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Self-made billionaire Mark Cuban is putting $1,000,000 out to anyone who can pass his tests of skills needed for survival in the real world. But this test, like life -- and Mark himself -- promises to be one spontaneous move after another.

Recaps by Chico Alexander, GSNN


FACT FILE:
Host:
Mark Cuban
Creator: David Young
EP: David Young, Clay Newbill, Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban, Mike Beale
Packager: 12-yard, Dogfight Industries, 2929 Entertainment
Airs: Mondays at 8:00pm ET on ABC


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"A Million Dollar Game of Jenga" - September 13

You can tell a lot from a competition from the opening narration from its host/central figure/et al. Here's a self-proclaimed average Joe, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and 5.7 billion pictures of George Washington, Mark Cuban.

"My name is Mark Cuban, and I'm a self-made billionaire. I've taken secrets of my success and turned them into a game. My game, like life, is unpredictable. The game is a series of tests that will reveal qualities one needs to be successful in life, to find out who is the most creative, most competitive, a risk taker. I've invited 16 people to compete in my game. They know to expect the unexpected. I am going to give the winner $1 million. I am going to change someone's life forever. I am... the Benefactor."

Basically put, it's "Win Mark Cuban's Money", the token "thinking man's reality show" this year. Well, here goes. The call was made for people all over America to form a diverse contingent of people that some wouldn't really equate with being successful. After all, with nerdy glasses before, no one really expected Mark to be a success, right?

In the end, he found sixteen people, whom he called himself to invite to Dallas to play the game. You'll meet them all later. Right now, he warns them that "the game starts the minute you walk into the house" and to "expect the unexpected".

You can't have a reality competition without a sick pad. Well, you could, but then you'd be Survivor and... well, we can't all be Survivor. This mansion is outfitted with cameras and mics around, but unlike that other house in LA, only one person will be watching everything from the control room -- Mark. His first three life lessors: 1) You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, 2) Whatever expectations you may set, you better be able to deliver, and 3) You gotta be able to deal with pressure.

But back to the game. You can't have a game without players, right? It's like having a Philly steak without the steak... or the Philly. Here they are, along with location, occupation, fun fact, and strategy:

Tiffaney: McAllen, TX; unemployed; National Watermelon Queen; to be herself
Mario:
Glendale, CA; career counselor; Mark says his name like the voice actor who does Mario in the Gamecube games; representing the 40-ish, balding, wanting-to-adopt-a-child Hispanics of America
Grayson: Portland, OR; MBA student; competitive poker player; would love to play poker with Mark
Rich: Alpharetta, GA; florist; a "Marine Harley-riding florist"; keep your mouth shut - says that it's going to be stupid, but not stupid, stupid. Mark makes a note of it.
Laurel: Santa Monica, CA; marketing director; wants to start a punk band; enthusiasm for trying new things
Spencer: Atlanta; computer programmer; has a high opinion of himself; do whatever he needs to do (read: kiss a lot of ass)
Kathy: Rochester, NY; medical student; hopes not to be eliminated in the first round; avoiding lying and manipulation - Spencer STILL doesn't greet.
Kevin: Dallas; nanny; wins award for shortest-distance traveled; when push comes to shove, "what would Oprah do?"
Shawn: Hemet, CA; 2nd grade teacher; either you like her or you hate her; be adorable
Dominic: Las Vegas; waiter/model; coolest feature: hair; rely on good looks
William: Portland, OR; histologist; loud, obnoxious, AND annoying; try not to be those three things
Christine: Boise, ID; project coordinator; doesn't want to be the beauty pageant type; always willing to take risks
Linda: North Hampton, NH; pro football player; has a pierced tongue; will play dirty if given the chance - anyone buy tickets to the gun show?
Latane (pronounced LAT-a-nee): San Diego; owner, sports & social club; starts his own company; takes risks
Femia: Las Vegas; disease interventionist; youngest of the group; has the total package
Chris: Atlanta; sales/marketing director; adopted at 6 weeks; determined

Mario breaks out the "goodies" as Mark puts it, as Kathy's wondering where they came from. This leads into politics as Mark takes his "anything goes" persona into the space for the first time. He explains the game one more time. Remember when he said that the game began from the moment you walk in the door? Remember further when he said you don't get a second chance to make a first impression? Remember "expect the unexpected?"

Mario will remember. He got water and snacks for everyone without being asked. Never mind the fact that this isn't even his house. He took a chance. "I like that." He stays.  Dominic will remember. He slipped politics into hair products conversation. Unbelievable risk. "I like that, too." HE stays. Rich will remember. He called Mark's game "stupid". Mark doesn't like that. He's the first one out before the second commercial break. Mark's message: "The game is on, 24-by-7. You either play or you're toast." Like Mario says, you're definitely going to have to be on your best behavior when you're in Casa de Cuban.

But now that Mark has an initial feelabout, he's going for what's in the mind as we go to one-on-ones, and based on that, Mark will make two more cuts. And everyone's volunteering to go first.

The interviews - this week's life lesson #2. Latane wants to dare to be great despite his failures, and already, we're seeing that Mark is taking this seriously... but not too seriously. Kinda like myself. I like that. Dominic says he's a rock star "to a point". Shawn wants a kite for her "kids". Tiffaney believes that everything is "all in God's timing". Spencer thinks he's a big-time risk taker, and he's citing the .com-boom as a risk he didn't take. Laurel (who played Lady Godiva on her audition tape) wants to play "Back in Black" on her electric guitar. Linda wants to spend the money to help her mom who lost both of her legs (true? Don't know yet). William thinks he can earn a million dollars himself. Grayson hopes to translate poker into strategy in this game.

We'd like to show you more, but it's an hour show, so we're going to the next two cuts. Lots of pressure abound, as Mark notes that some people weren't who they said they were and that that was "disappointing." Laurel didn't deliver her energy (you know, like when she was running around naked in her tape?)... and that costs her, as she loses her shot at a million dollars. If you're going to play some guitar, play some guitar.

One more cut tonight, as everyone's on pins and needles. Mark retires to make his final cut, as he narrows it to two: William, the annoying guy who says that he could be with Mark Cuban, or Grayson, the poker face who was anything but ready to ante up. He wants to see what these two people will do when it's down to the wire, so what better way to bring out the pressure-induced animal instincts of two people who are so close to the edge that it's almost nuts, than to bring out the scourge of party games the world over...

Jenga. One round, one fall, winner stays, loser pays. This would be this week's life lesson #3, dealing with the unexpected, and dealing with the pressure of the unexpected. You know how to play: steady hand takes a piece from the tower, moves it to the top. Let's play *starts chanting "Jenga, Jenga, Jenga, Jenga..."* Pretty much everyone is rooting for Grayson at this point, but will her poker face get in the way of business? Or will William's cockiness be -- quite literally -- his downfall?

Nope. Tower falls. Grayson touched it last, so she's out. She regrets taking it all in at once and not letting Mark see what she had to offer. Her and the other two that were eliminated. But still, to have your fate riding on a game of Jenga... That's pressure.

And you thought this was going to be this hard? With a one-in-13 shot at a million... "This was the easy day!" And this was also the day that with lines such as "Sixteen people, eight men, eight women, one Hispanic" and "They are a good looking group of people. While I'm on the show, I'm going to be good looking. I'm going to be good looking by comparison", Mario has emerged as this series' character. Next week, more tests, more lessons, less contestants.

Hey, where're you going? Did I tell you you could go over to the Amazing Race page? Okay... NOW you can go over to the Amazing Race page. Heh. I'm going to love this series. And I hope you do too. It's definitely worth loving.

Closing random note: It's a show from British producer 12-yard, who also do "Without Prejudice", which would explain the whole "money-for-being-yourself" vibe.

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