Murtz’s Ultimate Reality Show Finale Diary: Attending Every Reality Show Finale In 2011

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my father was when he said that the path to success was to just choose one career specialization and to become the best in the world at it. “It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you can do it better than everybody else,” were the powerful words of wisdom I received at a very young age.

While I am sure that he didn’t expect me to pick reality television as the subject of my expertise, one thing led to another and my ability to successfully predict the winner of every major reality show based on my patented editing analysis technique led to the success of my website which led to my own show. In the course of my work, I have attended over 1010 reality show premiere parties, charity events, and finales.

Exactly one year ago, I decided to try and do the one thing in reality television that had never been done. To attend every major reality show finale in one calendar year and set a Guinness World Record in the process. After being recognized as the winner of the Special Achievement In Reality Reporting award at the Reality Rocks convention in April 2011, I thought that embarking on this reality exodus would be the best way to celebrate the shows that have defined my career.

The one hole in my plan was that most reality finales typically take place in May and in December. My fear was that most of the live ones (Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, The Celebrity Apprentice etc) would take place on the same night.

What follows is my diary of what it was like to attend and cover each one in the most memorable journey of my life. In most cases I was at the actual show taping. For others like The Amazing Race, there isn’t a live finale so I helped to coordinate a finale gathering with the cast to celebrate it all for the purposes of setting a Guinness World Record. Namely, to be the only person to attend and cover every major reality show finale in one calendar year.


Finale #1 & #2

Survivor Redemption Island, Real World Vegas

(New York City – May 13-16, 2011)

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The first two finales on my schedule were the Survivor Redemption Island finale and The Real World Las Vegas Reunion. In all honesty, it was the Survivor finale that actually started the World Record process for me.

One of my favorite reality stars is Boston Rob Mariano. In the reality genre, he is an icon and this was his fourth attempt at winning Survivor after being on the show for almost a decade. He has also competed on The Amazing Race twice and it was clear from the get-go that Redemption Island would finally be his long-deserved coronation. When I went to my very first reality show finale it was the Survivor Marquesas finale in 2002 (also in New York) which marked Rob’s first time playing the game. Survivor Redemption Island was, in all likelihood, his last so I thought it would be a nice way to not only kick things off but to also make things cyclical as well. I also knew that The Real World Las Vegas reunion show would be taped at some point this weekend and was conveniently also in the Big Apple I was hoping that the two finales would not run into each other.

The first event on my schedule was a Survivor pre-party I had arranged for the new cast. From there, just as I had feared, the Real World and Redemption Island finales were both scheduled on the same day… May 15. Luckily, The Real World reunion was happening at 12:15 PM and the Survivor finale party was at 8 PM, meaning I could make both.

The Real World finale was an exhausting experience as it tapes for much longer than its edited final product. It was in the audience for six hours. It was an explosive finale as Adam Royer and Nany Gonzalez got into it. It was also great seeing my favorite couple from the franchise, Heather Marter and Dustin Zito still together. I then headed straight to a viewing party of the Survivor finale. As I suspected, Rob was victorious and his win served as a sign to me that the finale experiment that I was on would also be ultimately successful. It was then time to head back to Toronto because I’d be back in New York in less than a week for my next finale.

Finale #3

The Celebrity Apprentice 4

(New York City – May 22, 2011)

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I returned to New York City five days later. This time, I was in town for The Celebrity Apprentice finale where country singer John Rich was up against actress Marlee Matlin in the final boardroom. I stayed at my friend’s Sarah Leshner (The Amazing Race 13)’s apartment as she lives close to the Skirball Center where Trump’s finale was taking place. I am a big fan of NBC finales and this one was no different. Before I checked-in, I grabbed dinner with Ashley Spivey (The Bachelor 15) and then made my way over to the venue. I took my seat and sitting on my left was Heidi and Spencer’s therapist from The Hills, who told me that she was married to The Celebrity Apprentice‘s voiceover guy. The reality world has always been incestuous. And sitting to my right? More on that later…

After Trump picked John Rich as the winner, I rushed over to the Trump Soho hotel to interview the cast. I managed to catch up with contestants Hope Dworaczyk, Lil Jon, LaToya Jackson, and Niki Taylor on the carpet. My old friend Donald Trump Jr. also stopped by to chat and I also got to fire off a question to his dad. The runner-up from Season 1, Trace Adkins, told me that I was a “chick-magnet” because of my hat. I thought that NeNe Leakes and Marlee Matlin were the most open but my favorite interview was definitely the night’s big winner John Rich. Turns out that I was sitting next to his publicist for the entire show (on my right) and didn’t know it and what makes the story even better is that I couldn’t figure out why she left in such a hurry after Trump said that John Rich had won. Guess she knew that she would be busy.

After making a brief cameo at the post-finale party, it was time for things to get crazy. It was 2 AM as I headed back to pack up as my ride to the airport was arriving at 5:30 AM to take me to the airport and so that I could fly directly to LA. At the time, I had only been confirmed for the American Idol finale but, as luck would have it, just as I got back into the apartment that I was staying at, I received a text from a friend of mine at Dancing With The Stars. After months of trying to get in touch with the show to help me achieve my goal of attending every reality show finale in one year, one of my friends had come through and had procured me a chance to check out the Dancing With The Stars performance finale show. The thing is, my attendance was contingent on my flight from New York arriving on time…

Finale #4

Dancing With The Stars

(Los Angeles – May 23, 2011)

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I arrived in LA at 12:25 PM directly from The Celebrity Apprentice finale the night before. I rushed over to my hotel and quickly changed into my purple suit. By 2:30 p.m. I was already at CBS Television City as a couple of the performances were being pre-taped.

The final performance show was something to see. While I had been to a Dancing With The Stars performance episodes before, the finale is one of the toughest events to secure access to and was certainly the hardest one to get access to in the pursuit of my World Record, not only because the venue is so intimate (they have since added many more seats) but also because there were so many of competitor Hines Ward’s Steeler teammates in attendance! Generally, the audience is comprised strictly of the family members of celebrities that are competing and the professional dancers that they are partnered with. Another interesting point to note is that while most live shows don’t really have a dress code, there is a strict one in place at DWTS which totally restricts wearing jeans and t-shirts. This definitely translates on television and makes it look like a much classier show. When I left the set, I was quite sure that Kirstie Alley would take home the Mirror Ball trophy, but it was one of the few times I was wrong in my winner prediction as Hines Ward was declared the victor the next night.

If you are wondering why I wasn’t at the Dancing With The Stars results show, it’s because for the first time, there was a scheduling conflict. The Dancing With The Stars finale results show was scheduled against…

Finale #5

American Idol 10

(Los Angeles – May 24-25, 2011)

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It was time to head to my third finale in three days and the Nokia Theater for American Idol was my next stop. Upon arriving at the LA Live, the first thing I noticed was the enormous media set-up. About 30-40 FOX affiliate stations were busy setting up their cameras on the red carpet in preparation for the post-show interviews. Out of all the finales thus far, Idol was the biggest. There were cameras everywhere and the atmosphere around the venue can be best be described as electric euphoria. Despite the fact that the final two competitors, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, were puppies and ice cream country singers, the audience around me all seemed like they were styled up for a rock concert. Just like with Dancing With The Stars, most of the audience seemed to be connected as this was also a tough ticket to secure.

Because phones and cameras had to be checked-in prior to the show starting, I wasn’t aware of the news that Lauren had strained her voice during rehearsal so when Ryan Seacrest opened the show by asking if she was alright, I thought it might be curtains for Steven Tyler’s poster child. Any doubts that I had, however, were erased almost as soon as she started singing as I could notice no real change in her voice. When I heard Seacrest say that Scotty had won the coin toss but allowed Lauren to go last, I thought it was an irrevocable error in judgment as one of the worst kept secrets about reality television prediction is that the performer who sings last on a reality musical competition series usually wins. My prevailing feeling about the show was that it didn’t have the fire of previous finales, specifically because the singers were so similar. It wasn’t the Claymates versus the Velvet Teddybears like it was in the show’s second season when soon-to-be Celebrity Apprentice contestant Clay Aiken lost out to Ruben Studdard. Or the shock experienced when Adam Lambert lost to Kris Allen. Or the Battle Of The David’s when David Archuleta took on David Cook. That being said, it was another night in the books and I was one night away from finding out who the 10th American Idol would be.

The Idol finale results show was everything that I thought it would be and more. Rumors about who would be performing on the show consumed both the fans outside the theater and the media on the carpet. For those of you who saw it, you know that it didn’t disappoint.

– Judas Priest performed with James Durbin
– Gladys Knight sang with Jacob Lusk
– Casey Abrams rocked out with Jack Black
– Beyonce rocked the house
– Haley Reinhart sang with Tony Bennett
– TLC and Lil Jon joined Thia Megia, Karen Rodriguez, Ashthon Jones
– Scotty McCreery crooned with Tim McGraw
– Marc Anthony performed with judge and former wife Jennifer Lopez
– Tom Jones performed with the guys
– Lady Gaga stole the show with “The Edge Of Glory”
– Lauren Alaina did a duet with former Idol winner Carrie Underwood
– Bono & The Edge performed a track from their much-maligned “Spider-Man: The Musical” while a Spider-Man dangled around the rafters of the Nokia Theater
– Idol judge and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler poured his heart out with a rendition of “Dream On”

Oh and Scotty was named the winner.

It was literally the greatest single show and spectacle I have ever been lucky enough to witness in person. No finale was better. I still can’t believe I got to see it.

The next day, before I left LA, my pal Lauren Gottlieb from So You Think You Can Dance invited me to a private premiere party for the new season of So You Think You Can Dance. I got to watch the first episode with her, Neil Haskell (SYTYCD 3) Chelsie Hightower (So You Think You Can Dance / Dancing With The Stars) and judge Mary Murphy.

Ironically, while I watched the first show of the season with her, I knew that I would be back for the last one…

Finale #6

So You Think You Can Dance 8

(Los Angeles – August 11-12, 2011)

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And here I was. I went to back in LA in August to attend the So You Think You Can Dance finale. Both the final performance and final results show took place at CBS Television City once again.

The performance finale is best remembered for how harsh Nigel was on the final two guys that were left standing. During the season, it was commonly assumed that the finals would be a showdown between the girls in the competition, Sasha Mallory and Melanie Moore as they were the most technically proficient. This was highlighted in the finale when their cooperative dance was much better than the one that was performed by Tadd Gadduang and Marko Germar. What wasn’t assumed was Nigel’s harsh criticism after the boys performed their “Gumboot Stepping” routine choreographed by Chuck Maldonado. The lead Dance judge said:

“I’ll be totally honest with you. Right from the beginning of this competition, I thought that a girl would win. Right from the beginning from when we were in Vegas and I haven’t changed my mind.”

While Nigel apologized the next night and on the finale by saying he was “insensitive in dismissing their chances of a victory,” the damage was done and its only conjecture to speculate what effect his comments had on the voting public (if any).

While the Thursday night finale featured an unbelievable 15 favorite performances from the season, the lack of a guest performance was certainly noticeable, especially compared to the number that American Idol boasted in its culmination.

In the end, Nigel’s prediction was right as Melanie Moore was awarded the title of America’s Favorite Dancer over Sasha Mallory.

My Murtzfest birthday party was the next day and the winner of Hell’s Kitchen 7, made a birthday cake version of me to help me celebrate with all of my reality friends. We did the first part of the party at Saddle Ranch, the site and title of VH1’s latest reality show about a cowboy bar in West Hollywood. Saddle Ranch was famous before the show as it was a casting hotspot for both Survivor and The Real World.

Finale #7

So You Think You Can Dance Canada 4

(Toronto – September 4 & September 11, 2011)

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One of the hardest finales for me to get a seat to was the one that I thought I would have the easiest time with when I began mapping out the scheduling for the Record at the beginning of the year.

I have been a long time supporter of Canadian competitive reality shows and consider myself to be the iron-man of Canadian Idol, missing only a couple of live shows in the program’s six-season run. I had a similar attendance record with So You Think You Can Dance Canada, but because the studio was so small, seats at the finale were at a premium. Luckily, CTV came through in the end (for which I am eternally grateful) and I was able to add it to the Guinness attempt, which was now officially a North American finale experiment.

The finale itself topped even the U.S. version with 23 performances from the season. The highlight for me was a surprise dance from previous winners Denys Drozdyuk (Season 3) & Tara-Jean Popowich (Season 2) who performed a spicy salsa.

Jordan Clark was named the show’s (and ultimately last) winner after the show was cancelled the day after the finale.

Just three days after the SYTYCDC finale, I was back on a plane to LA and Vegas.

Finale #8

Big Brother 13

(Los Angeles – September 14-15, 2011, Las Vegas – September 16-18, 2011)

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One of my favorite finales of the year is the Big Brother finale. Both the show and its final celebration require a lot of commitment. Big Brother isolates strangers in a house together where all of their conversations and actions are broadcast over the internet to paying subscribers. The contestants compete in challenges and evict each other weekly leading to one being awarded the $500,000 grand prize. The show runs for three months (easily the longest primetime reality show) and has three episodes per week to keep up with during its run.

This year, I had arranged a viewing party for the final episode where I watched the show with James Rhine, Sarah Hrejsa & Janelle Pierzina from Big Brother 6 and James Zinkand from Big Brother 9. CBS had scheduled the premiere of Survivor South Pacific on the same night so I watched that as well.

After Rachel Reilly was crowned the winner over Porsche Briggs, we headed over to meet the cast. They were obviously excited to talk to just about anyone as the only human contact they experienced over the previous 90 days was with each other.

The official wrap party for the show took place the next day at TRU Nightclub in Hollywood. There was a line to get into the place and I found myself standing next to former Bachelor Pad couple, Kasey Kahl & Vienna Girardi. They seemed to be getting along fine and told me that they were on a dietary cleanse. While many consider the former lovebirds to be two of reality television’s biggest villains, I was saddened to hear about that they had broken up a few weeks after the event.

As for the party itself, it was a cavalcade of voyeuristic goodness.

I was especially surprised to see Shelly Moore joking around with Jeff Schroeder and Jordan Lloyd since so much was made about the Louisiana businesswoman voting against the game’s most popular pair (with TMZ even reporting that her family received death threats because of it).

Big Brother has the most rabid fanbase (perhaps it has something to do with the aforementioned commitment required to be a fan of the series) and getting even remotely close to the veterans who returned for the show’s 13th season was an almost impossible feat at the party. This was one of the rare finales where anyone could just buy a ticket to get in and the open access was both comforting and unnerving at the same time. That being said, it wasn’t my first rodeo and I was not above pushing and shoving to ensure I got a pic with Jordan. When in Rome… well, when in a room full of reality people…

After the event was over, it was time for an event called “The Vegas Bash.” In recent years, networks have stopped paying for reality finale after-parties. While I took over many of them, Big Brother‘s celebration was hosted by an internet show and website that is based out of Vegas. The deal was that a stream of the event (which basically consists of the reality stars getting wasted) would be available over the internet while those who couldn’t be there would pay for the feed. Brilliant on so many levels.

The event had arranged for a bus to pick up the LA party attendees and drive us to The Rio in Vegas which is where everyone was being put up.

This is where the funniest moment of my World Record attempt took place. The bus featured a wild combination of reality stars including Sugar from Survivor Gabon and Survivor Heroes vs. Villains, Sheila Kennedy from Big Brother 9, Andrew “Captain Kosher” Gordon from Big Brother 12, Adam Poch from Big Brother 13, Nehemiah Clark from The Real World Austin & Leroy Garrett from The Real World Las Vegas.

The reason this is funny is because during a routine bathroom break in Rancho Cucamonga during the drive to Vegas, Andrew Gordon decided to prank everyone and hide the bus after the driver left the keys in the ignition. When the driver returned and couldn’t find the missing bus, he didn’t really find the joke funny (at least from an insurance perspective). He called the sheriff’s department and before I knew it, three cop cars were surrounding our ride. Eventually Gordon was kicked off the vehicle but not before tears were shed, attempts at other flights to Vegas were made and a certain Canadian reality journalist unsuccessfully tried to discreetly find a way to crack the bus open to get his bag out during all of the confusion.

Andrew apparently did find a way to Vegas as I saw him there later that night. I didn’t have the chance to tell him at the time but despite his 10th place finish on Big Brother 12, he proved to me that he was a reality star of the highest caliber with the stunt that he pulled.

Vegas was Vegas except with reality stars and it was fun celebrating with the cast of Big Brother 13.

Finale #9

Cover Me Canada

(Toronto – November 13, 2011)

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One of the last-minute additions to the calendar was the Cover Me Canada finale. I initially found out about the show at CBC’s upfront presentation in June. It was spun as the next great Canadian talent search with local artists covering classic Canadian tunes (think CBC’s version of Canadian Idol). There were some things I liked about it almost immediately. Initially, I thought that the choice of the host was particularly inspired. I was shocked when I found out that former All Saints member Nicole Appleton was Canadian. I thought that she was well-spoken and knowledgeable. Oh, and she’s married to Liam Gallagher from Oasis. Pretty cool right?

I was also a fan of Jordan Knight from New Kids On The Block being on the judging panel.

While I had admittedly not kept up on the season, the finals were a showdown between Toronto’s Whosarmy and Moncton’s Melanie Morgan. I learned from several fans that Whosarmy was the clear favorite from the beginning of the competition. The ironic thing was that as I was being led to my seat, I was ushered literally to the front row of the mosh pit. I think I exchanged a few awkward glances with Whosarmy’s lead singer Travis Wood who was probably wondering why I wasn’t one of the teenage yellow-shirt wearing female groupies.

The show itself was great. While Canadian reality show finales do not have the big budgets that their American counterparts do, the idea that you could be standing so close to a stage where an entire band’s dream can come true is still uniquely Canadian while being fundamentally inspiring.

Finale #10

The Amazing Race 19

(New York City – December 9-11, 2011)

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The Amazing Race has never really gotten a fair shake in terms of a finale party. There is no live reunion show for it like there is for its other CBS cousins, Survivor and Big Brother. Despite such critical acclaim (the show has won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Series 13 times), it feels like it never receives the same level of respect that the other shows do. In all honesty, I have actually been heavily involved in the planning of its final celebration for the past few years.

Since I have been helping to organize it (starting with The Amazing Race 13), an Amazing Race finale weekend consists of a cast dinner on the Saturday before the finale followed by a club excursion. On the day of the finale, we rent out a private movie theater to watch the final episode and then head to an event called TARcon where fans can mingle with the cast.

This year was no different. I was particularly interested in this season because my old Survivor friends and former winners Jenna Morasca and Ethan Zohn were racing on the show.

The Saturday pre-party was especially fun because I had invited some of my other reality friends in New York to join us. Survivors Andrea Boehlke (Survivor Redemption Island) and John Cochran (Survivor South Pacific) made an appearance. I also got to hang out with former So You Think You Can Dance Canada winner Tara-Jean Popowich and she brought So You Think You Can Dance‘s Alex Wong with her. Hilariously, while we were waiting outside the club, I ran into James Zinkand from Big Brother 9 again and he joined in on the festivities as well. Just like anything else, the reality network has turned into a family and I think it is because there is a profound ability to connect with someone else who has also exposed themselves to the world on a reality show.

In recent years, The Amazing Race has avoided casting two-male teams because in its early incarnations, it seemed like alpha male teams would be impossible to beat. Consider that Rob & Brennan (Season 1), Chris & Alex (Season 2), Chip & Reichen (Season 4), BJ & Tyler (Season 9), Tyler and James (Season 10), were all early winners. This season, it appeared that Olympic snowboarders Andy Finch & Tommy Czeschin were destined for victory after finishing in first place 6 times (out of the 11 legs they participated in). An error just before the final leg saw them basically eliminate themselves and while it wasn’t great for them, their miscue ended up making the finale much more interesting. Ultimately, engaged couple Cindy Chiang and Ernie Halvorsen won the $1 million prize with a dominating final leg performance.

As an aside, my favorite part of this trip was getting the chance to go to a taping of Anderson Cooper’s daytime show Anderson. The host invited the cast of the We Bought A Zoo movie to come out and promote the film. That meant that Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson were in attendance and during one of the segments, Anderson said that a new segment they were trying out was getting their guests to interview the audience directly. In these types of situations, I remembered the advice that my dad gave me and when I saw Scarlett and Matt practically standing beside me, I leapt out of my seat and Scarlett asked me if I had a question. The segment made it onto the show (more on that later) and immediately after the show was over, my car service was waiting outside to take me to the airport.

Finale #11

Survivor South Pacific

(Los Angeles – December 16-20, 2011)

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It was back to LA a few days later for the Survivor South Pacific finale. It seemed like I was just watching their first episode in LA and now here I was at its conclusion.

The show featured returning players Coach Wade and Ozzy Lusth and my loyalty clearly was with them as I had befriended both at their previous finale events.

I arrived in LA on Friday December 16 and made a quick pit stop at my friend Paige Mycoskie’s Aviator Nation boutique in Venice. Paige was on the second season of The Amazing Race with her brother Blake (who went on to found TOMS, the shoe company that gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that is sold). After picking up a shirt, I headed over to my hotel and began preparing for the weekend ahead.

I hosted a Survivor finale pre-party on Saturday night with Ryan Carrillo from Expedition Impossible. Survivors old and new were all in attendance. I knew that the show’s finale after-party would be a more low-key affair so I wanted the pre-party to be at a raging Hollywood club. I spent most of the evening hanging out with Survivor‘s newest couple, Whitney Duncan and Keith Tollefson. Russell Hantz entertained many at the table he had rented out and Sophie Clarke was there schmoozing with his groupies, obviously preparing herself for an all-star season victory. I especially enjoyed seeing Dawn Meehan dominate the dancefloor, just because it was so out of character. Another interesting observation was that Coach didn’t seem like his usual jovial self while Ozzy seemed totally at peace.

As for the final episode, it was clear that Ozzy had the game if he could win the final immunity challenge, and when he lost, I honestly thought that I heard a collective sigh from the entire world. Because of Ozzy’s loss, the final vote got a whole lot harder to guess. If you remember, Boston Rob’s theory on how juries vote he thought that the jury would rather see a returning player win than admit a fellow newbie beat them. I also thought that there was too much ill will against the Dragonslayer and that Sophie would walk away with the $1 million prize. In the end, I was right but the vote was much closer than I thought it would be with Rick, Edna and Cochran voting for Coach, and Jim, Whitney, Keith, Dawn, Brandon and Ozzy voting for Sophie, giving her the $1 million and making her the sole Survivor.

The after-party was a lot of fun with many former Survivors making appearances including Jaison Robinson, Erik Cardona, Monica Padilla, Dave Ball and John Fincher (Survivor Samoa), Yul Kwon and Jonathan Penner (Survivor Cook Islands), Aras Baskauskas (Survivor Exile Island Winner), Earl Cole and Anthony Robinson (Survivor Fiji), Stephanie Valencia, Natalie Tenerelli, Andrea Boehlke, and Russell Hantz (Survivor Redemption Island) all in attendance.

The next day, the hotel that we were all staying at was a ghost town. It certainly wasn’t the flurry of activity that it had been the night before and it was actually kind of depressing. I hung out with Cochran from Survivor South Pacific all day and then headed to dinner with Michelle Yi from Survivor Fiji.

On Tuesday, December 20, I had a nice chat with Coach Wade from Survivor South Pacific about his second place finish and I told him that I noticed he was remarkably different from every other time we had met. This was surprising to me specifically because he had done much better on this season than he had in his previous two attempts. The Dragonslayer told me that it was because he knew that this was his final time playing and that he just couldn’t accept finishing without a win. It was almost as if it hurt him more to finish in second because it meant that he was so close to being named the sole survivor and yet still so far away. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t think it was about the money for the Susanville, California native as much as it was about the title.

I spent that night at a taping of Whitney, the new NBC comedy before it was time for the beginning of the end. The finale to my finales.

Finale #12

The X Factor

(Los Angeles – December 21, 2011)

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The final finale. I really couldn’t believe that I was here (or back at CBS Television City for that matter) and that I had achieved my goal of attending every major reality show finale in one calendar year.

The one thing that had escaped me during my entire reality television career was attending finale for a reality show that was in its first season. I didn’t start with Survivor until its fourth season. For The Amazing Race, it was season five. For Big Brother, it wasn’t until season 10. For American Idol and Dancing With The Stars, it wasn’t until the times I wrote about here.

It was important to me that I end the run with getting into one from the beginning. The magnitude of The X Factor finale certainly wasn’t hindered by the fact that it would award the richest prize in reality television history with the winner receiving $5 million.

When news of an American version of The X Factor first started to surface, I was skeptical about its success. Like Cover Me Canada, I initially thought that the reality landscape was too oversaturated to allow for another music-based competition series, but if The Voice has proved anything with its success, it’s that people will always watch formats that work. The spin with The X Factor was that it removed the age barrier on contestants almost entirely. Kids could apply as well as people over the age of 30 which was generally a major no-no in show business. Call it the Susan Boyle effect. In addition, the judges also each received one group of contestants to mentor which made it a competition within a competition.

There were some initial problems when I arrived as a Cirque du Soleil pre-tape delayed my section from being seated until 10 minutes before the live show began. Since most of the seats had been reserved for VIPs and there were no hard tickets, names on seats were the only way to identify who sat where. Because my section had been delayed, our seats had been taken by seat fillers and with the live show seconds away from starting, I was initially placed in the first row behind Simon Cowell. I was pretty excited about my seat until somebody noticed that I didn’t have a sign and I was quickly ushered up to the second last row. I slightly upset about it since there is no doubt in my mind that I had travelled the farthest to be there (I later found out that there were some contest winners there from Australia) but it didn’t matter because I was still covering the hottest event in town.

You know how they say that things sometime happen for a reason? Well, in this case, they did. After one of the commercial breaks, host Steve Jones did his ‘welcome back’ directly behind me. And when I say directly behind me, I mean he was literally standing behind me. As a result, you might have seen me on TV. Actually, if you were watching the show, I don’t think you could have missed me. It was pretty hilarious.

As for the show itself, in the end it came down to Simon Cowell’s protégé Melanie Amaro vs. LA Reid’s Chris Rene vs. Nicole Scherzinger’s Josh Krajcik. Judge Paula Abdul’s group category was eliminated long before the final episode.

Before the final performance show, I thought that Chris Rene was in the best position to win. Producers had focused a lot on his story and he had done a good job of being one of the only contestants to perform original material. Given my long-standing belief that these shows ultimately are about girls voting for the guy that they find to be the best-looking, I thought Melanie and Josh wouldn’t be able to compete with the recovering Santa Cruz addict.

The performance finale started off strong as the oldest remaining competitor, Josh Krajcik sang “Uninvited” with the song’s original artist, Alanis Morissette.

Chris Rene and Avril Lavigne joined forces for a collaboration on “Complicated” which was my favorite performance of the night.

Melanie Amaro teamed up with R. Kelly for “I Believe I Can Fly” and it was also a platinum performance.

I liked the idea of the final three singing with artists who had already made it as this gave a good indication as to whether or not they could hang with seasoned veterans.

I really thought that Chris Rene was the best of the night and that he had also experienced the most growth during the competition. The roof practically blew off the place when he performed “Young Homie” again and I really thought the title was his to lose when I left the venue.

In the post-show red carpet interviews, the other reporters that I talked to all seemed to be pulling for Josh. Some had been there for the entire season and told me that Josh was the most personable. I also had a soft spot for Josh because he was the contestant that I had picked to win from the audition stages of the program.

In the interviews, Melanie and Josh were both quite talkative.

After a quick sleep, it was time for the final finale. Both for The X Factor and for my world record attempt.

I arrived at the studio quite early and couldn’t wait to see who the guest performers were and to see how they would stack up to the plethora of people on Idol.

The world “FINALE” was spelled out in “pure molten lava that bubbled and exploded across a giant electronic screen” as EW’s Michael Slezak described it adding to a surreal vibe inside. The seats were a non-factor because the entire audience was on its feet from the moment the show started.

The Top 12 finalists began the show out by covering Lady Gaga’s “Edge Of Glory.” A sharp contrast to the Idol finale where Lady Gaga herself performed the same song.

Steve Jones said that the top 3 would be singing holiday songs and I thought this was a great idea. Christmas was only three days away and this was definitely going to be an interesting experiment. Chris Rene singing Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer? Tell me that isn’t must-see TV.

Melanie Amaro kicked things off with “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and it was certainly nice to see her sing something uptempo.

Chris Rene sang “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I can’t lie though. I was hoping it was going to be remixed with “Young Homie.”

The most interesting performance was Josh Krajcik’s “Please Come Home For Christmas” and not because of his vocal. Josh performed in front of a life-sized snowglobe which featured a dancer writhing around in a Christmas-themed bikini. While most were trying to figure out who it was, I immediately recognized her as former So You Think You Can Dance Canada alum, Kim Gringas.

Then came the big guest performances. Let’s see if these would top Idol‘s.

First up was a pre-taped duet between Justin Bieber and Drew Ryniewicz. This was one of the purest moments on the show because Drew had said that one of her dreams was to perform with the young Canadian so it was nice to see it happen. Thanks to some of my friends in Toronto, I learned that the reason the performance was pre-taped is because at the same time Justin’s performance was being aired, he was in Toronto playing hockey with the Leafs and filming the CTV Christmas special.

The first results were up next and I was completely shocked to see Chris Rene finish in third place. While I was caught off-guard, it was nice to see that Josh’s talents were being recognized although I definitely saw Chris’ elimination as cementing the win for Melanie.

The funniest part about the finale was the performance by 50 Cent and Astro. While I loved the collaboration, they were randomly introduced by Derek Fisher from the LA Lakers (who knew he liked singing shows?) Even more baffling was the presence of some Laker bench players who were danced upon by The X Factor dance team. It was quite bizarre. The performance between 50 Cent and Astro was on point and to use the 15 year-old MC’s own words, “dope.” He once again proved that he deserved to go much farther in the competition than he did.

Pitbull and Ne-Yo performed “Give Me Everything” with a brief cameo by Marcus Canty.

The final two then got together for a duet of “Heroes” before it was time to choose a winner. Would it be Melanie or Josh?

Melanie.

The singer who Simon Cowell initially cut and then in a moment of contrived redemption and reversion had claimed the $5 million recording contract and secured the right to be in a Pepsi commercial during this year’s Super Bowl.

I interviewed Astro, Drew, Simon Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger, Chris Rene, Josh Krajcik and Melanie Amaro after the show (with the highlight being Chris Rene asking to exchange hats with me).

Just like that it was over. While Melanie Amaro had achieved her dream, I had achieved mine. To attend every major reality show finale in one calendar year. 12 finales in 12 months.

Conclusion

Before you ask, I am currently in the process of filing the paperwork necessary to make the World Record official.

There were also many trips sandwiched in-between all of these events that I didn’t mention. In April, I went to the Reality Rally in Temecula, California in support of Michelle’s Place. In May, I went to the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego for the wedding of Meghan and Cheyne Whitney (The Amazing Race 15 winners). In July, I went to a wonderful reality charity event in Celebration, Florida that supported Give Kids The World. In October, I attended the Reality Rescue event in Richmond, Virginia in support of SoCo Animal Rescue.

I always liked Almost Famous and I think that movie resonated with this trip. The record that I was attempting to achieve, while reporting about what I saw and covering stars that can also best be described by the same movie title.

When I started in reality television and went to my first finale, I remembered that when I tried getting into the after-party, a surly security guard stopped me and said that I would “never get in.” Exactly 10 years later, I not only attended every finale but also ran most of the parties as well. When most people hear that I am the ‘world’s foremost reality television expert,’ they often laugh and ask what I really do or how much television I watch to be anointed with such a moniker. From this point forward, I will point them to this article and just maybe, the Guinness Book Of World Records.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my father was when he said that the path to success was choosing one career specialization and becoming the best in the world at it. “It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you can do it better than everybody else,” were the powerful words of wisdom I received at a very young age.

I am the world’s foremost reality television expert and at the time of this filing, I have now been to 1032 reality show premiere parties, charity events and finales…

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