the poverty-stricken try something new.

In the meantime, Sugar Ray made the mistake of sparring with mouthpiece Ahmed. The so-called prettyboy grows aggressive and doesn’t “show any respect towards the man,” as he throws some unnecessarily tough and very cheap punches. Sugar Ray isn’t phased, however: “let’s see if he can throw those kind of punches when someone is throwing them back.” This, gentle readers, can be defined as “foreshadowing.”

The show begins to focus on our resident coward soft-heart, Ishe Smith, who is tired, anxious, under the pressure, and ready to throw in his towel. He didn’t anticipate how tough this would be and naturally his wife hates seeing him like this. Ishe starts crying, so his wife does the confort food return. Insert some rousing, “he-can-do-it” music and the wife says “that’s what being a team and being a family is all about.” I wonder if Ishe will be fighting this episode?

After some fast-forward urban action montage-ing, Apprentice-style, Sergio mentions that Ishe needs to “put up or shut up.” I guess he doesn’t have too much sympathy for whining babies. But Ishe’s here to be the man his wife fell in love with.

Now the challenge for the ‘right to choose.’ Today we’re at the Home Depot centre for some dodgeball, Contender-style. The team to eliminate all the others’ members wins. Get balls into one of three target zones on other side to bring back a player. Too bad strategy and/or brains are not methods of game-play these guys employ.

It’s important to mention that the West look smashing in their yellow muscle-shirt over sleeveless black. The complimentary blue-and-white is more distinctly 80’s muscle beach, but is still hot on the right physiques.

After Sergio takes the first blow and gives the East the early advantage, Joey suddenly toughens and a fellow team member refers to him as a “baby Stallone”
The East’s 5-3 lead doesn’t last long as Joey pulls them ahead to take out every East player single-handedly, though clever editing makes last East man standing seem to last longer.

Big shocker when the West chooses Ishe, who must set out to prove himself after all the crybaby antics over the course of this episode. What’s more interesting is that he asks to have some private prayer-time with fellow Biblethumper / Christian Brother Brent. Then, with courage usurped from the Lord, Ishe chooses smartass Ahmed and they proceed to a forehead pressure show-down so intense the other men must pull them apart. These guys are not looking for an easy way out and according to Joey, this will be a war.

But first the combatants need some family time. Obvious simpleton Ahmed is love with trophy fiancée, Brandy. She says that Ahmed may seem sweet on the outside, but he’s a monster in the ring. If he doesn’t come home a winner, she’ll be marrying a loser. Actually, news flash for Brandy. Whether Ahmed wins in the ring or not won’t change the fact she’ll be marrying a loser.

Meanwhile, Ishe has a teary-eyed bath, trying to summon up all his courage.

Clearly this is a hero versus village fight-to-the-finish. Neither stands a chance in winning overall, to be perfectly blunt.

Before the match, with 30-minutes to go, Ishe tells us that Ahmed is the “Cancer in my side.” But according to Ahmed, he, himself, has the punch and claims that he nothing to fear from Ishe, who is scared and “not a man.” Oh the whippersnapper insults.

While Brandy asks Ahmed if he will knock Ishe out, Ishe and the wife have a little preying session. Ishe dislikes what Ahmed stands for. “He stands for nothing.” This one is the battle of cockiness and integrity.

Mister T joins Mel Gibson and William Shatner as this week’s celebrity ringside guests. (one wonders if the latter two are hear to plug the Passion Recut and Miss Congeniality 2 respectively?)

Annoying Ahmed tries to be intimidating, getting in Ishe’s face before the fight even begins.

Round one, both Ishe and Ahmed land some horrific punches (with lots of slow-mo). Mel and Will are positively in shock. Round 2, Ahmed misses a lot and Ishe collides hard, getting most of the ‘point-scoring’ slow-mo smashes.

The simple housewife proves to be quite the mouth in the ringside next to Brandy the tramp, trumping the latter’s Jerry Springer cat-calling.

Villainy comes in for some harsh gut punches but Ishe remains fast and harsh-hitting.

There is fear this could end in a KO. The trainers tell them, you “don’t wake up in a hotel”.

Ahmed tries to be dirty with his bull-rush charges, but Ishe is fierce and continues to land most of his ultra-violent hits. After the fight ends, all cheer and Ahmed looks toward Brandy, who Ahmed a ‘valiant effort’ smile.

It’s another unanimous decision: Ishe Smith. The West has won again and Ahmed is not happy.

David Carradine, looking a bit more ninety-four than he was in Kill Bill Volume 2, cheers solemnly, off to the side.

Next is the ceremonial blue-lit handshake between sly and Ahmed, as the loser leaves to hang up his gloves. He’s a sore-loser and knows in his heart that we won, and hopefully “we can see that too”.

Overall, Episode Three certainly picked up the pace compared to the overwrought pilot. Still, the melodrama is sappier than ever and the wholesome family-values shtick is getting a bit old. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that the fights themselves are very tense and surprisingly suspenseful. Mark Burnett has cast some entertaining rivalries that make these climactic showdowns actually intense as they mimic the better fisticuffs of boxing movies. Only the final results here aren’t quite so easily telegraphed as Stallone and Van Damme’s many arena bouts in their vintage 80’s action. The challenges are definitely creative and fun, though a bit unnecessary considering the contestants here choose combatants without any whim of strategy. However, it doesn’t bode well that the cocky thinks-he’s-a-prettyboy was eliminated. Once we’re down to righteous family men and honest farmer’s boys, I’m not so sure how riveting the Contender can be.

Rating: B-