A screen shot from Fox’s epic “Man Vs. Beast II.” These four individuals failed mankind by being outrun by a camel.
We weren’t around Sunday night to watch “24” in real time, and frankly, we were on the fence about this season anyway. We’ve seen just about every possible way Jack Bauer can torture someone. We couldn’t make it through last season (the sixth). And we can tell you the exact moment that made us throw our hands up in the air: Episode 16, when Nadia and Doyle are having a back-and-forth at CTU. Nadia asks why Doyle is covering for their colleague Milo. Doyle responds that, regardless of whether Milo likes him or not (he does not), they have a better chance of “finding the nukes” with Milo than without him. Then, strangely, Doyle says, “And mankind was naught but a single nation.” To which Nadia, who recognizes this from the Qu’ran, asks Doyle if he’s read it. Doyle responds, “And the Bible, and the Upanishads.” Huh? Then he adds, “Anything I can get my hands on. You’re lucky, you found your answers. I’m looking for mine.” Wha? Does anyone else on Earth actually speak in this manner? Ever since then we have referred to this as “the moment when ’24’ jumped the Upanishads.”
So, back to Sunday night. We ended up taping the two-hour season premiere. And when we say “taping” we mean actual taping, as in recording on a VHS. Can we tell you how afraid we are of TVs switching from analog to digital? The ads and public announcements about it clearly seem to be aimed at the elderly, which is apparently where we fit in when it comes to comfort level with high tech gizmos and anything more advanced than bunny ears.
The great thing about still having a VHS player is that we have used the same tape for the past three years. This tape has housed entire seasons of “Lost” and “Prison Break” as well as treasured “SNL” skits, numerous “Office” and “30 Rock” episodes, and Utah Jazz playoff games. We try not to tape over those segments/episodes that we really, really want to keep. So, for example, we still have “The Constant” episode from season 4 of “Lost,” as well as Alec Baldwin doing his Schweddy Balls sketch and the “Iran So Far” SNL digital short where Andy Samberg and Adam Levine serenade Fred Armisen as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the true gem on this VHS tape — the one thing we have never, in three years, even remotely considered taping over — is “Man Vs. Beast 2,” a reality special that aired on Fox in February 2004. We wouldn’t call it the pinnacle of crass, sensationalistic must-see TV — that would be another Fox special from 2002 called “The Glutton Bowl” during which contestants had to eat foods like whole beef tongue, 32 oz. bowls of mayonnaise (the winner ate four bowls, equivalent to eight pounds of mayo), cooked bull testicles, and then, for the final round, cow brains — but it’s easily the crassest, most sensationalist must-see TV that we have on tape. And whenever we tape something new, we cue it up immediately after the riveting finale of “Man Vs. Beast 2,” when four little people (this is how they are referred to by the show’s host, Steve Santagati) fail to outrun a camel in a 330-yard relay.
The show never aired again, largely because it was panned by critics and protested by animal rights groups. Its virtues for us, however, are not ethical ones. They are virtues of absurdity at the pure joy that only comes from watching a Kodiak bear beating Takeru Kobayashi in a hot dog eating contest, or a champion gymnast winning a dead hang contest by default when his opponent, Bam Bam the orangutan, is disqualified for urinating performing an “illegal move” during the competition.
What else about this interspecies competition brings joy and sunshine into our lives? Not just the fact that former Olympian Carl Lewis is a guest analyst during a sprinter/zebra dash, but that Lewis actually says that the key to victory for the zebra is to “realize it’s a race.”
Which, ultimately, is the most profound comment that can be made about the show. One team (er, species) had no comprehension a competition was taking place. Can you imagine if all professional sports operated this way? Like if the Steelers called up the Ravens and said, “Hey, come over to Heinz Field Sunday night and we’ll run around a lot and hit one another for no apparent reason while Carl Lewis commentates about it,” but failed to mention that the winner would go on to the Super Bowl? And the saddest part of all: Beast beat Man 3-2. Even if Man had prevailed, though, it still would have been our loss.