The ReQuest ladies are smokin', for real.
America's Best Dance Crew is back!! ABDC is basically the reason that this column exists -- I don't know of another show on television that features (and rewards) as many Asian American contestants/characters as Randy Jackson's dance child. Let's meet a couple of the crews we'll be following this season.
IaMmE, which stands for "Inspire, Motivate, Energize," is from Houston, TX and is led by Phillip Chbeeb of So You Think You Can Dance. Among IaMmE's ranks is Di "Moon" Zhang, a 28-year-old who moved to the States from China six years ago (I learned this from an interview here; Moon speaks at 1:55 and 4:00). The crew uses a bit of a mental game they call "brain banging" (uh ... ew) to get into the minds of their viewers while they perform, and the ill-named technique worked for them in their performance, which opened the season. New judge D-Trix (from ABDC's Season 3 winner Quest Crew, and another So You Think You Can Dance alum) liked the "mathematics" of their moves, particularly the Rubik's Cube formation in the middle. Lil Mama called them a "very clean group," which we always like to hear about our more technical dancers. Judge for yourself right here, and check out other videos here. Moon is on Twitter, and IaMmE is on Facebook.
Moon is reaching for more hair bleach.
An early fave for me is the all-female group from Auckland, New Zealand, ReQuest. These fierce lovelies all share Polynesian heritage (in addition to their mix of Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and Portuguese backgrounds), which is how they came up with a style they call "Polyswag" -- it's based on haka, a traditional Maori war dance that's as fiery as their dyed-to-match bright red hair. D-Trix liked their dance, calling it "weird ... scary too," and Lil Mama called them "sexy meets heavy." Watch their performance here and find them on Facebook.
I'm making a bit of an assumption about Mark "Streetnoize" Santiago of the Street Kingdom crew. These krumpers from Los Angeles blew everyone away, earning them a standing ovation and the judges' assertion that viewers were "watching history." I have no solid evidence that Mark is Filipino, but they'll clearly be around for a while, so let's hope we learn more! At any rate, check out their performance here and find Street Kingdom on Facebook.
I hope those aren't thumbs down.
Nearly as exciting as a new season of ABDC is the premiere of another excellent, Asian-friendly show, Top Chef Masters. An early standout this season is Suvir Saran, a chef in New York (I've eaten at his restaurant Devi and can attest that it's delicious). Suvir is endlessly quotable. When faced with cooking corned beef and marshmallows in the Quickfire challenge, he said, "The Suvir inside me -- that's a true master -- he is insulted. But sometimes even a master has to come down from the pedestal and hopefully create something that's not as bad as it ought to be." Go ahead, try and tell me that's not awesome. Unfortunately, his direct competitor Celina Tio (whose father is Chinese but grew up in the Philippines, and whose mother is Filipino and Irish) did not complete her Quickfire dish and thus lost the challenge to Suvir. Floyd Cardoz was stuck cooking with cockles and Vegemite but won his challenge handily.
Suvir, a true master. Also, sweet pants.
The elimination challenge was Top Chef's classic "Restaurant Wars," pitting the winners of the Quickfire (Suvir, Floyd, and four others) against the losers (Celina plus five). The winners were called Mosaic for the variety of racial and geographical backgrounds the chefs represented (quipped one chef, "It looks like a joke somebody's grandfather would tell"). Though the judges preferred their restaurant, the diners voted them the losers. Don't worry, our guys made it through. As Suvir said, "When you become master, you can make magic from nothing." Well put!
I can't believe that I forgot to mention last week's episode of Top Shot, in which Jay was sent to elimination and -- in a massive upset -- returned to the house un-eliminated. His fellow competitors (all military men, while Jay is a civilian) were all openly angry about this, grumbling that he didn't deserve to be there and reminding everyone that he's a golf instructor. For better or worse, the competition then moved from a team game to an individual one, and Jay was at a huge disadvantage when it was revealed that they'd be shooting the Barrett 82A1 .50. This is the biggest gun that's ever been used on the show -- and one that Jay had never handled. He performed admirably and once again showed his incredible ability to pick up new skills quickly, even impressing the expert trainer. But it wasn't good enough to keep him from elimination.
After several upsets and surprising (to his competitors) performances, Jay finally took his last shot. He made a gracious exit, mentioning how proud he was to be the last civilian still standing and accomplishing more than anyone expected. He also mentioned returning home to his son, a reveal I found really sweet. You were a real controversial character, Jay, but you'll be missed -- by me, at least.
While I've been surprised to enjoy and respect Top Shot as much as I have, I'm increasingly disappointed with the ever-more nonsensical America's Next Great Restaurant. The judges' sometimes odd requests and commands, the silliness of the challenges (whole episodes for uniforms and a photo shoot?), the muddled criteria by which contestants are judged ... don't get me wrong, I enjoy the show, but it angers me a fair amount, too. Luckily, we have Sudhir. This week, the contestants had to run food trucks (another complaint: a food truck is not simply a restaurant on wheels, as they claim -- it's a whole different industry with its own set of problems and expectations). Sudhir decided to take the opportunity to try out Steve Ells' suggestion that he develop a portable version of his food. "It kills me to erode my Indianness," he said, but he developed some Indian tacos. What, no kati rolls?
Sudhir folds a very important ... piece of paper
The decision went over well. Curtis, who previously pooh-poohed the idea of Indian tacos, liked how "user-friendly" the tweaked food was, and Steve called it the best that Sudhir's cooked. They wanted him to spice up Spice Coast's look (see what I did there?), but besides that they were all smiles.
Stephenie, on the other hand, was at more of a disadvantage. "Healthy food doesn't come from trucks," she worried, and later she told the judges her belief that people look for more "exotic" food when they eat from a food truck. As someone known to visit a food truck at lunchtime with some regularity, I have to agree. Yet the judges criticized Steph for making the second least amount of money, brushing off her explanations with the reminder that she was parked in front of a gym. Because people who just worked out are immediately looking for food from a random truck they've never seen before? They did have a more legitimate concern when they called her out for using canned chickpeas in her supposedly fresh, seasonal meal. To be fair, her options seemed pretty limited, but it's hard to say what she could have done instead, given the time and supply constraints. Stephenie made it out of the bottom three, but she's going to have to be pretty great to win the judges back, I'm afraid.
Stephenie's slightly forlorn face is underscored by foreground greens.
I have to say, this was an incredibly entertaining episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. The ladies had to doll up a pack of straight male jocks as their drag sisters, which led to predictably delightful results. If that weren't enough, one of the jocks was Asian, and Margaret Cho was a guest judge! She mentioned how she was famously raised by drag queens, but we sadly didn't hear too much from her after that.
Manila slapped a kimono on her jock ("Fuschia Luzon") and had him bowing, fanning himself, and striking kung fu-type poses on the runway. Ru said that Manila "served up two china dolls, and 20 minutes later, we were still hungry for more," awarding the Luzon sisters the top prize.
Asian American jock Chevy worked with Carmen Carerra, transforming into "Lolita Cruz-Carerra." He had many complaints about his heels, but he was surprisingly forthcoming about his younger brother, who is 19 years old and "one of those angry gay people who thinks everyone hates him because he's gay." Letting his brother see him in drag was a motivator for Chevy to be on the show. Aw! I hope you boosted his spirits, big brother.
For the first time we've seen on the show, Raja was truly nervous at a challenge. Her drag sister Enigma was proving to be a difficult makeover candidate, and Enigma's look was surprisingly uninspired by the always couture Raja. On the runway, Raja explained that she was inspired by old Hollywood. RuPaul asked whether Tarzan was a specific point of reference. Ouch! Raja had to lip synch for her life, managing to initiate a double strip tease between her and the already scantily-clad Carmen. Raja was safe, of course, and broke down into sobs of relief. Don't scare me like that, girl!
Though he's a Brit, I should mention that Sir David Tang was on The Colbert Report to promote his rumor-correcting website, icorrect.com. I still don't really understand who visits the site, whether as a user or a reader, but I guess that's neat. Watch the interview and learn about some of the myriad other things Sir Tang has done here.