April 24th, 2011

food bacon

Look! Over in that alley! Upside down in that dumpster! It's Leftover Man!

I'm on day 3 or 4 (or maybe even 5 by this point since I've lost count) of my Top Chef marathon where I'm watching every season from the very beginning. As I've mentioned before, it's an interesting experience for me since I never thought I would ever want to re-watch any reality show competition. I think most people would feel this way since it seems like it could never be as good the second time around. After all, you already know who the ultimate winner is as well as how all the major conflicts turn out and the general flow of the show. What I never expected was that there are some interesting facets that only become apparent because you already know what's going to happen.

For one, it's interesting to see the editing choices that the producers of the show made since they also often have more information at hand as episodes are filmed long in advance. There are many 'Ah Ha!' sort of moments as you realize why they chose to keep certain scenes like very basic and almost incidental conflicts between two characters in early episodes because later on down the line it explodes into something major. You finally get to realize all the pieces of foreshadowing that have been included to shape the narrative.

Second, it's also interesting to re-watch these episodes because I found that in many cases I only really remembered those people who lasted until the end of the competition. This shouldn't be a surprise since if they lasted until the end, it meant that they had a lot more screen time than competitors who were eliminated early. Not to mention the fact that as the numbers whittle down the people remaining also get proportionally more face time as the episodes go on. Any single contestant in episode 1 might only be on screen for a minute or two but by the time you reach the finale whoever is left is claiming a quarter or third of the episode's run time. That means that there are some surprises when re-watching these shows. It's only that the novelty comes in the early episodes of the season rather than the climax at the end.

As I'm watching all this fine dining, I also can't help but feel a little wistful. I'm not exactly the fine dining kinda guy. I still remember when the food network first got on cable and my mom and sisters would watch it in the evenings together. I would scoff at the fru-fru food on the screen and tell them rather disdainfully that for the price of that small plate of food I could probably go and buy myself 50 Big Macs. For me, the sensible option between the two seemed obvious. That said, I am a little regretful that I will probably never get the opportunity to try any of this food that seems to send people into such rapture. At the very least I would like to at least have sampled some of these pricey ingredients like caviar, foie gras, whale, shark fin, black truffles, etc. I'm not sure that I could really appreciate it with a palate honed by fast food and bologna sandwiches, but it would still be an interesting experience.

On the downside of watching all these episodes of Top Chef is seeing the startling amount of waste when it comes to food. These are people working with the best ingredients available in price and quality and it seems that so little of it actually makes it on the plate. To see them taking an entire side of beef and ending up with a half dozen plates with a 3 ounce steak on each pains me. This doesn't even include those times when the food is simply part of the competition rather than meant to be consumed like oyster shucking contests or whatnot. I know that at least some of it must be salvaged somehow for food kitchens, but the vast majority of cooked 'bits and pieces' are simply tossed into the trash. The waste is appalling. I almost wish I could wander through the Top Chef kitchen after each quick fire and elimination challenge with a pillow case and graze my way through what's left over.

So at the moment, I'm four episodes into season 6, with a couple seasons left. I won't actually run into any episodes I haven't seen before until season 7 and I'm looking forward to it. It'll be nice to actually be able to root on a contestant without knowing the outcome.
oots shoeless god of war

I <3 free money

Things are pretty spiffy on the Swagbucks front. It's been several days since I traded in the points I had earned for a $5 amazon gift cert and I wasn't expecting another for 10 days. It had taken me a little short of 7 days to earn the first one but I had been helped out by a one-time bonus for joining. I figured if I had to depend upon points coming mainly from searches and bonus codes, it would take quite a bit longer to reach the promise land. That's why I'm happy and surprised to report that I managed to score a second $5 certificate in only 4 days due to some unexpected point accumulation.

When I first signed up for the site it had asked for my birthday and I decided to fib a little and enter a date a month after my actual birthday. These sort of sites often give bonuses out on your birthday and since mine had just passed, I didn't want to wait 11 months to get any potential benefit. I had actually forgotten all about it when 50 points showed up in my account unexpectedly, pushing me 1/9th of the way toward my goal.

I was also helped out majorly by the unexpected fact that they seem to have some relationship with Groupon, offering bonus points for purchases there. I had planned to pick up a Southwest groupon for my uncle ($40 for $80 off any roundtrip flight coming out of Newark Airport) anyway and managed to snag 160 points to boot. Since I buy groupons fairly often, this might be a good source of points in the future. It's pretty much the same as getting $1.75 off every groupon I buy, which is pretty significant as a percentage given that many groupons are only $5-10. Anyway, the groupon purchase along with the birthday bonus propelled me once more into the promise land and I have another $5 gift certificate coming my way.

As I think about it, this whole Swagbucks thing is working out better than I could have imagined. For little to no effort on my part, it's giving me a benefit I can surely use as most of my shopping is done at Amazon. I had only expected to earn maybe $15 a month but it looks like I might have underestimated things a smidge. I know for most of you out there this seems like petty chump change but I view it as found money. It's not costing me anything other than the smallest bit of time and God knows I've got more time than I know what to do with. If I were actually willing to really put some time into it, I'm sure I could make out even better but I'm happy with the dribs and drabs that I'm getting out of searches, daily codes, and some video watching when I'm bored. If I could pick up $25 a month from Swagbucks, that would be $300 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at.
discworld cohen candy

One of us! One of us! One of us!

Duh, I forgot to give the info to join in case anyone is interested.

Here's the link to join Swagbucks if you're interested: clicky

It includes my referral info, which of course I'd be more than happy if you used. Their referral system is sort of unusual. I don't actually get any bonus just for someone joining and using the site. Instead, each time they get points through using the search engine, I get a bonus too. I guess the idea is for people to encourage refer'ees to continue to actually use the site since you only get points whenever they do. It's certainly smarter than simply giving a lump sum for anyone who joins since I'm sure there are people out there who would abuse the system by creating tons of fake email addresses and the like.

When I joined, there was also a signup bonus code which I'm told was still working as of a day ago. Just type in 'HelpJapan' when you sign up through the link and it should give you 80 free points to start instead of whatever the generic amount is. That will put you a little more than 1/6th of the way to your first $5 gift cert right off the bat. That's not to say you have to get amazon certificates. Those are just what I find most useful. There are gift certificates to tons of other sites and stores and you can even get $5 through paypal which is pretty much just cash. There are also various lotteries where you can buy raffle tickets with points to win prizes or cash. In the end, I just preferred the sure thing rather than gambling with my points though your mileage may vary.

Anyway, I hope you join if you find the idea interesting and want to earn some prizes with minimal effort. If you need help or want more info, just drop me a line. After all, if you do sign up it'd be in my best interest to see you continue with the site.