Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Milk: Don't Blend In

I just came back from seeing Milk, at a screening courtesy of Focus Features and The New York Times.  It's a tour de force performance from Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the visionary San Francisco politician and gay rights leader who was assassinated 30 years ago next week, along with the city's mayor George Moscone.

A good deal of the film's midsection deals with the historic defeat of California's Proposition 6 in 1978, which sought an immediate firing of all gay teachers and even those who support them.   Milk famously took on California state senator John Briggs, the proposition's main proponent, and won, ensuring that civil rights were protected for all in California.

Ironically, exactly 30 years later, we've taken a giant step backward with this month's recently passed Proposition 8, which repealed the civil right to marry which had already been granted to gay couples in California this past spring.  Milk was in production in 2007-08 -- meaning that filmmaker Gus Van Sant must have been familiar with the prospect of Prop 8, and its eerie parallels to the Prop 6 debate of '78.  Packed with vintage news clips and interview snippets, the film shows the talking heads of the day making the same points back then, on both sides of the issue, that we just heard this fall.

It's sad that so few things have changed.  At many points during the film, we see hatemonger Anita Bryant on her crusade against homosexuals; her argument, and Briggs', that they're in the right "because God says so" is unfortunately still the logic employed by religious zealots and bigots today.  But seeing Bryant on screen actually made me feel good.  Because her remarks, shown completely in context, show her for the villainess she truly was, it made me think:  30 years from now, in 2038, when someone makes Prop 8:  The Movie, perhaps the self-righteous, so-called Christians of today will also be revealed for the evildoers they are.  

And as for Anita Bryant, according to the internet, today she's still alive at age 68.  I can only hope that, if there truly is karmic justice in this world, she'll be headed in the upcoming years to some old folks' home, to be tended by some big, vengeful queen of a nurse, who'll secretly be shitting in her orange juice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Before the Race with... Terence & Sarah

Terence Gerchberg & Sarah Leshner
7th Team eliminated,

This past April, as The Amazing Race's eleven teams prepared for their upcoming adventure, I had the opportunity to sit with each one. As I met team after team, I was often impressed by their skills and determination. Yet only one team would ultimately bring home the $1 million prize.

This past Sunday, we saw the seventh elimination of this season (following Arthur & Anita, Anthony & Stephanie, Bill & Mark, Marisa & Brooke, Ty & Aja and Kelli & Christy).  That team, of Terence Gerchberg and Sarah Leshner, was comprised of two very different people.  She is (like me), a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, while Terence is an accomplished runner and physical trainer.  As I sat with the duo this past spring -- on the day the teams got their first glimpses of each other -- I immediately warmed to their fun, sharp senses of humor, their smarts, and the aggressive vibe which I, as a fellow New Yorker, share.  Below, we talk about their relatively new relationship, and just why they were so sure they would win The Amazing Race.

Must Hear TV: You’re down here as Team #1 on my interview sheet.

Terence Gerchberg:  Same place we’re going to finish!


MHTV:  You seem pretty sure of that.  So why are these other contestants bothering to compete, really?

Sarah Leshner:  I understand they need to make a TV show.  It wouldn’t be fun to just feature Terence and Sarah winning the race.  So that’s fine.


MHTV:  Should they just call it “The Let’s Give Terence and Sarah Prize Money Show?”

SL:  We can make it exciting, but they don’t know us well enough to know how exciting that would be.

TG:  They will, afterwards.


MHTV:  What are your skills that you two have, that make you sure you’re going to win?

SL:  I think what’s great about us is that we’re perfect complements.  So everything that he’s good at, I’m a little bit weaker at.  And the things that I’m good at, I won’t say he’s weaker at, but I have to be good at some things.  So anything physical or having to do with directions, anything having to do with gut instinct or perception, he’s amazing and unstoppable. 


MHTV:  So it’s the stereotypical boy thing?

SL:  Totally the boy thing.  But he also has the girl thing, like anything having to do with emotion and love – that’s also him.

TG:  And Sarah’s great at grasping languages.  She’s very sharp, book-oriented, and smart.  She’s good with words, and –

SL: -- cultures.  I’ve traveled a lot.

TG:  She’s really well versed in all of that.  it’s absolutely amazing to watch her break down languages and pronounce words.  Any tough word, any country we’re going to, and I can say “Read that word,” because otherwise I’ll be lost.  But she’s great at it.

SL:  And we’re both very low maintenance, very fearless, very unstoppable.

TG:  Sarah’s great like that.  You just throw her in anything and she’s like, “I’m cool.”

SL:  And I don’t think they’ve had many women like that.

TG:  She’s lower maintenance than me.  No question.


MHTV:  Does she use less hair product than you?

SL:  100 percent.  Do I look like I put anything in my hair?

TG:  She stays like this.


MHTV:  Have you traveled together? 

TG:  I have to tell you about this.  She had gone to school, Wharton.  All business, all the time.  And everybody spoke languages and was very international.  Her two friends, one was getting married one weekend in Latvia, and the other in Moscow.  She explains this to me – I know I’m telling this story, but it’s from my heart and my soul -- she tells me about it, and I’m like, “Is this your way of inviting me?  Because it’s really awkward.  I don’t feel like I’m really invited.”


MHTV:  But you hadn’t been together for too long.

TG:  Two months.  So she was like, “Well, do you want to go?”  But she hadn’t even gotten the visas, and there were a lot of things that needed to get done.  So I said I’d get everything done and get it all happen.  We got it done – we had the visas on Tuesday and took off on Thursday.

SL:  This is another reason we’re going to be good for the show.  We’re very accustomed to running late and doing things last minute.


MHTV:  In other words, you’re New Yorkers.

SL:   Yes.  So that’s definitely how I travel.  For the last couple of trips we’ve done -- he also came to visit me when I was traveling for work in Argentina -- we made all of the plans at the last minute.  We weren’t sure we were going to go, and everything came together super quickly.  He got our tickets for Latvia and our visas for Moscow in 24 hours. 


MHTV:  You’re good with the stress, or does it tear you apart?

TG:  It doesn’t, and that’s the thing.  We got to the airport, and I wondered, “Should I take this international trip with this girl? I’ve only been with her for a short time.”  But it was an incredible opportunity, to go to Latvia and Moscow.  And people had said, “You’re going to know whether or not you want to be with her.  Traveling either makes or breaks it.”  Later I sent an email to my friend, and said the more time I spend with her, with each minute, I like her more and more.  We hadn’t even said we loved each other – none of that.  But traveling with her was fun.

SL:  We have the same energy level, the same attention span – short.


MHTV:  When it comes time to make a split-second decision, will you waste time bickering over whose way to do it, or do you have a conflict resolution strategy?

SL:  We don’t have a decision-solving strategy, but if we start getting on each other ‘s nerves or bickering, we do “Get in the groove.  Get in the groove.”  [rubbing their knuckles together]  You know when you put your knuckles directly in top of each other it doesn’t work, but if you put them in the groove, it slides easily.  So no more fighting.


MHTV:  So you even have shtik for the camera.

SL:  Yes, but it’s mostly for each other.  Because when we get ourselves into a funk, we really get ourselves into a funk.  So this is like snap out of it.  We started doing it for the Race, but now for the last two weeks we’ve been doing it and it works.  We got in this fight yesterday, and then we were like, “No way, get in the groove!”


MHTV:  Have you sized up the other competitors?

SL:  Yes.  They’re amateurs.  We can go through every team.  First of all, nobody here is as physically fit as he is.  No way.  Not even close.  So you figure he’s so much above everybody else, that even him carrying my backpack and having to compensate for me, we’re still going to demolish everybody.


MHTV:  Is he going to have to carry your backpack?

SL:  Yes.  Look at me.  Am I going to be able to carry a 20 pound backpack?  It’s amazing.  We went on a run where we tested each of us running with our backpacks fully packed, or him running with his pack on his back and mine on his front, and we were better that way.  He with both backpacks is faster than me with no backpacks.  So literally when we were trying on backpacks, we tried them on with him carrying both.  It’s not going to be a split-second decision to have to carry the backpack.  He has already anticipated it, he’s ready, and we know how it fits.

TG:  As long as I’m prepared, and that’s the whole thing, being prepared.  I run, and it’s all mental preparation, and it’s also matching with the physical preparation we’ve implemented.


MHTV:  So you’ve already done prep, and tested?

SL:  We’ve done stair climber, rowing machine…  We went through past seasons, and said what are the tasks they’ve done that have really freaked people out?  We went to a farm and practiced milking a cow.

TG:  And we rappelled.  I don’t know if you’ve ever rappelled.

SL:  It’s really scary!  And you don’t want to be scared doing it on national television.

TG:  Same thing with preparing for a race or a marathon.  You need not necessarily to run the exact course because we don’t know what the course is…

SL:  But you mimic it as best you can.  There is nobody here who is as well-prepared as we are.  Who here went and milked a cow?  Nobody.

TG:  We sized them up, little things.  When you still have your price tags on your backpack, that’s a sign.   You essentially just bought it.  But you need to have practice stuff in it, and know where things are going.  It’s great that you have matching things, but is it a technical piece of clothing that will be functional in warm and cold weather?

SL:  He’s so street smart.  I always say he should be a spy.  He goes somewhere and says did you observe that thing in the corner?

TG:  And that’s what they said about Uchenna, who won season 7, that he was very perceptive.  It definitely helps, because I’ve already seen certain people’s weaknesses by things they’ve done.


MHTV:  It says in your bio that you two are very different in terms of your jobs and sometimes your temperament.  “This dating duo is determined to prove to themselves that they belong together while on this race.”

SL:  That’s it 100%.  It’s amazing.


MHTV:  So your relationship is new enough that you’re not at the completely sure point yet?

SL:  No.  But I believe at the end of this race we’ll know if we’re going forward.

TG:  It’s our first Passover together tonight, and it’s going to be our first of many things this year.  And our one year anniversary will be on May 20, which is potentially when we think the finish will be.  So we will win $1 million on our one year anniversary.  But to have the opportunity to travel the world with someone who has become my best friend, and someone I love to talk to and be with…

SL:  And be put through so many challenges.  We’ll be stressed, fatigued, hungry…


MHTV:  After that, planning a wedding will seem like nothing.

SL:  Exactly.

TG:  I’ll be planning that anyway.  Don’t kid yourself.


MHTV:  Are your families proud about you going on this Race, even though they can’t tell anybody?

SL:  This is also an example of how we’re so different.  He’s so much more of a free spirit personality, that his family is really embracing it.  And I’m much more conventional, and goal oriented, and career minded, so my family is freaking out.  Like until the very last day.  I was like, “Are you excited?  And they were like not really.  We’re nervous.  We don’t think this is a good idea.”


MHTV:  But now they’re going to see you on television.  Are they going to have all the relatives watching?

SL:  I hope they do.  I don’t know about the relatives.  My grandmother would die if she knew.  I had to explain I was going on a very long vacation.  And she was like, “Why?  Please!  Stay home, get married.”

TG:  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.  It’s not like you’re gone for a year.

SL:  The other amazing thing about the show is that they’ll get to see that even though he doesn’t look on paper like what they might want for me, he’s so amazing for me in all these other ways.  And I think his family has concerns because he tells them that I’m not loving or emotional enough.  And they’ll get to see that I totally am.


MHTV:  Or they’ll get to see you screaming your head off at him.  You know that happens on the Race.

TG:  She’s not that big of a screamer, which is nice.

SL:  But yes, when you get stressed, it brings out the worst in you, and who knows what that’ll be?


MHTV:  Were there things you learned in Wharton that are specifically applicable?

TG:  Languages.

SL:  Yes.  When I did my MBA I also got a masters in international studies.  That involved all kinds of cultural immersion, and how to interact with different types of people.  And I had this Wharton class on negotiations, and I think that will be super useful.  Some of the softer skills.  I don’t know that I’m going to need to do accounting and statistics.

TG:  We’re both pretty good at that stuff, like puzzles.  I have an accounting/finance degree too, and that’s the thing.  When you think of us, you think of me just kind of like a sporty, jocky type.  Her, brainy…

SL:  Nerdy… 

TG:  But actually, I’m actually, whatever, wicked smart and good like that.  And she’s actually very strong and fast.   It all comes together.  It’s crazy.

SL:  We are very, very, very confident.

TG:  In a good way.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time for a Much-Needed Commercial Break

I know, I know -- it's November sweeps. Still, I got the chance to go away for a much-needed vacation (and I'm not into the whole "staycation" thing -- that's just lame, and I'm sick of the cutesy word already.) So, Frank and I are voting for Obama, and then heading off to Fort Lauderdale and South Beach, partly courtesy of some fabulous promotional consideration from a friend at the Ritz-Carlton hotels. Stay tuned until next week -- see you on November 10!