Interviews

Ask Miss Alli

How did you get involved with TWoP?
I was a fan all the way back when it was Dawson's Wrap in, like, 1965. (Okay, not quite.) I read the site from literally the first recap that ever posted, which was the second-season Dawson's Creek premiere. And then I started posting on the forums, and then it became Mighty Big TV, and then eventually I got the offer to write for them. Sars and Wing knew me from the boards, basically.

What is your favorite thing about working for TWoP?
Two things, I guess. First of all, the whole recap thing is a really good and really regular writing job that provides you with a very reliable source of material every week, and knowing that you have to turn out fifteen pages a week and make a deadline is a good experience to have, I think. More to the point, though, it's the people (as gross and Revealed With Jules Asner as that sounds). Posters, racers, and certainly the rest of the TWoP staff -- I've met a lot of people I otherwise wouldn't have, so that in itself is probably the actual best thing about it.

How many hours a day do you spend moderating the boards?
It depends on where we are in the season and the week. When the show is running, it probably requires close to an hour every day between Wednesday and whenever the recap posts and then slightly less for the rest of the week. When we're on hiatus, like now, it's not time-consuming at all. I should point out that I spend a lot more time on the boards than would really be required, just because they're interesting and I enjoy them.

How did you get assigned to recap The Amazing Race (TAR)?
Sars offered it to me. I hadn't ever heard of it before I got that email, which was in May of 2001 after the fall schedules were announced.

Dig back through the sands of time and tell us your first reaction to being assigned to recap TAR. Was it cynical disgust? Did you think the show was going to suck eggs?
Yep, "cynical disgust" is about right. Actually, I still have the emails I exchanged with Sars. These are my exact words when she first asked me how I felt about doing a reality show: "Terrific. Nothing like slandering real people. After all, fictional characters can't sue me or come to my house and kick my ass." And when she sent me a link to a description of the show and mentioned the Bruckheimer connection, my oh-so-not-prophetic reaction was: "Survivor from the man who brought you Coyote Ugly. I screeching tires, unnecessary belly-button shots, product-placed explosions (will the hairspray blow before the aerosol cheese product?) and thumping, angry music I'm going to hate. Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" So that's what I thought.
I will tell you that the best feedback I ever got about an individual thing in a recap by far was for the vision of Zach reducing Flo's head to a lump of charcoal with his breath of fire.
How long did it take you to fall under the spell of the show?
Hmm. Five minutes? Certainly no more than one episode. I think once I saw that exchange between Kevin and Drew in the SUV with Namibia as well as "you have to approach people in an affable, friendly way, not like you're in New York!", I could tell it was going to be my kind of production.

Could you please explain the recapping process? On average, how long does it take to write one? Do you have a favorite?
When the show is first on, I watch it and don't take any notes or anything. Then I generally watch it with one finger on the pause button and write down everything that happens. Then I start trying to make the recap more interesting than the phone book, which is about the state it's in after that initial pass. It goes back and forth -- with TAR, I watch it usually three or four times total, and kind of go write some and then watch some and then write some. When I'm satisfied, I stop. It's not scientific. It probably takes me eight or so hours on average.

I don't think I have a favorite recap, no. I have things that have been fun to write -- I loved doing the crew shout-outs, even though they're kind of cheesy. I will tell you that the best feedback I ever got about an individual thing in a recap by far was for the vision of Zach reducing Flo's head to a lump of charcoal with his breath of fire.

What's it like watching a whole community react so immediately to what you write?
It's awesome, obviously. I mean, I could come up with something else to say, but that's the real answer.

Can you predict the bits that people will love with any accuracy? Example?
No. Not really. I mean, sometimes I like things that other people then tell me that they like, but more often, I spend like ten minutes trying to figure out whether "oily" or "greasy" is funnier, and then no one cares, but they claim to have laughed at something I didn't spend much time on. It's very hard to predict.

How did the lyrics start in Season 2? They ended up taking on a life of their own, didn't they?
That was a one-time thing, originally. It was not intended to be a theme. But . . . yeah, I just kind of kept doing it, I guess. I never know what to say about the credits, so I sort of have a new gimmick every season, which is sort of dorky but true.

What's your favorite piece of lingo coined by the recaps?
Hmm. Some of them I like because I think they're accurate, which is true of "killer fatigue" and "bunching," neither of which are clever, just kind of useful. As for the sillier ones . . . I don't know. The drunken careening cameramen, probably, which is so stupid, because if you think about it, it's not the cameramen who are on speed, it's the editors, but . . . there you go.

What makes The Amazing Race special over other reality TV shows?
A couple of things. First of all, it doesn't specifically cast for personality disorders as much as some of the other shows. Second, it's very intelligent and respects the intelligence of the people who are watching it. Third, it has the appeal of the travel stuff, which is inherently interesting even during boring episodes. Fourth, I've always thought that shows like Survivor were hard to take because everyone was screwing each other over, and TAR doesn't have much of that, while shows like The Real World get old because they're not DOING anything. I think it works well to have them working hard but not obligated to scheme against each other. But mostly, I think it's the sense of humor that the show has -- not just the contestants being funny, like Kevin and Drew or Ken and Gerard, but the show itself being made in a way that's really funny and human. The way it's shot and edited and scored is very wry and observant, and I think that's what they have that basically nobody else has.
I have to see Rob whenever I lose a bet, of course.
Do you keep in regular contacts with many racers?
Not a lot. I mean, I see them at the parties -- I always try to kiss Loud Pushy Frank as much as possible and make an idiot out of myself in front of all the cute boys, as you know -- and I see them on the boards. Some of them do drop emails from time to time about things. It varies. I have to see Rob whenever I lose a bet, of course.

How weird is it to come face to face with the people you've dissed or mocked in recaps?
It can be weird. But honestly, I was really lucky the first season to have "villains" -- namely Frank and theGuidos -- who were really good and funny about the whole thing, and since then, it's been a lot easier. I really don't expect people who've been ripped on to be nice to me -- I don't know if I would quite be that generous -- but when they are, it's a nice surprise. Obviously, Ian was quite a revelation.

What brought you to NYC for that first TARCon? Walk the many of us who weren't around through how that all came about. Did you have any foreknowledge that the racers would show up?
Hmm, weird story. I was in the loop that fall enough to know that the racers were going to be in New York for the finale, and I had been given some reason to believe that if I were around, I might get some opportunity to meet them that weekend. And I had a friend in New York who I hadn't seen in quite a while. The topper, really, was that it was December of 2001, and for what were really sad reasons, you could fly to New York for a song -- I think I got the flight for $200. I knew that a couple of the teams knew about the party, and I knew that a couple of them might try to come by, but I certainly had no clue that they were going to show up en masse the way they did. It's funny -- I still love the parties, and they're still incredibly weird and fun, but you just can't really get back the feel of that first one and how completely gobsmacked we all were when they started coming in the door.

Which season have you enjoyed the most? Why?
The first, I think. I think almost all shows that don't get spectacular ratings suffer from some obsessive tinkering in later seasons. They've tried things -- stupider clues, simpler tasks, more spoon-feeding -- in an attempt to make the thing simpler, and I think those things have generally hurt the later seasons somewhat, though obviously I think it's still a terrific show. I also think the mix of teams in the first season was just about perfect, and the chemistry in that group was really hard to replicate.

Have you sucked anybody into watching TAR?
Sure. Family, friends, people I work with . . . a certain number of people are reality television snobs and won't hear of it, but I talk it up pretty enthusiastically.

You've mentioned your Mom & Dad in recaps before. What do they think of your work with TwoP and love for the show?
They're so cool, no kidding. If you have to have relatives, you should totally have mine. They think it's very cool. Mom loves TAR -- Dad can't watch it because it requires too much concentration, and he's always watching sixteen things at the same time. And Mom loves gossip about racers. She doesn't read the boards much, but she always reads the love thread, which is . . . a very proud-mom thing to do, I guess.

Do folks at your regular work know about your alter ego?
Some do, some don't. Certainly my friends do -- the oft-mentioned Snowmobile Boy is a friend from work.

Do you write anything else? (fiction, poetry, torts?)
I always have the first chapter of a novel going, which is sort of depressing, now that I think about it. The short version is that I write lots and lots of things, really, but it's kind of all over the place right now. I always have plans, and I don't always have time to pursue them.

There are some confused about your name—the whole Linda vs. Allison Jane thing. Can you clarify?
My middle name is Alison. I don't know where I got Jane. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't wind up with, like, twenty different ways of identifying myself online, but there you go.

What are some of your favorites (books, movies, music, etc)?
Let's see. (It shifts constantly, so these are current preferences only.) In books, I read the post-Bridget-Jones chick book genre pretty voraciously. I loved one called Asking For Trouble and another one called thirtynothing. Excellent fluff, both of them. I read a fair amount of policy wonk stuff -- there's a book I really love by E.J. Dionne called Why Americans Hate Politics. Movies are hard, because I can't compare them to each other at all. My first official "favorite movie" was actually The Sure Thing with John Cusack in about 1985. I like good chick movies (and hate bad ones), but I also like good mysteries and especially documentaries. My tastes in music are all over the map. I listen to lots of what I guess I would term radio pop, both old and new -- the Jayhawks and Coldplay and Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw and that sort of thing. But I also listen to a lot of old soul and R&B, a little bit of old country stuff, and then a completely wacky collection of off-the-wall things like comedy singers and Broadway cast albums and college a cappella collections.

Did you get an audience at your cherry/spoon recitation?
Shockingly enough, no. It's a good thing there is photographic evidence to prove that I paid up.

Would you ever consider Racing? If so, with whom?
Not in a million years. Being on reality TV is a very specific bargain -- you get the prize/travel/experience, and they get to use your personality and behavior as entertainment. I think it works out really well for some people,but other people really have a hard time accepting that trade-off once they've made it, and in the end, I don't think I would like the deal.

What would you like to see from the next Season of TAR?
The same thing I always want to see -- good locations, interesting tasks, a good cast, and the right mix of skill and luck. And hopefully an imaginary boyfriend, because they really haven't been delivering for me for the last couple of seasons.