Category Archives: OCR in culture

How To Get Cast On American Ninja Warrior*

*or Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge, or any other OCR- or OCR-adjacent reality show

We’ve all seen the shows, and loved them, and dreamed about being on them, so as to launch us into superstardom and validate our otherwise tiny lives.

So we figure out what we need to apply, and craft our audition videos, and submit them, and hear… nothing.

It’s not our fault. Skill’s not enough to get on a reality TV show. You also need a compelling backstory. And that’s a tricky thing. Most of us are too busy living and stuff to get one.

But now, there’s a solution. If you don’t have a compelling backstory, buy one.

Polydactyl hand

I’ve got polydactyly… but it doesn’t have me! Creative Commons image by Drgnu23 via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polydactyly_01_Lhand_AP.jpg

I’ve got several economical and thoroughly non-guaranteed packages. For example, everyone loves the Disease Package. For just $2,500, I’ll give you complete research on a disease that’s obscure but serious-sounding. It’ll be everything you need to pass yourself off as suffering from it, or, if you prefer, to have a loved one who has or died from it that you can dedicate your performance to.

If that’s not enough, a pair of extremely reasonable add-ons are available. For just $1,000, I can give you an authentic-looking document signed in ink by an Official Doctor Substitute formally diagnosing your serious but inspirational condition, in the event that the show demands proof. Or, for a completely separate thousand bucks, I can contract an actor of appropriate age, ethnic background, and ability to cry on cue to portray your loved one.

Of course, diseases can be icky, and you may have ethical concerns about claiming a disease you don’t actually have. No problem! We’ve got plenty of other inspirational backgrounds to choose from.

The Rehabilitated Felon Package is a steal at just $2,200! It includes a custom-created criminal background—one-time or recurring—that you’ve served your time for and which you’re now using to try to inspire others to keep out of trouble. We’ll tell you exactly what you did (including details like the type of property stolen, the specific drugs taken, or the precise breed of rare dog rare dognapped), the situation that you really shouldn’t be blamed for that led you into a life of crime, details about your incarceration, and an inspirational mantra from either the judge who sentenced you, a gruff but caring warden, or the prison roommate who’s uneducated but wise that inspired you to turn your life around. Available add-ons include a professional mugshot package (with hair, makeup, and whimsical greeting cards suitable for giving your relatives a real scare at the holidays) for just $349.99, or an actor to portray the victim of your crime who has recognized that you have fully repented and with whom you now share an unlikely but inspiring friendship ($2,500; only two available per calendar year).

Finding Nemo screenshot

Or, if you prefer, you can be the fish-torturing dentist from Finding Nemo.

Maybe you want something a bit lighter and more fun. Just $1,499 will get you the Wacky Job package. You’ll get all of the information you’ll need to impersonate a circus lion tamer, a parachute instructor, an erectile dysfunction doctor, a racehorse inseminator, or any of dozens of other cool professions. The package includes three portable, career-appropriate props you can bring with you to final auditions or filming days. Plus, for just an extra $500 we’ll give you a wacky career like balloon salesman that lines up with a popular movie, so you’ll be able to say, “It’s like a real-life Up!”

Disadvantaged Backgrounds come in lots of shapes and sizes—poverty and violence are ever-popular, but there’s also religious cults, kidnapping, overcoming a stutter, or parents who kept voting for Lyndon LaRouche. And any of these are available for just $1,999. All disadvantaged background packages come with the free, award-winning guide, 12 Ways to Seamlessly Draw Parallels between the Obstacles You’ve Faced in Your Life with the Obstacles You Face on the Course!

The Unique Living Situation is a great starter package—easy to implement but surprisingly effective. For just $1,200, I’ll give you a trigonomous relationship, a family of ghosts in your house, or a close personal friendship with Carrot Top. (Seriously, he’s desperate!)

Maybe you don’t even want to commit to all of that. For just $599, I can give you a Memorable Personal Style: Rainbow hair, trademark body paint, an obscure superhero you impersonate, a fez, or any of a thousand other options. I’ll provide a general outline but you’ll have final say on colors and design.

All packages come with a customized, easily repeatable hashtag no more than twenty characters long.

Finally, I offer Discount Stories. My full-price backstories are first-rate and guaranteed unique, and extraordinarily likely to get you cast on a reality show of your choice. However, not everyone cast will go far. If you prefer a cheaper option, for half price you can purchase a gently used (No more than one episode) certified pre-owned backstory from our catalog. (A nominal fee may apply for adjusting details to your current situation; actor rental and certain other add-ons are always full price.)

Here’s to your brand-new reality!

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Rise of the Sufferfests: A Review of the Reviews

Rise of the Sufferfests posterSo, the big news out of OCRsylvania this week is that there’s now a documentary about OCR.

It’s tricky to say what I want to say about it, because I don’t want to be a dick, but I hope to encourage reaction to it that’s constructive. I probably will fail somewhat at the first part, and probably the second part too, but let’s go.

Point 1: I think it is important to remember here that the person who has created something has done a much more impressive thing than someone who comments on it. So regardless of what the movie is, props to the filmmakers for planning, funding, and executing the project.

Point 2: I haven’t seen the film. So when I talk about the movie, I’m talking about the concept of a documentary about OCR, rather than this movie itself.

Point 3: This movie has parallels to another movie whose paths I’ve traveled in the same general vicinity of but haven’t crossed. Without giving identifying detail, at the time I was working for a professional association, and someone produced a documentary about the profession and how it was portrayed in the media. This subject was catnip to said profession. The membership magazine for which I worked had a monthly department devoted to it, and when people felt like complaining (a constant occurrence), “contributing to negative stereotypes of the profession” was a common and easily retweetable criticism. There were even association presidential campaigns that included fighting the stereotype as central parts of their platforms.

This obsession didn’t increase my respect for the profession one bit.* And while the movie’s premiere (which took place at the association’s annual conference) was a big event within said conference, it didn’t translate into the Oscar nomination the producers expected (I promise I am not making that up) or any kind of distribution deal or anyone that I’m aware of thinking about it once the conference was over.

Well, I guess I think of it periodically, whenever I need an example of how self-obsessed the profession can be. But the desperation for legitimacy embiggened no one, and the same could be said for OCR. It’s legitimate, regardless of whether there’s a movie about it or not.**

Point 4: I’ve seen two reviews, from Mud Run Fun and Obstacle Racing Media.*** Both have been raves, which is great, but I think they do the movie no favors.

Neither gives me much reason to see the movie, apart from their assertion that the movie’s great and that it’s about an activity that I enjoy. Beyond that… it’s about the history of the sport, and it has interviews with prominent figures in the industry, and there’s something about the filmmaker’s journey.

But that doesn’t really tell me much about what the story actually is, let alone whether it’s well told. Is it a straightforward history, or is there some bit of focus or insight that’s noteworthy? The characters are eccentric, one of the reviews promises, but are they eccentric for eccentricity’s sake, or eccentric because that’s their brand and appearing eccentric is good for business, or because they genuinely see the world in a way that most people don’t and have adapted their actions to reflect it?

Is the story uplifting? Funny? A tale of interpersonal conflict? A lesson in how to build an industry? Or is it just a bunch of people shouting about how they matter? By not giving much information about what the story is, the reviews kind of suggest that it’s the last. I hope that’s not true.

Point 5: “OCR enthusiast” isn’t a victim class. The reviews claim that the movie will help OCR enthusiasts explain why they enjoy the activity to people who think they’re nuts. But I’ve never had any trouble with that. “Because I enjoy being outside, and in nature, doing obstacles that are unusual and challenging” has always been enough for me. And if it’s not, one of the really nice bits about being a grown up is that I have the wherewithal to not care.

In any event, it’s no more difficult than explaining why you enjoy, say, spending huge amounts of money to hit a little white ball with a variety of different sticks for three minutes over four and a half hours, or smearing pigmented ink on a piece of stretched canvas or using cards to try to win other cards by comparing the values on the cards, only sometimes some of the cards are worth more or less than the value they have based on arbitrary rules, but golfers, painters, and card-players don’t tend to feel the need to have a documentary to explain their hobbies. So I guess this might be point 3A.

Point 6: My rampant cynicism has shown throughout this piece, hasn’t it. So let’s pull that back a bit. It is cool that there’s a movie about OCR, and it’s okay to be excited, and I do genuinely wish the producers all the best with it. But the reviews I’ve seen seem to take enjoying the movie as a duty, rather than a natural reaction to it. If liking the movie is a duty, well, I get that. (My magazine from point 3 certainly pimped the movie plenty.****) But if it’s a movie that genuinely warrants wide viewing on its own merits, make that case.


* Which is a shame, because I think it’s fundamentally a force for good, even though it gets a lot of the details wrong.

** Although if you really want legitimacy from a movie, you need to get a porn movie take on it. That’s why everyone loves Star Trek so much.

*** Full disclosure: I’ve contributed two posts to ORM. I am not on their staff, however, and I’m writing this post without their approval or awareness.

**** Admittedly, less than the producers wanted. They believed it warranted a monthly column. Again, I’m not making that up.

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Getting OCR into the Olympics

Spartan head person Joe De Sena quite famously has a goal of getting obstacle course racing into the Summer Olympics.

Personally, I’m completely indifferent to this goal. I’m unlikely to ever compete Olympically, and while I recognize that growth in the industry is likely to have positive impacts on the availability and quality of races I have the opportunity to participate in, I have no idea whether seeking Olympichood is the most effective method of achieving that growth.

Nevertheless, I do love a good theoretical puzzle, so I’ve been wondering about what needs to happen to get OCR into the Olympics. And, while I can’t claim to be an expert on getting sports into the Olympics, I do have a few ideas that range from amusing to legitimate to completely-stupid-but-also-kind-of-thought-provoking-in-that-Ig-Nobel-Prize way.* And here they are:

Fantasy OCR: Let me start by saying that fantasy sports are something I don’t understand, in the sense that they don’t appeal to me and I can’t fathom anything that would lead me to join such a league. However, I have asked a friend who plays in multiple fantasy football leagues why he does so. According to him, fantasy football is great, because—and this is a direct quote—“Because it forces me to be excited about games that I don’t care about.”

One could certainly debate the moral gelatinousness of being forced to care about things you don’t care about, but that’s not important for this discussion. What is important is the fact that a sport with legions of fans is more likely to be added to the Olympic roster than one that has obsessive participants but whose only fans are people who know those participants personally and that one creepy guy on the internet.** And if millions of people don’t necessarily enjoy it but they start feeling compelled to obsess about every week’s results, well, that’s as good as fandom to the Olympic committee.***

Synchronized OCR: It worked for swimming. And diving. And biathlon. (It’s a shame synchronized biathlon**** doesn’t make the broadcast that often.) And none of this Team Ninja Warrior shit, where (as far as I can tell without owning a TV) it’s just a head-to-head race—to be Olympic-worthy, the synchronicity has to be judged, and it has to be judged separately from the performance, so it’s okay to perform absolutely shittily, as long as you perform absolutely shittily in synchronicity with your teammate. That’s what viewers want.

All the human interest stories: Olympic broadcasts, these days, are about 12% sport and 388% human interest. (Are there four channels of Olympic broadcasts these days? I know there was the Triplecast fiasco a while ago, but now there’s eight billion cable channels and there’s a limit to how many times the tapes of Wings can be played before they’ll disintegrate, so there’s probably more now.)

Anyhow, to be television-ready, every competitor should prepare a 3-5 minute multimedia package about their biggest failure, their greatest tragedy, and the childhood hero who changed their life. They should also prepare 3-5 backups for each in case their first choice is duplicated by a more prominent athlete. They also need to provide good B-roll footage of training (preferably including that shot where you clap freshly chalked hands together and the chalk flies everywhere), crying, and interacting with actors portraying an inspirationally disabled relative.

Americanization: We could pretend that the Olympics are about sport, or we could grow the fuck up and realize they’re about cash. I assume that the bulk of revenues from the Olympics come from TV deals, and that the U.S. is the most lucrative TV market there is (since we’re the ones with the wherewithal to watch at least 306 hours of television apiece over two weeks.)

Now, the Olympics do require sports to be played in a reasonably large number of countries before they’ll be considered. But Americans want to watch Americans win medals. We don’t give no fucks ‘bout foreigners, stealing our medals and impregnating our wimmins. So anyone with a legitimate shot at gold should defect. Except that a Canadian can win occasionally, as long as their top rival that year is Russian.

Mud Girls: Sex sells, so lots of sports have incorporated eye candy into their culture, in the form of ladies whose work is absolutely critical to the functioning of the match, while purely coincidentally having large breasts. There’s the Oakland Raiderettes, the Chicago Blackhawks Ice Crew, MMA Ring Girls, and, hottest of all, the Phillie Phanatic.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Kickline

That last paragraph wasn’t entirely correct. In addition to having very large breasts, they also wear extremely small shorts. Public domain image by Big Cowboy Kev via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dallas_Cowboys_cheerleaders_Kick_Line.jpg

Now, OCR likes to think that it’s above that, and as far as I know, most participants are.***** But much as how the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders don’t actually have much of an impact on whether Dez Bryant catches that pass, the mud girls wouldn’t be there for the participants, but for the spectators. Anything for eyeballs!

In the name of equality, there probably should be mud boys as well. But while ladies would appreciate it, all of my cultural knowledge says that women get more turned on by emotion than visual stimulation. And thus, to serve them, there needs to also be…

OCR Erotica: Written-word porn is a powerful thing. 50 Shades of Grey—that bit of Twilight fanfiction gone horribly, horribly wrong—has been cited as one of the factors that helped Great Britain emerge from recession in 2012. (By a comedian, but cited nonetheless!)

So if someone turns OCR into a good popular porn romance series, then OCR’s burgeoning economic power would sweep it into the Olympics in a heartbeat. Seems like it’s time to figure out how spears, cargo nets, and monkey bars can produce female orgasms.


* As an aside, is it appropriate to award myself “The Ig Nobel Prize of OCR?” Because I like to think I could pull that off. If nothing else, that will be my Olympic dream.

** Not me. I’m that other creepy guy on the internet.

*** And nearly as good as a hefty, hefty bribe.

**** Biathlon is actually my closest Olympic connection, because when my brother was a kid and I was a much younger kid, he was on a swim team with Olympic biathlete Joan Guetschow. I mean, she wasn’t an Olympic biathlete at the time, but she eventually became one.

***** That’s a potentially huge bag of worms, so let me rephrase slightly: The culture of OCR seems to be one of respecting people, both men and women, for their accomplishments rather than creepily stalking them and turning them into sexual objects for their appearance. At least I have not seen or experienced any form of sexual harassment. But then again, to sexually harass me someone would have to be blind, stupid, racist, indifferent to humanity, suffering from acute appendicitis, and blind again. So I’m not a terribly valid authority on the subject. If it is an issue, then I hope that it can be discussed and eliminated. Now, back to hypothetical objectification for comedic purposes!

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The Fiesta Bowel Has a New Sponsor

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl LogoOkay, okay, cheap joke. But I’ll assert that it is a legitimate concern in response to the news that BattleFrog is sponsoring the Big-but-not-quite-Super football game in the general vicinity of New Year’s Day.* Hilarious typos happen, no matter how much care you take to avoid them. (As I know all too well from 8 years in a job where referring to “public libraries” was a daily occurrence.)

That’s about all I know about whether or not the move is smart or stupid, despite the unenlightened speculation I’ve seen online about the topic. Is it a brilliant move that will bring OCR into the mainstream or a waste of millions of dollars that will promote the race to lazy mouth-breathing slobs whose idea of athletic achievement is when they only have to rest once on the way to the mini-fridge they installed in the TV room because the kitchen is too far away?** I dunno.

Time may help to clear that up, or maybe not. I do enough work with cost-benefit analysis in my current job to know that it’s a really imprecise task (despite being an awfully valuable one). It’s usually hard to know exactly what benefits are caused by the thing your investigating (rather than just happening at the same time), and the benefits are usually not cash, so they have to be translated from whatever they are into a dollar value, but there’s a lot of leeway in how you do that. (I’ve seen human lives valued at anywhere from $1.5 million to $4.5 million, for example.)

With a promotional effort like this, it seems particularly tricky. First off, while promotion certainly can work (otherwise no one would do it) the mechanism by which it works adds another layer of imprecision. I doubt that anyone sees “The BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl” and says, “Wow, I need to buy a BattleFrog Fiesta!” Plus, in addition to whether or not sponsoring a bowl game is an effective way to get promotional messages to people who will ultimately register for a BattleFrog, there’s the whole issue of whether or not BattleFrog will use its opportunity in an effective way. Will they craft a brilliantly persuasive marketing campaign, or will everything need to be pulled within 12 seconds when the news breaks that the spokesperson they hired is under investigation for pedophilia? Obviously, way too soon to know.

I did a very brief online search about whether bowl game sponsorship in general is a logical and worthwhile thing to do. As you might expect, there isn’t a lot of terribly worthwhile information that I found. But there is one quite important distinction that doesn’t seem to be getting mentioned. According to sponsorship.com, “For the most part, bowl naming rights are media buys.” In other words, even though “BattleFrog Sponsors Fiesta Bowl” is the headline, the actual story is that BattleFrog bought millions of dollars of ads on ESPN and they threw in Fiesta Bowl naming rights as an add-on.

Now, sponsorship.com is published by… well, it’s hard to say, based on the about page, but it looks like the company that makes money helping companies sponsor sporting events. So it’s biased in favor of sponsorship and therefore it should be taken with a mound of salt. But I’m inclined to suspect that this point is probably accurate—I don’t see a lot of motivation for them to apply a bunch of spin to the technical aspects of sponsorship like that.

Some other bits of information that I found:

Howeoriginal argued in 2013 that the BCS bowls, of which Fiesta is one, are among the worst bowl sponsorship opportunities, due to their very high cost and because the names tend to stand alone without the sponsor. I don’t know that either point is particularly valid—it doesn’t really address whether the value justifies the cost and, as noted above, the title sponsorship is a pretty minor aspect of the deal.

A pretty crappily written article from Forbes last year suggested that major bowl sponsorship provides a good return on investment that minor bowls don’t. But the information in the article comes entirely from one guy, who doesn’t really back it up with information. That one guy, however, is a former sales guy at ESPN, so he may have insider insight. He also may have an axe to grind, or be attempting to spread misinformation to his now-competitors. Really, the article is crap.

Just for the amusement factor: Last year SBNation published an article ruminating about the cost of buying one thing from each bowl game sponsor. I wouldn’t mind the $8 billion space telescope.

*I hope that I’m not infringing on any NFL trademarks there-I know the Fiesta Bowl is the NCAA, but the NFL are twats.

**Or hopefully both. The more lazy, mouth-breathing slobs, the better my ranking shall be!

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Giving the News about the New OCR TV Show an Arctic Enema

The OCR world, or at least the very small segment of it that dwells largely and enthusiastically on Facebook, is abuzz at Obstacle Racing Media’s report of a brand-new OCR TV show.

And why not? It’s always cool to see something you do on the teevee.

On the other hand, unbridled and irrational enthusiasm isn’t always valuable, and it can be fun to mock, so let’s take a step back: There is a very good chance that this show will be terrible. 

That, in and of itself, isn’t a condemnation of the subject or the show’s creators. Creating things is hard, and creating things that aren’t terrible much harder. Lightning doesn’t get trapped in bottles all that often.

But just for shits and giggles, let’s march down to the boilerplate of the press release at the bottom that you’re not actually supposed to read. The producers of this show will be A. Smith & Co., which creates “some of the most innovative, highly rated, and high-quality programming for the domestic and international television marketplace.” Thank goodness!

This incredible programming includes titles such as:

  • American Ninja Warrior—well, at least they’ve got experience with obstacles. Sure, they saw the original Japanese version and how it was incredibly cool and unique, and decided to strip a lot of that appeal out and replace it with American reality TV tropes like rivalries between competitors even though the competition is just a person against the course, or a pair of hosts who shout enough for eight, or how they devoted a lot of extra time to telling the stories of the competitors but somehow managed to give us less information, but still, it’s not terrible.
  • Gordon Ramsay shouting.

    One of 233,000 hits Google provided for “Gordon Ramsay shouting.” Copyright 20th Century Fox. Photo by c.20thC.Fox/Everett / Rex Features ( 1018249a )
    HELL’S KITCHEN, Chef Gordon Ramsay, ‘Day 6’, (Season 6, ep. 606, aired Aug. 18, 2009)
    Hell’s Kitchen – 2009

    Hell’s Kitchen—a cooking reality competition and part of the weirdly popular subgenre in which angry British people yell at American people, but far from the genre’s inventor. (I wonder what its popularity says about our culture.)

  • Kitchen Nightmares—the same, only the British guy yells at business owners rather than reality show contestants, and all of their problems are solved at the end, and six months later they go out of business.
  • I Survived a Japanese Game Show—which despite being completely bonkers and scoring only 28 on Metacritic defeated Zulu Love Camp and The Undercover Princes for the 2009 Rose d’Or.
  • The Swan—which took a lot of women, gave them massive amounts of plastic surgery so they could compete in a beauty pageant, and then told half of them that they still weren’t pretty enough to compete in the beauty pageant, and
  • Skating with Celebrities

    Also a thing that happened, involving Todd Bridges.

    Skating with Celebrities—in which “celebrities,” including Dave Coulier in his final television appearance, joined professional-skater partners to impersonate Dancing with the Stars only with sharpened blades and a slick surface and absolutely no wit.

So, what can we expect from the new OCR show? Loud hosts! Insightless but omnipresent sideline reporters! Verbal abuse! Glitter! Lots of confessionals about How Meaningful It All Is and how the competitors Want to Push Themselves As Much As They Can! Mandatory facelifts! Dressing up like a carp! And, if he can be found, Dave Coulier!

Dave Coulier

You oughta know.

Well, who really knows. It might be well done. But don’t pin too many hopes on it.

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