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A Tribute to #66 - March 18
Gordon Pepper

Yesterday started the yearly tradition known to college basketball enthusiasts as March Madness. Out of 300+ possible teams, we have 65 of them competing over the course of 2 and a half weeks to win the NCAA Division I Championship. Chico Alexander, an alumnus of North Carolina, knows this event very well, and while I don't have any affiliation to one team (as I went to Division III College of New Jersey - who did make it to the Division III title game in 1989), it's a wonderful sight to behold.

It's far less wonderful for those teams that find themselves on the outside looking in. This year, the complaining has been quiet, but the effect of not being invited to the Big Dance can be devastating to teams like Maryland  (who won the national championship only a few years ago) or Notre Dame (who turned around and played an utterly flat game and got bounced in the first round of the NIT's).

We can take this feeling and parallel it to the world of reality shows. We can easily apply this to American Idol, as Jaclyn Crum and Warren Nolan are the last woman and man to feel the sting about not being invited to the final 24. But we can go deeper than that. America's Next Top Model 4's first show is about the audition process, and how close some of the people get to making the show. Last season, Tiffany was close, but thanks to a fight that she participated in, was eliminated from making the show. She redeemed herself and got in this season, but one of her compatriots, a 'plus-sized' model named Mary, now has the dubious distinction of being the only person to get to the final cut for the past 2 seasons of that series and not making it. Maybe now that she's seen the show, she may be happy that she got cut and still has her eligibility left - the first woman the show eliminated was Brita, who was the largest woman there.

What about the teams who only get to the play-in and don't actually get to compete in the bracket of 64? The obvious parallel, of course, is Survivor, as Wanda and Jonathan make it to the cast - but don't stick around long enough to see the first tribal council. This is especially devastating for Wanda, who said that all she wanted was to have a taste of the action. She got a little taste, but to not even get to go to a Tribal Council is rough.

In American Idol, Amanda Avila, Janay Castine and Travis Tucker were THIS close to getting to the big dance - but can only settle for the small stage. Nikko Smith could have been added to that - but thanks to the withdrawal of Mario Vazquez, he gets to experience the huge stage, the live orchestra - and the many fans who he can now perform too. Based on the fact that he didn't fall into the bottom three, maybe Nikko can continue to keep dancing.

As for the teams outside, looking in, they can all growl about how they would have done better than the teams that happened to have gotten in. Some of them maybe wondering why Pittsburgh plays a drearily bad game in losing to Pacific, while they strive to be the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who makes the first of predictably many upsets by knocking off Alabama. One could only imagine what some of the rejected Starlets felt like when they saw the premiere episode feature a Texas beauty queen butcher her lines. Was it just me or did it feel like the only reason why she was there was less of her talent and more for her… assets? Going back to Next Top Model - in the last season, Magdalena was the first person eliminated, and she didn't even get a chance to appear in front of any elimination sessions with Tyra Banks. I have a feeling that after she saw Julie admitting that she did not want to become a full-time model and getting eliminated almost on the spot that her television may have come under attack by a flying shoe or two.

But this column is not about making fun of those people who make a quick exit or don't even make it to the dance. This column is to thank them. Thank them? Why, you ask? It's simple. You wouldn't understand how truly magical and precious these events are or understand the unbridled joy without seeing the other side of complete devastation to those people who are cut. If not for these people - and their stories of heartbreak, then you really wouldn't see how important these things are. To you or me, it's a form of entertainment, but to them, this potentially life-changing event that could free them from poverty or give them a new start means everything   To you or me, it may be a television show, but to them, like the players in the NCAA Tournament, it's their big break, their change in their lives, their 'One Shining Moment' - and to see the agony of the people who lose that dream reinforces to us how fleeting that moment truly is.

If we never saw these people going through the lowest of lows, we couldn't fully appreciate and realize the utmost of joys that we experience when we see the winners - and that's what putting yourself into an event and pledging support through a team or a person - whether it's rooting for the next American NCAA Division I Basketball Champion or voting for the next American Idol -  is all about. Just something to think about as we are watching our wall-to-wall basketball - we wouldn't be so passionate if everyone was able to participate. I congratulate Eva, Ruben and Clay - but I also thank Wanda, Mary, Jared, Justin and the hundreds of others that made those competitions that much more special.

Gordon Pepper can be reached at


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