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American Dream Derby

Episode Guide


First aired, January 10, 2005
American Dream Derby on TV

The official 'American Dream Derby' website

First things first. Although Episode One spent little time really introducing the players -- and things were still kind of confusing for this viewer even through the second episode -- we'll take a moment here to connect the names and the faces.

The Players

Chris Black, 36
Pharmaceutical Sales ... Ft Worth, TX
Susan Bosso, 45
Hotel Sales Mgr ... Ocala, FL
Eric Childers, 24
Student ... Springfield, MO
Tara Clark, 42
Ranch Owner/Stunt Woman
Pioche, NV
Tara C
Aaron Coen, 22
Student ... Newark, DE
David Malatesta, 32
Graphic Artist ... Los Angeles, CA
Deanna Manfredi, 36
Marketing Consultant ... Philadelphia, PA
Dean Pelegrin, 52
Pharmacist ... Houma, LA
Jewel Savage, 35
Correctional Officer ... Baltimore, MD
Sara Slavin, 24
Model, W Milford, NJ
Levar Thomas, 24
Music Producer/Artist
Levar in baseball cap
Tara Walden, 32
Massage Therapist ... Los Angeles, CA
Tara W
Ok, now on with the show... So to speak...

Quick Review

First the good news: American Dream Derby [ADD] isn't terrible. Now the bad news: It isn't very good either.

Right off the bat the series suffers from 'reality-show casting syndrome'. After years of doing these types of shows it seems like the casting people just pick the preferred types off the shelf.

Let's see, we have:

Beyond the casting, the series has thus far -- through two episodes -- failed to ignite any kind of passion, good or bad, for any of the players. And that's really what makes reality-TV work. The audience needs to be able to find one or two players to root for and one or two to root against. But the producers simply haven't been able to generate that kind of emotion so far on ADD. Part of the problem might be the way the game is set up. Players win challenges that allow them to pick other players who pick horses and depending on which horse wins one player is evicted and all along the way all the players can bet on other players and horses in order to increase their bankroll which will allow them to get a better pick of horses for the final race... Yeah, it's complicated.

Let's take a closer look at Episode One

The show opens with a voice-over proclaiming that, "Thousands applied and the twelve best are here." Twelve best what? Within minutes we come to find out that many of these players have never been to the track before. They don't know how to read the past performances or how to make a bet. So these surely aren't the twelve best handicappers. Best with horses perhaps? A graphic appears under Levar about midway through the show that says, "Afraid of horses". Sara says, "I tried out for American Dream Derby because I wanted to learn how to ride a horse." It's hard to say what that makes her best at...

Then we get our first taste of the TV track announcer. Even though the show was filmed at Santa Anita there's no hint of Trevor Denman. Instead there's a game show type of announcer who's voice is given an echo so that it leaves the impression that it's coming over the track PA system. Of course, it's not.

The voice announces, "Will the players of American Dream Derby please report to the winner's circle." This is followed by an absurd montage of the twelve players scrambling to find the winner's circle. Dean, who we later find out is an actual horseplayer, engages in an obviously staged moment asking a security guard how to find the winner's circle. Ugh.

Then we have some shots of the various players walking the Santa Anita grounds which are intercut with some quick "intro" comments from a few of them. Susan enters the scene looking a little Rosie O'Donnell-ish and declares, "Horse-racing has been the most important part of my life -- other than my family there's nothing I care more about than horse-racing."

Deanna, who is described in the official bio as a marketing consultant, is titled with a graphic as a "Licensed Psychologist", and she says, "I grew up on a thoroughbred farm. My father was a breeder/owner/trainer."

David, says "I know a lot about horses, you know, the muscle, the bone, the this..." ...Really, no, I don't know "the this"!

Host and contestants
Eventually the contestants somehow manage to find the winner's circle and they line-up to hear about the game from show host Steve Santagati. He goes on to explain that the ADD winner will take home a grand prize of $250K and a stable of eight thoroughbreds. As he explains this we're treated to reaction shots from the contestants that seem to indicate, shock, surprise and happiness at hearing about these prizes -- although the prizes were mentioned in the application materials that each filled out months ago. Hmmm, maybe they forgot. Anyway, they were really excited to hear about them again!

The First Winner's Challenge

And now the game begins...

Host Steve gives each contestant $1000 to bet on the next race at Santa Anita (Some research has revealed that this was the 3rd race from Santa Anita on Sunday, Oct 31, 2004. You can read handicapping comments on the race from the San Diego Union-Tribune here. And you can find a chart of the race here.)

Although this actual horse race was probably the most exciting segment of the first two episodes -- it was also something of a disappointment.

The writers managed to hang the host out to dry not once, but twice in the very same sentence... As the players scrambled to crack open their Daily Racing Forms, Steve said, "...and to help you guys out, the three odds-on favorites for this race are...," he then listed the 5-2, 3-1, and 7-2 choices. Hey Steve, there's only one favorite in a race -- and none of those were odds-on. Oh well, it clearly didn't make much difference to these bettors anyway.

In a rather bizarre display of handicapping choices, every player split their bet among multiple horses! The wackiest example was probably Sara who said, "I don't know anything about horse-racing or betting or anything. A guy named Tony wrote down for me what he would do if he had $1000 and that's exactly what I did." According to the graphic, Sara proceeded to take the advice of this guy named Tony and bet the 3, 4, and 5... To show!

During a montage of players struggling to handicap the race we saw Susan tell Jewel, "I'm not a very good handicapper," to which Jewel replied, "What's a handicapper?"

Aaron declared that, "My choices were the hot colors."

Tara C said, "I'm a horse trainer... Betting is not my cup of tea." She was then shown talking to a Santa Anita patron, pointing to the program and asking, "What do these colors mean? That's not what color the horse is -- There's not pink horses, right?"

Levar tells us, "I'm a city boy. This is my first time at the track. I'm betting on a horse that's first time out." He then proceeds to the mutuel windows where he makes the teller, "Rub the money. Love the money." The clerk obliges -- although I think he might have been less accommodating if the camera wasn't present...

The Race

They follow the race all the way around the track -- with the annoying TV announcer calling it. This is intercut with shots of the players rooting for their horses. Graphics are shown along with the race that indicate which horses are in the first three positions and which players have used those horses -- but there are so many names, and we're still not familiar enough with the players, that there's really very little rooting interest for the viewer.

The outcome is 4-1-3-5.

Eric, "I had 4 to place and I think that means that maybe I won because I picked it to place. I don't know yet, somebody's gonna have to explain this to me in a minute." Unfortunately, if someone explained it to Eric they didn't bother to explain it to the audience, so any viewers who were as confused as Eric (and just about all the rest of the players) remained that way.

The players again gathered in the winner's circle (thankfully they seem to have remembered where it was -- because another wandering montage might have prompted a channel change). Steve told the hapless players that, "Somehow you managed to parlay $12,000 into $8,700." Steve then began to tally up the results beginning with the player with the smallest remaining money total. Tara C said, "Well I did bet on that horse [4] to win, I just didn't put enough money on him." Steve snickered, "Apparently not, somehow you turned $1000 into $80." The strange part is, when each player's pre-race graphic came up showing their bets, Tara C's said she played 1/win, 7/show. It didn't say anything about 4. This means it was even harder for viewers to follow the action than I gave it credit for -- and I thought it was pretty hard before I found this out!

Only three players ended up making money on the race: Deanna, $1060; David, $1236.20; Susan, $1240. A mere $3.80 separated the top two spots. Susan was declared the winner of the first challenge.

Right about then a graphic should have appeared on the screen saying, "You have now watched the most interesting part of the show." It kind of went downhill after the actual horse race.

The Owners

The winner of the challenge is declared an owner. Steve tells Susan that she has won $1000 to add to her bankroll and that she will now spend the night in the luxurious mansion. However, she has the added responsibility of picking three more players to also be "owners". They will each have $500 added to their bankroll (again, the player with the highest bankroll at the end of the game gets first pick of horses for the final race) and will also spend the night in the mansion.

Susan picks David since he just missed by $3.80. She also picks Tara W because, "I don't know, she's pretty I guess." That comment elicits cutaway shots of two other female players sneering -- unfortunately some of the other big reality shows do these moments better. There were simply no sparks here at all.

Finally Susan picks Aaron.

At this point a graphic is shown with all the players' bankrolls -- but frankly that aspect of the game has no juice at this point (if it ever will).

After a commercial break we were treated to a five minute intercutting of 'discovery moments' of the owners in their mansion and the 'stablehands' in the stable -- where they soon realize they'll be sleeping in stalls next to the horses. This five minute segment was about four and a half minutes too long.

As the owners are enjoying a sumptuous meal at the mansion, host Steve interrupts and explains that tomorrow will be the first 'gut match'. This is a match race pitting one horse picked by an owner against one horse picked by a stablehand. The winner gets $5000 added to his/her bankroll. The loser is evicted. Susan can elect to pick the owner's horse, or she can delegate it to another owner.

When Steve leaves Aaron observes, "I think that just ruined the mood." That's followed by concerned reaction shots -- which again weren't as effectively done as the top reality shows manage.

The Horses

In the stables we see trainer Alex Hassinger rousing the stablehands at 4:30am. He shakes 'em up and gets the crew out to Clocker's Corner to watch workouts. Hassinger introduces us to the fifteen horses in the ADD stable. One-by-one they appear on-track and the trainer gives the players a brief description. This segment shoots by so fast that a viewer would need a photographic memory to have retained any useful information about the animals.

And in another stab at playing the 'reality-show game' the producers treat us to a 'Sara interlude'. There are a couple of shots of her talking and then a couple more of other players talking about her. Tara W says, "Some people just can rub you the wrong way." But again, this attempt to stir things up falls flat.

Stablehand Challenge

Steve -- who seems like a poor man's Phil Keoghan (host of The Amazing Race) explains the first Stablehand Challenge. Like the owners, one of the stablehands will have to pick a horse for the 'Gut Match' race. The winner of the Stablehand Challenge is the player who gets to either choose the horse himself -- or delegate that responsibility. Like the owners, the stablehand player who picks the horse for the match race can either win $5000, if his/her horse wins, or get sent home if the horse loses.

This week's Stablehand Challenge takes place in the receiving barn. Each contestant has a big, empty tub in front of him/her. There are eight wheelbarrows padlocked on the wall. In four horse stalls are large piles of 'muck'. The keys to unlock the wheelbarrows are buried in the muck. The players must find the keys and then use the wheelbarrows to move as much muck as they can from the stall to their tub. There is a five minute time limit.

Muck challenge
When the signal is given the players run to the stalls and start digging -- with their hands, no tools are allowed. Pretty quickly some players form alliances (again, the reality mold is hard to break). Levar and Chris team up and manage to find their keys first and decide to fill Levar's tub. Only one other team finds a key but by then it's too late. Levar wins easily, putting over 200 pounds of muck in his tub.

Horse Selections

Dressed up players
Back from a commercial we're now in "Santa Anita's prestigious chandelier room" for the selection process. The players, in their Sunday best, descend a staircase and lineup in front of Steve and Alex (cowboy Eric does the scarf thing -- which never works for the one guy that tries it at the Oscars every year either). On the wall are portraits of the fifteen horses they can choose from.

Steve asks Susan if she is going to select the horse to run, or if she is going to pass off the responsibility. Susan says she is going to pick someone else, and as she is making her selection we cut to shots of the other owners nervously awaiting her decision. The real sentence probably came out of her mouth in ten seconds -- on TV it took about a minute. Another failed attempt at suspense. Same with Levar's pick.

In the end Susan picked David and Levar picked Deanna. Deanna got a little spacey when Steve asked how she felt about the choice, "I'm at peace with it." OOOo-kayyyyy.

Next up was the 'ask the trainer' segment of the ceremony. Both David and Deanna got to ask Alex one question about any one of the horses. This part seemed kind of pointless.

Finally David picks Avenue of Knowledge. When asked why, he lists off a number of reasons, one being the horse's Beyers. Again, for many viewers this probably meant nothing and no attempt was made to explain it.

Deanna picked Crafty Value, mostly because she felt some kind of connection to him in the stable.

The Match Race

The players file back out to their spot in the winner's circle (they're really good at that now). The two horses trot out onto the track and excitement is in the air. Chris is flailing his hands, perhaps trying to imitate a horse's trot, but looking more like he's playing air bongos. Then he exclaims, "Six is lookin' pretty spree!" (After four rewinds and viewings that's what he said -- what does it mean? Got me.)

There's another round of betting to confuse things more. Each player can bet up to $500 of their bankroll on one of the two horses. So we go down the line one-by-one as each player says how much they want to bet and on which horse.

One more stab at false reality-show controversy is attempted when Dean wagers on Avenue of Knowledge. For some unknown reason everyone else is wagering on the horse picked by their 'teammate' -- owners wagering on David's pick, stablehand's wagering on Deanna's. Although this wagering affects no one other than the person that wagered we're shown a clip of Jewel expressing dismay that Dean went against the stablehands, "Dean, he messed up by not going with Deanna. If we could vote him out -- HE WOULD BE OUT!" All that was missing was a head twist and a finger-snap. You go, girl!

The race itself was a quarter-mile down the Santa Anita stretch. At the break Avenue of Knowledge stumbled giving Crafty Value the early advantage. Avenue of Knowledge made steady progress and looked to contend within the last sixteenth but the poor start was too much to overcome and Crafty Value pulled out the win.

Much celebration from the winners and of course a sad trudge out of the winner's circle and the game by loser David.

Final Thoughts

Eleven players are left after Episode One. About an 8% drop in players. I'm guessing the drop in viewers after Episode One might be greater. Unfortunately for racing fans there's not a whole lot of racing. For viewers who aren't knowledgable about racing I wouldn't be surprised if they were scared away before the second commercial as many of the players themselves struggled to understand the sport. And for fans of reality TV this production is completely lacking in the juice, fireworks, and personality that makes the best of the genre attractive.


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