The Contender – Recap – Episode 4

All psyched for the next new episode of NBC’s lukewarm Contender? You must be one of the 12 boxing fans who actually is watching.

With celebrity mainstays like Chuck Norris showing up for the matches, perhaps NBC should move the show to the ultra-competitive Saturday night show, where Norris’ own Walker, Texas, Ranger once chewed the scenery.

Hopefully this isn’t the last time you’ll be hearing my absolutely objective commentary and recap of Mark Burnett’s latest slice of melodrama.

Anyway, here’s the RECAP:

Contender

Back in the ring, Ishe is psyched to have defeated his cancer (AKA Ahmed) and returns to the loft triumphant.

Back at Jeff’s house, with his 7-year-old bastard son and girlfriend. He’s sick, and apparently with allergies. Jeff’s wife really thinks he can win this. Wow, what an objective insight.

We get to hear from Jackie for a change. She mentions that Najai is a little kid, hiding in his hoodies. Najai feels alone, and he really needs a hug. He was a boy and needed to become a man, worked three jobs to feed the family. Awww, how noble.

Ishe gets his ceremonial silver necklace from Stallone in a very gay sleek black tank top.

West coast reward for Ishe having laid the smack down? Fine-dining dinner with Sugar Ray! Sugar Ray gives some words of wisdom: everyone can fight, but sometimes you’re too vulnerable. Whoaaaa.

This dinner is apparently a mind-blowing taste of the future of success, says one of the boys.

Jeff is Jackie’s biggest concern. He’s the smallest, and now he thinks he’s sick. If the guys realize he’s got a rash and wants to see the doctor, ‘he’s gone’.

People must look at Sergio and think he’s uneducated. But he ‘read the book. Twice.’. Stereotypes can be grounded in truth, but Sergio wants to prove it is possible for boxers to have functioning brains. Oscar Wilde is the young boxing scholar’s favourite writer and he knew that some things can’t be taught. Knowledge is long and life is short. Boxers can be literate? Nahhh.

Apparently Jeff’s rash is chicken pox. Uh oh, this means he’s never had it and will have to be removed from the tournament because he’s contagious. With another East player down, will Stallone and Sugar Ray have to reshuffle the teams Apprentice-style?

Everyone mourns over Jeff’s premature elimination, but big shocker! Instead of moving on with a downed team-mate, the rest get to mull the night over and decide whom to bring back one of the three men ousted in the previous episodes to compensate for Jeff’s loss!

So who’s the replacement for the disqualification!?

All votes are dropped in the Trainer’s white top. Peter takes the lead after two votes for Jonathan. Peter (who I’ll remind, is the best looking and least annoying of the three boxing castaways) is decided the Lillian of the Contender in a 9-4 majority.

Anthony is scared that the world-ranked Manfredo is being brought back. It’ll be difficult to defeat him AGAIN. And oh, it seems the Crayola tattoo of Manfredo’s own name hasn’t quite washed off.

It’s challenge time, and this episode it involves pulling a 5000 pound Toyoto truck down a flat strip of runway. It must be loaded with 15 punching bags, each with letters that must also be spelt out into a NINE-letter word, before victory and the Power to Choose can be attained. Wow. So much for debunking the stupidity stereotypes. If the word is ‘contender,’ I swear I will have lost faith in the intelligence of all boxers.

The East powers ahead with an early, and unstoppable lead. Did NBC rig it so that the underdog losers would finally stop doing what they do best?

In possibly the least exciting reality challenge I’ve ever seen, the East quickly spells out ‘CONTENDER’ (to the disillusionment of millions) to win the coveted decision-making crown (I repeat, WORST REALITY CHALLENGE PRIZE EVER!).

For the first time, the West coast is at the mercy of the East.

So the boys are assembled as per norm and Sugar Ray congrats the men of the East for having worked so well as a team.

Najai is picked to choose his opponent. Again a smaller, feeble wannabe-hero is reckless and chooses someone out of his league to prove he’s ‘got what it takes.’

Najai tries unsuccessfully to summon the courage to look into the eyes of a man two feet taller than him in the prerequisite stand off. Sergio apparently would have chosen Najai last, but if it must be, he will try his darndest to defeat him. Showing up to the ring should really be all that’s necessary.

Sergio’s mom is the best thing in his lonely life, which is weird because he is one of the prettier of the boxers AND a brainy closet-philosopher, no less. And all he has is his mama? What’s even more bizarre is that he looks about three times more tanned in the indoors testimonials than he does in the well-lit exteriors. Finally, Sergio tears up as his mama blesses him. Okay, now I understand why there is no woman in his life.

Najai gets a warm hug from his obligatory ‘adorably sweet’ little girl, who is bizarrely encouraged to stroke her hands up and down his face and back like a retarded zombie. She is someone he can love and trust. Hopefully this can make the future brighter for his family, and he just can’t let his daughter see him lose. Though, I personally bet she isn’t quite developed enough to care much, either way.

Sugar Ray gives some intense fist-stacking encouragement before we’re taken back to the surely nerve-racking five rounds of boxing action to come.

After a nail-biting commercial break, the doors burst open for Sergio’s dramatic entrance including pseudo-intellectual Napoleon quote and more slow-mo shadowboxing.

Najai figures nothing could possibly go wrong as he dances down the industrial basement hallways to the ring. Oh how I love thee, dramatic irony.

After the pre-match encouragement, round one begins. Sergio lands some rough hits and uses his lanky height to its natural advantage. Najai comes in towards the end half with some strong surprise hits, but surely not enough.

Round Two: Najai unleashes a ferocious fury that Sergio can’t quite stop as he’s pounded into the ropes and takes a storm of slow-mo hits. It’s almost sexy watching Sergio actually get dominated by a smaller guy for a few seconds (maybe I can like this show, after all).

Round Three: Sergio is told to keep his distance but looks to be weakening, taking many hard hits. But then, he is also trading off his own fair share of blows, if not enough to win the round.

Round Four causes Sergio to continue back-stepping retreats, which works as a strategic manoeuvre to end up landing some very clean, powerful hits and then a barrage of gut-punches to the now extremely vulnerable Najai.

An honourable glove tap begins the tie-breaking fifth round. Sergio is proficient with powerful stings and makes ample use of the Steve Fox (from Tekken) dodge, a nice way to stretch and show-off his sculpted physique. He dominates and pounds Najai into what would be a near bloody KO, should the fight’ve been longer. The Latin Snake has cornered its prey, and is decided the winner by the unanimous judges. Sergio respects the fact that the little guy chose a big guy, but respect only goes so far. Najai is the latest blue-lit, depressed victim of the West’s onslaught. He’s obviously too much Heart and not enough Punch. Unfortunately the agony of losing is hard for Najai to deal with, as he has let his family down and broken a promise. He lets his crazy daughter chase him around the locker-room and lets us know that he feels ‘greatness is ahead’ before hanging up his gloves.

Unfortunately, we are then notified that Najai has passed away, shortly after the show must’ve been shot (in mid-February). A trust fund was set up for his daughter. My only guess is suicide, though disappointed drive-by can’t be ruled out of the question. Don’t they know that it’s only reality television? Sugar Ray certainly does.

Episode Four certainly packed a wallop of surprise possibly more shocking than Jenna Morasca’s premature departure from Survivor All-Stars. The post-show death of Najai Turpin certainly gives the show an edgy realism that wasn’t there before but it also proves that some people take reality TV too seriously. Apparently these lovable Contender losers really do take a do-or-die stance to boxing and that makes them all the more pathetic if not watchable. NBC still needs to trim down the bland family melodrama, possibly with more death. Either way, if this show intends to stay on the air, the formula needs a lot more spice. The final fights are the show’s only highlight and even they lack the intimacy of an Apprentice board-room showdown or Survivor tribal council because Najai, Sergio, and the bunch just don’t compare to Omarossa and Sue Johnson. More editing emphasis needs to be placed on creating conflicts and rivalries, whether or not it actually exists. Watching the Contender for its second-rate abs and Hallmark lifetime insights gets old fast.

Rating: C+

SirLinksalot: The Contender

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