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It's anything but politics as usual as ten people from all walks of life compete for a $200,000 purse and some prime TV space to air their grievances.

And you get to decide who.

Recaps by Chico Alexander, GSNN

Montel Williams
Creator: RJ Cutler
EP: RJ Cutler, Tom Lassally, Jay Roach
Packager: Actual Reality Pictures, Kustom
Airs: Sundays at 9:00pm ET on Showtime

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Web design by Jason Elliott. Logo by Chico Alexander. 

"Baptism By Fire" - August 29

Richard shooting his mouth off proved to be the end of him as Keith took another campaign challenge. Will he extend his winning ways once the campaign bus heads to New York City?

First, we're fortunate to get the opinion of a local who wants to see a candidate work for him. Gordon, our resident New Yorker (so what if he's from Jersey), says that the American Candidate should work to restore Ground Zero and improve infrastructure.

That's what he thinks. But starting today, it's a whole new game, as from here on out, there are no statewide votes. Instead, the candidates will be given a chance to hone their messages and their images in front of a focus group. The question here: are you willing to change who you are if it means an extra vote here and there?

Helping us to that answer is Frank Luntz, political consultant and pollster. He's worked with Rudy Giuliani, Ross Perot, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Draw your own conclusions, folks. Basically put, there will be 25 people - a diverse group, of course, who will help refine a candidates message. The candidates can say anything they want that will hopefully answer the question, "why should you be President?" The group will use hand-dials to gauge their opinions on a second-to-second basis. The more in agreement, the better you'll be. If the Republicans like what they're hearing, the red line goes up. If the Democrats like what they're hearing, the green line goes up. The ideal candidate will shoot for 70 or higher on both lines.

Malia is up to the firing squad first. She talks a good game, but she's not really connecting with anyone. One thing she didn't expect... the focus group from HELL. In fact, she's turning off the Republican vote with the tongue ring alone. One person is hearing a lot of cliches. Malia cracks under the pressure. Reactions: "Alice in Wonderland", "MTV", "No substance", "Woefully ignorant," "Applying for the wrong job," and "This woman is WAY out of her league."

Joyce is next. The Democrats take a shine to her, and the Republicans, less so. The manager sees her attack on the Patriot Act as an attack on the Bush administration. And watch the numbers fall as the dogs bite back. Reactions: "Old", "No concrete ideas", "Fork-tongued", "Oatmeal cookies". Now that last one... I don't get. But I do get this: in an election... not one of the 25 would vote for her. "America doesn't want to hear what I have to say."

Park's up next, as he believes that the war on terror is a priority for him. And watch his red line climb. Then he plays the evangelical Christian card... and there they go again. Right down the crapper. Reactions: "Crazy Christian", "Jesus freak", "Man of principle," "Compassionate conservative", and my personal favorite... "Eh." He didn't think he would polarize people; he just wanted to state his beliefs.

Keith is next, and he's the first to actually stand a chance of breaking the 70-mark with both sides of the aisle. "You want the people who disagree with you not to tune you out the moment you start talking." He gets a cheer and these reactions: "Compelling," "Intelligent," "Man with a plan," "Prepared", and finally "President Boykin."

Lisa's next. She polarizes. Gore-backers go up to 70. Bush-backers go down to 24. Reactions: "Classic liberal" and "Vice President of the Boykin administration". Mother of...

Finally, it's up to Bruce. He tells that he was assaulted by the images coming from Ethiopia when he was 12. This was around "Band Aid" and "We Are the World" and all that. And I'm just... lost. He's in the middle with, well, everyone. Reactions: "Nervous", "Whiny", "Submissive", "A parody," "Moo!", et cetera, et cetera.

Viewer's poll: should Bruce stop talking about animals to get more votes? Results in a few.

Frank is back with the hard truth: Positive reaction for Keith, but it's one thing for people to like you. It's quite another for people to vote for you. People didn't see him as a fighter, and his own CM didn't believe his performance. Lisa is expected, as a woman in power, to be strong. She wasn't. BUt she thinks that women were empowered. Here comes Frank: "Get off it. You're looking for a silver lining in a cloud that I see is dark. They want strength. They want determination. You got to show them why you're not Keith."

Park didn't fare any better. Good news: he's the one Republican. Bad news: he's the one evangelical Christian. His advice, set context first, then answer. "Because your answer is going to alienate Jews! And this is New York! And there are a lot of Jews up here!" Joyce has a great bio, but the people didn't hear any of that. She needs to connect who she is (a nurse) with what she's about (veteran's rights). "Bruce... uhh.. no animals!" He has to rethink his ENTIRE strategy. And finally, Malia can be the voice of the forgotten. But at some point, she needs to get to the heart of the subjects or else she will be lost. She says that she knows what she has overcome to get here. But she needs to talk to that. "They need to feel your pain." And the rest of the candidates feel her pain when she starts off on how her friends were shot and how she was homeless for a while. Big difference.

Frank then goes into something in which I didn't even know there existed... a political dress code. Men: suit. Women: professional.

And speaking of which, Montel enters the fray with the results of yet another exit poll. Once again, Keith came out on top. HOWEVER, tonight, Frank will be teamed with the person who needs the most help. That person... is Bruce. This is all important because tomorrow, the candidates will face another focus group, and the two lowest placers will face debate.

Results of the viewer vote: 84 percent say that Bruce should stop talking about animals in order to get more votes.

Seven hours until the group, and Frank tells Bruce to talk specifics, to avoid attacking the current administration, and find a way to address the most current of issues, even if he doesn't agree with them.

But talking game is one thing. Looking the part is another. Enter the two stylist from "What Not to Wear"... the US version (that would be Clinton Kelly and Stacy London. I've been told that I lose man points for knowing this info, I don't care). Bruce shows them the only suit he has... and I'm afraid double breasted, and goodwill, no-nos. If there was a garbage bin, they'd be headed there. Clinton suggests leather shoes and belts. Already I'm thinking "The force is strong with this one."

So all the candidates are going shopping for some new gear. Joyce is finding out the hard way that navy is not in season yet. Bruce is finally dressed as a President. Albeit against his will. "Frankly, if he's going to wear a vintage suit he got at Goodwill for $9, even though we're going to get it tailored... I don't think there's a lot of hope for him." Not a hope in hell, Stacy.

Four hours to go, and we're GQing it up for Park, while Malia is fine-tuning her speech. Bruce also fine-tunes his speech with Frank's help.

It's time for the next focus group. How will this one react now that the candidates will face each other rather than the group? Keith's position polarizes left. Park's position polarizes right. Lisa's position polarizes way more left than Keith's. That's part one. Part two is Joyce, Malia, and Bruce. Malia... dead even. Joyce... low left, and almost inciting a riot. Bruce surprisingly polarizes right. Surprisingly! He even goes so far as to say the Patriot Act does some good things. Once again... mother of... Keith thought that Bruce sold out.

And now, the exit poll result, as Keith thinks that the other candidates are trying to win, but at what cost:

Frontrunner: Park (42%) - whom Lisa believes is a result of a Republican polarization (Gordon called this one a while back)
2nd - Keith (21%)
3rd - Lisa (17%)
4th - Bruce (13%)
5th - Joyce (4%)
6th - Malia (3%)

"I guess the makeover worked." Joyce and Malia will face debate. Malia kept it real. Joyce's motto: "Don't compromise." Time to debate, as Malia has to draw the line between compromise and truth, calling Park out on it. Joyce says that truth rests in question, and in question are our rights. Lisa and Keith question her agenda on it as to how it relates to the state of the country today, getting backtalk of her message in return. Malia says that that position frightens her, as to want to be President but be against government. Arguments ensue about where rights come from (Constitution says "our creator endowed", but who reads that anyway? After all, it was only written to protect the American people from themselves, right?). And after all that, we still have time to vote.

Park: "Malia, there is NO way I can support your issues. My vote is for JOYCE."
Keith: "MALIA, I want you to be a strong candidate."
Lisa: "Joyce, we fundamentally don't have the same platform, whatsoever." - MALIA
Bruce: "Frank says Malia is my biggest threat." Since when've you listened to Frank?

His vote is not recorded. Montel reminds Park that as frontrunner, he breaks any and all ties... but no need for that as... "The votes have been counted. Joyce Riley, you are off the ballot." Regrets? None, as she said the message as far as she could. "I didn't compromise one iota."

Next time, the big time... DC, baby, as we get into the ugliest of political battles. That's right... The ads begin.

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