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My First Take on "5 Takes: USA"

I will admit that I was a little concerned when Travel Channel announced that this season of its wildly addictive 5 Takes franchise would follow five travel journalists around the United States. After all, what intrigued me so much was the fact that these five strangers were traveling to destinations on the other side of the globe, whether it be New Zealand or Thailand and coming into contact with cultures and people that they might not encounter on a daily basis in their regular lives.

But after watching this season's premiere episode, I realized why the show works so well. It's not so much that the destinations were exotic or far-flung (after all, to a Thai audience, Thailand is their everyday experience), it's that joy of experiencing the new and the different that connects the audience so sharply to the series. While I live in the US, the destinations that these five new travel journalists (more on them in a bit) might be familiar to me, but what provides the spark each week is seeing those very cities through the eyes of individuals to whom they are new and exotic. And that is the joy of watching 5 Takes, regardless of the locales they visit: to see their reactions and expressions to the typical and quotidian and the extraordinary and profound.

Like previous seasons, 5 Takes features five diverse travel journalists, this time hailing from the Pacific Rim: 21-year-old Taiwanese Bevis Song, 28-year-old Singaporean Jaime Tan, 26-year-old Indonesian Lena Toepan, 25-year-old Aussie Tim Bloxsome, and 33-year-old Filipino Zach Yonzon (the latter two celebrated birthdays in Las Vegas in the first episode). And like previous excursions, the travel journalists (or TJs, a term that makes my nose wrinkle) are only given $50 a day to experience each city, a feat made a little more difficult as $50 US tends to go a lot further abroad than it does here in the States. Their activities and destinations will be determined by the audience, by logging onto their message boards and suggesting places for them to go and things for them to see. (Likewise, the at-home element of the series isn't limited just to the message board either, as the travelers will produce blogs, vlogs, and photos for the Travel Channel site as well.)

What is different is that, yes, the travel journalists aren't American as in previous seasons, lending the entire affair a fresh perspective (loved their take on Vegas-style buffets this week), especially given the fact that they'll be traveling around the United States. But I like the fact that this season they are not being pigeonholed into vague categories. 5 Takes: Pacific Rim featured "the adrenaline junkie," "the culture vulture," "the food and music guy," and "the alternative traveler," etc. I understand where the producers were coming from, but you could sometimes feel the travel journos chafe a little at their designated "labels," and some of the activities they participated in felt a little too designed, in retrospect, to those pre-determined roles.

So who's along for the ride this time? While I definitely miss Gabe, Renee, Tiffany, Josh, and Tony, I have to say that I'm already attached to this new group too, especially Zach, Bevis, and Jaime. I love comic book artist Zach's comics-skewed perspective on the States and his feeling that Superman represents the American ideal of "truth, liberty, and the American way," and that his intent on coming on this whirlwind trip is to learn exactly what that American way is. (Kudos to Bevis too for wearing Supes underwear.) Jaime is thoughtful and constantly observing the world around her from a bit of a detached vantage point yet you can literally see the cogs turning behind her eyes as she takes it all in. Bevis is already a favorite; he's just such an expressive, curious, well, ham willing to do anything -- from dressing up like Elvis (complete with five pounds worth of mousse in his hair) to getting up on stage at a burlesque club (he's the first guy in about 50 years to actually do so). I wish he had been able to fulfill his dream of seeing a white tiger in Vegas, but something tells me that those aren't exactly roaming around Sin City these days. Lena is so expressive and I love to watch her reactions to everything; she was so surprised by the Vegas-style drive-through wedding as nothing like that would be remotely possible in Indonesia or Jakarta and she got actually got a little caught up in the emotion of the event.

And then there's Tim, who's been lurking around here in fact and was surprised that one commenter wasn't all that impressed with the journo's blogs and vlogs so far. Tim is a gregarious, outgoing guy and a fashion model (couldn't you tell from the sheer amounts of grooming products he packed?) and extremely confident. I really want to like the guy, but the fact that he, in a moment of controversy rarely seen on 5 Takes, showed up late for their call time after disappearing all night in Vegas definitely rubbed me the wrong way, particularly as he then blamed the other travelers for not paying for his room (if that night's bill isn't paid at the hostel by 2 pm, the manager removes the traveler's belongings from the room). Should the others have chipped in and paid for Tim's room? Probably, as it wasn't exactly a fortune and would have saved some headaches later. But Tim shouldn't have been so angry at them for not having done so. After all, he was the one who disappeared for half a day and was late getting back (and looked the worse for the wear). I'm hoping he'll tone it down a few pegs, as when he's genuinely connected (as he seemed in the kitchen of Picasso restaurant) he lights up from within. So I am hoping this is the last diva-like antics we see from the Aussie model.

All in all, I'm already hooked on this latest installment of 5 Takes and cannot wait to see what these five travelers get up to next. After Vegas, their next stop is chilly Anchorage, Alaska, where many of the travel journos get to see snow for the very first time. It's moments like that that make the show so remarkable and beautiful and remind me of why I fell in love with this series in the first place.

"5 Takes: USA" airs Saturday nights at 10 pm ET/PT on Travel Channel.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Friday Night Lights (NBC); Gilmore Girls (CW); Dancing with the Stars (ABC; 8-9:30 pm); Standoff (FOX); Desire (MyNet)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Veronica Mars (CW); Help Me Help You (ABC; 9:30-10 pm); House (FOX); Fashion House (MyNet)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Gilmore Girls.

On tonight's repeat episode ("The Long Morrow"), catch the season premiere episode written by David S. Rosenthal and become amazed at how much you miss the old Gilmore Girls before it got all, you know, dull and tired. Lorelai deals with the repercussions of sleeping with Christopher but is asked to elope by Luke; meanwhile, Logan gives Rory a plane ticket to London.

9 pm: Veronica Mars.

On tonight's episode ("President Evil"), the underground campus casino is robbed, Veronica searches for Logan (hmmm, coincidence?), and Dean O'Dell hires Papa Keith to track down the biological father of his wife's son.

10 pm: The Street on BBC America.

On the fifth episode ("Bold Street: Asylum") of Jimmy McGovern's new drama The Street, a cab driver opens his home to an African asylum seeker, despite his wife's protests. If you were looking for light-hearted mirth, look elsewhere.


I didn't think I'd enjoy the USA version of "5 Takes" but the first episode was surprisingly enjoyable. I like the five travel journalists and think they each have a unique perspective on things. (It's fun to see your homeland through someone else's eyes.) Bevis is hysterical and is already a favorite! I'm really looking forward to the Alaska episode.
rockauteur said…
I can't believe Road Rules basically ripped off the "5 Takes" format pretty much (well they subbed in the elimination part for the location part) but its basically the same.
storm said…
Hi... Jace, is it? I'm glad you enjoyed the first show. It IS kind of different seeing your country through a visitor's eyes, isn't it? I hope you like the Alaska episode even better. There's so much that doesn't get into the show! I mean, we have to squeeze one week's worth of experiences into a threadbare 40 minutes! I hope we make it worth it. I hope you guys visit the forums. It makes our experience even richer to hear from viewers like you.
storm said…
By the way, it's actually spelled Filipino. Show spelled it wrong. Heh. I know... it's the Philippines. Go figure.
Jace Lacob said…
Hey Zach,

Thanks for dropping by! How embarassing that I misspelled Filipino. Even if Travel Channel can't spell it, I should have known better!

I'm really looking forward to tonight's Alaska episode and seeing what you guys are up to next! I've been a huge "5 Takes" fan and am v. looking forward to this season now.

If you guys do end up here in LA, let me know. I'm always up for meeting up with a fellow comics geek!
Anonymous said…
I have to say, i thought it was kinda shitty for the group not to pay for Tim's room. Yes, he was wrong to stay past the time, but they are all in this together. It's not like he wouldn't have paid them back. It's just a nice thing to do, especially at the beginning of a long journey. Can't say Tim is my favorite, but...

I really like Zach and Lena a lot. I like them all, but those are the standouts to me. Alaska show was very cool.

I hope they come here - I voted!
Anonymous said…
From Zach's DC vlog:

"I was actually most excited to visit Washington, DC out of all the states that we were supposed to visit."

Uhhh... Zach, DC is not a state.

I must admit I am not a fan of this season. Nor of Tim.
storm said…
You're right, it isn't a State. I had meant to say city, but obviously it wasn't edited properly. The whole affair of Washington, D.C. not being in ANY state can get confusing.

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