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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

'Amazing' Could Happen: Local Nears a Reality-TV Title 

After trekking the planet via Brazil, Europe, Oman, Australia and Thailand, B.J. Averell, the lucky Dharma bum who went to Collingswood High, seems poised to make local history tonight. Has any area person ever won a jumbo-jackpot reality-TV show? Doylestown's Justin Guarini finished second on American Idol in 2002, and Philly/South Jersey lass Stephenie LaGrossa was last fall's bridesmaid on Survivor: Guatemala. Worthy of mention is Gloucester City's Helene Eksterowicz, but does being the pick of The Bachelor, as she was in 2003, really count, especially since the TV-inspired engagement didn't last? Another second-tier titlist: Philadelphia University grad Jay McCarroll, who won Bravo's Project Runway last year.

Tonight, starting at 8, on CBS's Amazing Race, Averell and his hippie bud Tyler MacNiven are in the lead over two other couples for the $1 million top prize. The fun-loving adventurers, who've invigorated the show with their quips and tomfoolery, are some of the luckiest contestants ever, having finished last twice in the last four weeks, only to be kept alive by the news that the week was a non-elimination round. (Any ratings-conspiracy theorists out there?)

As a hot-headed blonde on another team said: "I hate the hippies. Those lucky bastards."

But every week, the duo demonstrates spirit (enthusiastically breaking beer bottles over each other's heads for one task) as well as language-savviness, befriending strangers like Adbul Habib, a Bedouin, in Oman (where one of the tasks was hoisting camels). B.J. explained to Habib, "Tyler and I are like American Bedouins," and they all hugged after Habib bought them a Snickers bar.

A low point was when Harvard grad Averell, trying to find a buried meal in a field of mounded sand ovens, seemed overcome by heat, lethargy and despair. "It's so hard to watch him just digging laying on the ground, just like dead," said MacNiven. "He's lost all his energy. This is rough. We could be here forever." Then Averell struck payfood: "I dug every single hole in this field! I finally got it!" MacNiven, at times excessively esteem-boosting, declared: "You're my hero! ... You did a really good job!"

Later that show they danced upon hearing that finishing last didn't mean they were gone, because it wasn't an elimination leg.

Last week in Thailand, they zoomed from worst to first by completing a hard-to-swallow "Fast Forward" task: Gobbling a couple of bowls of crickets (as pictured above, with Averell at left). Meanwhile other teams were burning up time covering buddhas with gold leaf or carting clay pots on planks. (Smashed pots dashed one couple's chances.)

Tonight, the competition comes from flirtatious Florida frat boys, Eric and Jeremy, who have finished first more often than not, and fellow Floridians Ray and Yolanda, who look like they'll keep dating, having worked through some differences during the show.

The show's far too unpredictable to be confident of a Collingswood winner. But B.J. and Tyler not only have a lead, they have another edge: One stop tonight is expected to be Japan, and MacNiven not only knows the language, he once walked all 2,000 miles from one end of the island nation to the other for love of a woman.

For more on Averell, including Harvard highjinks, see earlier report.

(Oh, by the way, Survivor winner Amber Brkich did hail from Beaver, Pa., but that's nearer to Pittsburgh.)

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