The Challenge Hall of Fame: Darrell Taylor

To succeed on The Challenge a competitor must be smart, strong, politically savvy, or at the very least, lucky. Most competitors are average talents, and an unfortunate few perform poorly enough to earn a dubious honor (enter the Hall of Shame). But these competitors, the Hall of Fame class, have conquered The Challenge in one form or another, and they all share the most important quality: they know how to win.

Darrell Taylor is the OG Challenge champion. He’s the only player in the history of the show to win four seasons in a row, and longtime viewers still show him his due respect. Darrell is also a Golden Gloves champion (more on that in a bit) and is more fit at 40 year old than many of the individuals chasing a challenge championship today.

The two qualities that propelled Darrell to his four championships are endurance and his ability to fly under the radar politically. Darrell is a competent competitor, but he’s never dominated a season (like Mike “The Miz” Mizanin or Landon Lueck), so he’s often able to slide to a final without making himself a target. That may not sound too impressive, but remaining out of elimination is most definitely an admirable skill. And when Darrell does find himself in a final, he pushes his team to win because he knows second place doesn’t count for anything. Darrell should have won five finals in a row, but when confronted by a drunk Brad Fiorenza on The Ruins, Darrell put his boxing training to use by beating the hell out of Brad. Production kicked them both off the show and Darrell lost his chance at an easy victory.

After The Ruins, the secret on Darrell was out. Wes and Kenny booted him off Fresh Meat II in the first elimination, and Cory Wharton purged him from Dirty 30 right when the game started. Darrell came close to a final again with Invasion of the Champions when he manhandled Zach Nichols and eliminated Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio, but Chris “CT” Tamburello got the better of him in the final elimination.

There’s no way Darrell will ever catch up to Bananas’s seven championships (I wish he had the chance, but the casting department ignores too many old timers). If we’re fortunate, we’ll see Darrell kick ass in a final one last time. During Invasion of the Champions TJ Lavin asked Darrell about his motivation. Some people would say they’re fighting for their family or trying hard to be the best. Darrell said, “I’m here to win the money… ’cause I like winning money.” Did I also mention the dude is funny?

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Treasured Track: blink-182 – “What’s My Age Again?”

Our favorite songs are timeless. Even with years separating us from the last time we heard them, these songs call us back to a bygone era in our lives. Some of them helped us through heart wrenching breakups while others remind us of late nights spent with best friends. In this feature I reflect on the tracks that I’ve obsessed over in the past and always welcome back to my headphones in the present.

“What’s My Age Again?” changed my life, and I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way. I’d enjoyed plenty of music before blink-182, but true music infatuation didn’t exist for me until I first heard “What’s My Age Again?” on the radio. Mark Hoppus’s song about a self-sabotaging man-child is such an easy story for a teenage boy to relate to, and the song is catchy as all hell. It sounds like pop music with an edge and rock music that hits with quick jabs. It’s pop punk, and blink-182 introduced me to it.

The song bubbles up with Tom DeLonge’s clean guitar picking, but it isn’t long until the distortion kicks in while Mark shows us what a bad boyfriend he is. The chorus is easy to sing along to, and it’s made better by Tom emphasizing the back half of lyrics. It’s also nice how Mark changes the chorus up depending on the preceding verse (making a simple song a bit more complex) as the story continues. I have a preference for the third chorus though, probably because of my grade level when I first heard it:

“And that’s about the time she walked away from me.
Nobody likes you when you’re 23
And you still act like you’re in freshman year.
What the hell is wrong with me?
My friends say I should act my age,
What’s my age again?
What’s my age again?”

I must have listened to this song thousands of times. During those formative years of my life I was more of a Mark fan (though I loved Tom too), and I wonder if that’s due to my first favorite blink song. “What’s My Age Again?” and Enema of the State helped me through the rough times of high school, and I’ll always appreciate blink-182 for that. I have a prediction that I’ll be writing another Treasured Track article about blink, because there are so many that had an impact on me. Alright, time to watch some naked men running.

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TV Review: Nathan for You

Nathan for You is ostensibly about a business school graduate (Nathan Fielder) who helps struggling businesses with inventive, “out-of-the-box” ideas. What it’s really about is Nathan creating weird and awkward scenarios with real people, often at the cost of Nathan’s dignity. Nathan for You is part scripted TV show, part documentary, and Nathan plays a more socially stunted version of himself. When it works (and it usually does), it is absolutely hilarious.

I’ll use one of my favorite episodes – “The Movement” – as an example of the show’s template. A moving company spends most of its budget on paying its employees, so Nathan’s plan is to create a fitness craze around moving household objects. The show’s producers find a fitness gem named Jack. Nathan stages a photoshoot to sell the idea that Jack’s physical transformation from overweight to extremely fit came about by simply moving objects around, and Nathan also hires a writer to create a fake memoir about Jack. Along the way Jack is invited on TV morning shows and he bullshits like a champion when questioned about his volunteer work with jungle children. It’s brilliant.

TV host: “Jungle child is what?”
Jack: “Jungle child are children that live in the jungle… A while ago I was working with a jungle child, his name was Dende, he was a great inspiration for me, and unfortunately, tragically he died when baboons kidnapped and ate him.”
TV host: *stares at camera with mouth agape*

The episode culminates with Nathan finding people who volunteer to move boxes for the moving company with the goal of getting fit. It’s a short-term solution to a larger problem, but Nathan pats himself on the back just the same.

One of my favorite parts of the show is its expanded cast of Craigslist characters, bounty hunters, security guards, celebrity impersonators, and other random, odd, and very real people who help provide much of the show’s humor. They blur the barrier between scripted TV and documentary, and Nathan actually bonds with some of them in surprising ways. The series finale is over an hour long, and it’s all about a Bill Gates impersonator searching for his long-lost love. That’s not what you’d expect from a Comedy Central show, but Nathan for You is not regular TV. It’s a circus, and laughing at the show’s participants is like laughing at ourselves in a fun house mirror. We all have a weird side to us; Nathan Fielder just hasn’t exposed it yet.

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Music Review: Bright Eyes and Neva Dinova – One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels

I’m not surprised One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels was my most played album of 2019. Conor Oberst is extremely talented, and Bright Eyes is one of my favorite musical acts. What does surprise me is I’m pretty sure I replayed Neva Dinova’s songs more than Conor’s. Neva Dinova is a band based out of Omaha, Nebraska (same as Conor), and even though they can’t turn a phrase quite like Conor, they more than hold their own on the album.

One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels is good folk music made better by supplemental instruments (saxophone, trumpet, keys) and a small-town issues sort of vibe. The songs cover the usual subjects of depression, looking for love, cocaine, and hanging onto someone who’s clearly looking for an escape route. I can’t say I’ve really connected with the songs emotionally, and I wouldn’t rank any of the Bright Eyes songs among Conor’s best creations. But Conor has gone on record saying being in studio with Neva Dinova has been his favorite album recording experience. That must shine through on the album, because I just like hanging out with the songs. I don’t get tired of Neva Dinova sympathizing with a bar patron (“You just want someone’s love to take you down”) or asking what the fuck is the point of destroying yourself.

Remember when I said Neva Dinova still has something to learn from Conor about lyrics writing? I’ll end by quoting one of my favorite parts of the album with imagery that only Bright Eyes could bring to life:

“And you talk when you’re drunk
Like you’re standing in front of a microphone.
And each night it repeats, and you fall into me
Like a domino.

And you talk when you’re drunk
Like you’re writing it up for an article.
And you think that I lie when I tell you, ‘Goodbye,
And I’ve got to go,’
‘Cause I’ve got to go…”

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TV Review: The Wire

I’d been saving The Wire for years. Anyone who searches “greatest TV show of all time” is bound to come across The Wire, so I was well aware of its reputation before finally watching. It’s a terrible predicament for art to be saddled with a prestigious label, because most art cannot live up to the echo chamber of praise. The Wire does, though. It lives up to expectations even while defying them.

The city of Baltimore is the setting for the show, and it is also the main character. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) garners much of the show’s focus, but even he seems to realize he’s a small, churning pawn within the urban sprawl. There are major factions that comprise the city, including enterprising criminals, police officers, school teachers and students, dock workers, politicians, and more. Each season of the show shifts its focus, and a minor character in one season may end up being a crucial cog down the road.

But what makes The Wire so compelling? There’s the city of Baltimore itself; its exposed underbelly is as fascinating as the underside of a rotting log. Creators David Simon and Ed Burns ignore TV conventions like “police case of the week” to extend storylines to something more satisfying. Characters can follow the law or flout it, but all of them have moral shortcomings. The cast is diverse, featuring mostly black actors. And above all, the writing is excellent and grounded in the streets, projects, and back corners of Baltimore. The show doesn’t take great pains to explain every character and plot point to the viewer, and I understand if that frustrates some. I retreaded multiple scenes to pick up on things I missed, and even as a careful viewer I know I still missed important connective tissue. I appreciate art that makes me work for it. In that way The Wire is dense, challenging, and rewarding.

There’s no question The Wire is TV at its best. I could write a Key Character feature about most of its impressive cast (Lieutenant Daniels or “Stringer” Bell would probably be my first pick). The only question is, which season is its pinnacle? Season one is my favorite right now, but I’ve only watched through the show once so far. It’s a testament to its quality that after one viewing I felt the urge to immediately start the whole thing over again. That time will come soon enough, I’m sure. Omar comin’.

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Treasured Track: Del Shannon – “Runaway”

Our favorite songs are timeless. Even with years separating us from the last time we heard them, these songs call us back to a bygone era in our lives. Some of them helped us through heart wrenching breakups while others remind us of late nights spent with best friends. In this feature I reflect on the tracks that I’ve obsessed over in the past and always welcome back to my headphones in the present.

Just like with movies, some songs simply age better than others. Watching American Graffiti right now will trigger memories of your own high school experience, even though it was released in 1973. And “Runaway” by Del Shannon will still help heal a breakup 59 years after its original release.

The term “ghosted” is fairly recent, but Shannon may as well have written “Runaway” specifically for the experience of being dumped by someone and being given no rhyme or reason for it. The song begins with a snappy guitar introduction and Shannon singing: “As I walk along, I wonder / What went wrong with our love, / A love that was so strong.” There aren’t many more lyrics to the song, so Shannon stretches them out in a creative way. The chorus is memorable because of the way Shannon wavers his tone like a wah pedal.

“And I wonder…
I wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder
Why
A-wah-wah-wah-wah-why
She ran awaaay,”
And I wonder where she will stay-yay,
My little runaway.”

Lack of closure is what “Runaway” is all about. There’s the pain of missing someone, surely, but not knowing what went wrong and where your loved one is staying now (and who they’re staying with) is worse. I always liked “Runaway,” but it wasn’t until I was unceremoniously ghosted (this was years ago, thankfully) that I thought, “Man, this song is perfect.” It still is, and a big part of that is the keyboard solo before the final chorus. Keyboardist Max Crook feeds off of Shannon’s urgency, dancing across the keys and hitting an erratic high tone that sounds like it was pulled from a horror B-movie set in a theme park. The sound mirrors the narrator’s bouncing, dejected thoughts, and it adds so much flavor to the song. Like many popular songs of the era, “Runaway” is a shorty; it clocks in at less than two and a half minutes. It’s short enough that if you’re going to hear it once, you may as well play it twice.

Sadly, Shannon was unable to overcome his demons later in life and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1990. In his honor you should watch Del Shannon play “Runaway” on Letterman. He’s clearly enjoying himself during the performance, and he sounds as good as ever.

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