They really are fabulous, apparently


Sometimes, it seems, nice guys do finish first. Sometimes, underdogs win. Sometimes, life seems like "Rudy" with a "Rocky II" ending.

Not very often, but that happened Sunday on "The Amazing Race." Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge won the million-dollar prize.

They were older and less fit than the others. They didn't finish first in any of the legs and they kept almost being eliminated. Still, they won the big one. Here's the story I sent to papers earlier in the week, before their victory:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

Josh Kilmer-Purcell has been many
things in the past two decades.

He's been a poet and a pig farmer. He's
been an author, an advertising man and Aquadesiac, the drag queen
with goldfish swimming in see-through breasts.

“I've had a lot of drastic career
changes,” he said in an interview last year. And now he's in the “Amazing Race” finale.

That finale has four duos with a shot
at the million-dollar prize. There are twins … and a young dating
couple … and friends who are Chippendale Dancers. And there's
Kilmer-Purcell, 43, with Brent Ridge, 38, his partner in life,
agriculture and realty-TV.

They've been on the fringes of fame
before, with a cable series (“Fabulous Beekman Boys”) that proved
one thing: “Opposites always attract,” Ridge said.

Ridge is a precise sort, with a medical
degree, an MBA and math skills. By comparison, Kilmer-Purcell
switched college majors after his first math test.

Kilmer-Purcell was in 3rd
grade when his family moved from New York to Oconomowoc, a Wisconsin
town of 10,000. His dad worked in sales; the family lived in a
suburbia, surrounded by corn fields.

“I always had a feeling that the farm
people were more fun,” he said. “They had the animals and the hay
piles to jump into.”

He went to Michigan State University
for its hotel-restaurant school – which he left after that first
math test. Instead, he majored in creative-writing program and
ignored the classes he needs now.“I could kick myself for not
learning from that big agriculture school when I was at MSU,” he
said.

After graduating in1991, Kilmer-Purcell
moved to New York and became Aquadisiac, a fact that was readily
accepted by his co-workers in advertising and less accepted by his
eventual boyfriend. “I have a big fear of clowns and drag queens,”
Ridge said.

Ridge was then vice-president of
Healthy Living for Martha Stewart's company. One day, they saw a
listing for a manor near Sharon Springs, NY. “I took that to
Martha and she said, 'Buy it,'” Ridge said.

They did, four years ago, thinking of
it as a weekend retreat. A week later, Kilmer-Purcell said, they got
a handwritten note from a man “who had lost his farm and he had a
month to find a home for his 80 goats and asked if he could be our
caretaker.”

That's the guy now known as Farmer
John. Their farm has goats, pigs and more, plus a cable following.
(This interview was done last year, when their show was on the
obscure Planet Green.)

The guys sell everything from goat-milk
soap to crafts created by neighbors. They've made it work, partly
through Internet sales. Now they have a shot at a million-dollar
prize.

 

Josh Kilmer-Purcell

– On TV: Won “The Amazing Race”
finale, with Brent Ridge, on Sunday (Dec. 9).

– On cable: “The Fabulous Beekman
Boys” had two seasons on Planet Green. That channel changed to
Destination America, but reruns have moved to the Cooking Channel at
10 p.m. Thursdays and 4 p.m. Saturdays.

– In print: Three books: “I Am Not
Myself These Days,” “Candy Everybody Wants” and “The Bucolic
Plague”

– Internet: www.beekman1802.com

 

 

They really are fabulous, apparently


Sometimes, it seems, nice guys do finish first. Sometimes, underdogs win. Sometimes, life seems like "Rudy" with a "Rocky II" ending.

Not very often, but that happened Sunday on "The Amazing Race." Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge won the million-dollar prize.

They were older and less fit than the others. They didn't finish first in any of the legs and they kept almost being eliminated. Still, they won the big one. Here's the story I sent to papers earlier in the week, before their victory:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

Josh Kilmer-Purcell has been many
things in the past two decades.

He's been a poet and a pig farmer. He's
been an author, an advertising man and Aquadesiac, the drag queen
with goldfish swimming in see-through breasts.

“I've had a lot of drastic career
changes,” he said in an interview last year. And now he's in the “Amazing Race” finale.

That finale has four duos with a shot
at the million-dollar prize. There are twins … and a young dating
couple … and friends who are Chippendale Dancers. And there's
Kilmer-Purcell, 43, with Brent Ridge, 38, his partner in life,
agriculture and realty-TV.

They've been on the fringes of fame
before, with a cable series (“Fabulous Beekman Boys”) that proved
one thing: “Opposites always attract,” Ridge said.

Ridge is a precise sort, with a medical
degree, an MBA and math skills. By comparison, Kilmer-Purcell
switched college majors after his first math test.

Kilmer-Purcell was in 3rd
grade when his family moved from New York to Oconomowoc, a Wisconsin
town of 10,000. His dad worked in sales; the family lived in a
suburbia, surrounded by corn fields.

“I always had a feeling that the farm
people were more fun,” he said. “They had the animals and the hay
piles to jump into.”

He went to Michigan State University
for its hotel-restaurant school – which he left after that first
math test. Instead, he majored in creative-writing program and
ignored the classes he needs now.“I could kick myself for not
learning from that big agriculture school when I was at MSU,” he
said.

After graduating in1991, Kilmer-Purcell
moved to New York and became Aquadisiac, a fact that was readily
accepted by his co-workers in advertising and less accepted by his
eventual boyfriend. “I have a big fear of clowns and drag queens,”
Ridge said.

Ridge was then vice-president of
Healthy Living for Martha Stewart's company. One day, they saw a
listing for a manor near Sharon Springs, NY. “I took that to
Martha and she said, 'Buy it,'” Ridge said.

They did, four years ago, thinking of
it as a weekend retreat. A week later, Kilmer-Purcell said, they got
a handwritten note from a man “who had lost his farm and he had a
month to find a home for his 80 goats and asked if he could be our
caretaker.”

That's the guy now known as Farmer
John. Their farm has goats, pigs and more, plus a cable following.
(This interview was done last year, when their show was on the
obscure Planet Green.)

The guys sell everything from goat-milk
soap to crafts created by neighbors. They've made it work, partly
through Internet sales. Now they have a shot at a million-dollar
prize.

 

Josh Kilmer-Purcell

– On TV: Won “The Amazing Race”
finale, with Brent Ridge, on Sunday (Dec. 9).

– On cable: “The Fabulous Beekman
Boys” had two seasons on Planet Green. That channel changed to
Destination America, but reruns have moved to the Cooking Channel at
10 p.m. Thursdays and 4 p.m. Saturdays.

– In print: Three books: “I Am Not
Myself These Days,” “Candy Everybody Wants” and “The Bucolic
Plague”

– Internet: www.beekman1802.com

 

 

Genius? Far from the Ivy League, you'll find it in redneck country


True genius, you know, doesn't alway have an Ivy League inflection, an Oxford attitude, a prep-school pedigree. You'll also find it among some beer-drinking self-described rednecks in Huntsville, Ala. Here's a story I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

It looks like fun, when the guys in
“Rocket City Rednecks” play their weekend games.

They blow stuff up, knock stuff down.
Their rockets soar; their submarine sank .

It is fun, mostly; “I love to shoot
watermelons,” Rog Jones said. But there are less-cheery moments:

– The time, shown this week, when a
survival pod careened down a hill, toward trees. “That thing
weighed as much as car,” said Travis Taylor, who was inside. “When
a car hits a tree, the tree wins.”

– Or last season's maritime
adventure, which brought some instant regrets for Taylor's dad. “I
put a son and a grandson in a submarine,” Charles Taylor said.

It was a homemade sub that was fine 12
feet under the surface, but had equipment failure at 16. “That got
pretty spooky,” Travis Taylor said, but he and his nephew (Michael
Taylor) had an escape plan.

All of this seems like loose fun on an
Alabama weekend, but there are deeper meanings.

These down-home experiments could
impact soldiers, including Gregory Taylor (Travis' brother, Michael's
dad), who will soon start his fourth Iraq-or-Afghanistan tour. Travis
has designed a suit that he says is bulletproof, but is so light (40
pounds) that he ran a marathon in it.

And there's an overall theme: Genius
comes in many packages. It's not just the people who sound like Ivy
Leaguers; it can also be some of the drawling dudes in Huntsville,
Ala.

Some of the “Rednecks” do have
academic credentials. (Pete Erbach, who designs military imaging
systems, has a doctorate; Travis Taylor has two.) But other have done
fine on sheer smarts; consider:

– Jones, Travis' friend since they
met in the Huntsville schools' gifted-student program. While one guy
piled up those grad-school degrees, the other mostly had fun in
community college. “He has his trailer paid for and his two acres
and he's happy,” Travis said of his friend, a metal worker.

– Charles Taylor. “He never had a
chance to go to college,” Travis said of his dad. “He was helping
his father share-crop cotton and watermelons.”

Then, as Travis tells it, “50 to 100
German scientists” came to Huntsville to start the rocket and space
programs. The leader, Wernher von Braun, hired Charles Taylor, then
22 or 23, as a machinist.

“There were a million parts on those
rockets,” Travis said. “Fifty or 100 German scientists can't
build a million parts. You need those redneck geniuses.”

They have practical smarts, the ability
to make things work. It's a little like the real-life scene from the
movie “Apollo 13,” he said, when people on the ground had a table
filled with everything available on the disabled ship; in two hours,
they improvised solutions that could be duplicated in space.

That's redneck IQ, using what's there.
Michael Taylor said he was 16 when he built a super-powered shopping
cart. “I used to run it on jet fuel …. It would do about 40 miles
an hour.”

These practical skills are the opposite
of the “Big Bang Theory” characters, Travis Taylor said. “They
couldn't walk through a door if you didn't show them how.”

Still, don't assume he dismisses all
fiction. Taylor grew up on “Star Trek” reruns; “every
afternoon, Captain Kirk was doing his thing” while his dad was at
work building real-life rockets.

Taylor built his first rocket at about
6, wrote his first science-fiction novella in 8th grade.
At 44, he's written or co-written about 14 sci-fi novels and two
textbooks; he's been working for NASA and the Defense Department,
while sometimes singing in a rock band.

He also married into more brainpower.
Taylor tells about the year he had an extra-smart apprentice; Erbach
married her, Taylor married her sister. Today, his daughter is 8 and
builds rockets; his son is almost 4 and enjoys seeing his dad blow
things up on TV.

– “Rocket City Rednecks,” 9 and
9:30 p.m. Thursdays, National Geographic Channel

– Episodes rerun at 11 and 11:30
p.m., then at 5 and 5:30 p.m. the following Thursday

These "shahs" find the good (if chaotic) life in California


In Michigan, I've had a first-hand view of a vibrant Arab-American community.

In Lansing, where I live, that's mainly the Lebanese; they've been the area's leading lawyers, developers, business people and (a bit of a detour here) contemporary dancers. Elsewhere, people from other Middle East countries have thrived; you couldn't tell that, however, by what you see on TV.

So "Shahs of Sunset" -- which starts its second season Dec. 2 -- is refreshing. Sure, it has all the excesses of other reality shows; it focuses on conflict and chaos, on parties where people drink too much and say way too much. For all of its flaws, however, it does lets us meet some Arab-Americans (Persian, in this case) in the midst fo passionate lives. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

On the surface – a rather glitzy
surface – “Shahs of Sunset” is like other reality shows.

It has big parties, big hair, sometimes
big fights. Pretty people (with some ugly moments) live well.

These are young Persian-Americans in
California; many of their parents arrived from Iran with money and
advantages. Still, Mike Shouhed said, some didn't.

“My father came here in his early
20s,” he said. “He didn't know the language, didn't know the
culture …. But he worked 18-20 hours a day to build something for
his family.”

Already an electrical engineer, he
built his own business and moved the family to Beverly Hills. For
Shouhed, that meant going to the real high school that's
fictionalized in “90210” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Life was
almost too easy. “I call myself a cultural bad boy,” he said.

He dated a lot and didn't study that
much. But charm (and knowing people with wealth) can suffice.

Shouhed sold real estate in Los
Angeles, then moved Las Vegas. “I didn't know a soul,” he said.
“I was a Persian Jew in a town” where that was rare.

He brokered some deals (linking Persian
money in Los Angeles with Vegas real estate), made some big profits
“and then the bottom fell out” of Vegas real estate. He retreated
to Los Angeles.

That's where “Shahs of Sunset”
finds him, a former “bad boy”who seems to have matured at 34.”I'm
like the Phil Jackson on the show,” Shouhed said. “I'm like the
Zen master.”

Jackson was the basketball coach who
soothed eccentric superstars. Now the show is filled with people, all
in their 30s, who are bright, spontaneous and unusual; they are:

– Reza Karahan, a real-estate agent
who's openly gay, is quick and clever. “Persian dinner parties are
kind of like Persian history,” he says in the season-opener. “It
starts really beautifully and then it always goes South.”

– Mercees Javid (known as MJ) is a
successful real-estate agent with an oft-disapproving mom.

– Golnesa Gharachedaghi (GG) does
less. “We've been brought up to be go-getters,” Shouhed said.
“You're expected to start a business or get educated or get
married. She hasn't done any of those.”

– Asa Soltan Rahmati is definitely a
go-getter. Her family left Iran with nothing, she said; now she's
scrambling to finance her Venice home and her “Persian pop
princess” career, The key to Persian life, she said last year, is
passion. “We're old-school. There's the love of friends and family.
(But) we can be obsessive about some things.”

– Lily Ghalichi, the newcomer for the
second season. She has a law-degree and a long-time boyfriend in
Houston, both ignored for now. A rail-thin beauty, Ghalichi has
started a bikini company.

– Shouhed, suddenly the mellow one.
“I catch myself being the Reza-whisperer, calming him down.”

Those two have gone on to start a
business together, he said, “to bring some real, shah-like pizazz.”
Also, Shouhed has started a serious romance with a woman who is
neither Persian nor Jewish.

“In our culture, you tend to know
everyone's lineage and know who they are,” he said. “Dating
outside your culture, outside your religion is discouraged.” It's
also the stuff of reality TV.

– Shahs of Sunset, 10 p.m. Sundays,
Bravo

– Dec. 2 season-opener reruns at
12:32 a.m.; its preceded by reruns, 2-8 p.m.

– More reruns are 2-7 p.m. Tuesday,
Dec. 4, and then the next weekend – Friday at 6 p.m. and midnight;
Saturday, 6-8 p.m.; Sunday (Dec. 9) at 7 p.m.

 

 

Drake Bell: A fairly fun life, a fairly odd movie


Amid a wash of so-so Christmas movies, a few manage to stand out. One is "A Fairly Odd Christmas," which airs four times this week. It has the offbeat look and feel of a cartoon-like tale that's not a cartoon; kids will like it, but grown-ups will also find some surprising moments. Here's the story I sent to papers about its star:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

Many generations seem to careen through
Drake Bell's life.

Sure, he's a young guy who has three
Kids Choice awards and a fun Christmas movie on Nickelodeon His
tastes, however, often veer into the past.

His first car was a 1966 Mustang; his
current one is a '61 Galaxie. His music is classic rock, learned
first-hand from Roger Daltrey and Brian Setzer. Even his film tastes
are vintage. “I'm a huge silent-movie fan,” he said. “You
should see my posters at home.”

So another passion seems to fit in
logically: “I love Christmas,” said Bell, 26. “It's nostalgic;
it's all the old movies and songs.”

And now he has a fairly odd film of his
own. “A Fairly Odd Christmas” is the second live-action
adaptation of “The Fairly OddParents,” a Nickelodeon cartoon
about a 10-year-old Timmy Turner and his his fairy godparents.

Bell was already 15 when “OddParents
debuted, but he became a fan. “It always has jokes that go right
past the kids,” he said. “That keeps it fresh for the parents who
are watching.”

When the series concluded last year, it
tried a non-cartoon with a twist: Timmy (Bell) was grown up, but
clinging his 5th-grade persona.

Now the second movie changes that.
Timmy is fine with adulthood and Tootie (Daniella Monet, 23) is his
girlfriend. Life is good, until he almost ruins Christmas.

All of this required lots of
make-believe, as the actors relate to things – flitting fairies,
raging gingerbread men – that would be added later. Even the
elements are fake: “It's fun to be stomping through the snow in
Vancouver in the summer,” Bell said.

Large chunks of his life have been
pleasant. He started doing TV roles at 8, became a Nickelodeon
regular (first on “The Amanda Show,” then on “Drake &
Josh”) at 13, was taught guitar by Daltrey for a movie at 15. Now
he's working on an album produced by Setzer, of Stray Cats fame.

He's been too busy to match family
skills. Bell can't play baseball as well as his cousin (Heath Bell
has 153 big-league saves) or pool as well as his mom (Robin Dodson
won two world championships).

“I love pool and I play pretty much
every day,” he said. “I'll think I'm getting pretty good. Then
she comes in; it's rack 'em up, clear the table; rack 'em up, clear
the table; rack ….”

And she does it without special effects
or fairy godparents.

– “A Fairly Odd Christmas,”
Nickeloeon.

– 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 29), 8 p.m.
Friday, noon and 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec 2; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 7