When I sat down to look at Shaq’s Big Challenge this week, I decided to watch the episode online, which is an odd sort of treat. Naturally you’re happy when the file is finally finished loading, but when you remember it’s only Shaq’s Big Challenge, you feel a little odd – in a good way, though, of course! Who could ever feel bummed about Shaquille O’Neal, the Aristotle of the NBA? Come, join me in Shaq’s journey!
The opening montage sums up everything we’ve seen over the past few weeks, and it reminds us that in two months, Shaq is meeting with Florida’s governor to discuss plans to combat childhood obesity. He hopes to have a strategy they can adopt throughout the state. Again he reminds us he’s going into the governor’s office butt nekked, and oh, how this idea makes him laugh.
Happy happy, joy joy
Also in the montage, we see some new clips of Kit in a bathing suit and Walter stuffing his pimply face. It must be Thanksgiving because he’s filling up platters for himself, saying his first plate is dedicated to turkey. God, it’s baffling that these children haven’t lost more weight.
James trudges into school wearing a t-shirt that says “Getting Better Every Day” on the back, which is pretty mortifying. Maybe tomorrow he can wear a toga with his weight printed on it. He says of all the fast foods he likes, he misses pizza the most, because pizza was cheesy and “flammably delicious.” He claims to say this all the time, but I do not know what it means. James thinks the school lunch looks and tastes exactly like fast food, so when kids go home, they feel like they have to eat fast food. I really don’t know what that means either. It could be an example of schools setting a principle for kids, but this boy is eleven and generally kind of dumb, so I doubt he made that connection. James believes this type of food is probably what made them all gain most of their weight, and then he burps at the camera by accident. Twice. He says people die from eating fast food, but when the cameraman asks if he’ll eat it in the future, of course he says yes. Fatty is as fatty does.
Next, Shaq plans to tackle the lunches. He could just put a stop to all of this by asking the Challengers to bring their lunches from home, but I suppose that would be too simple. At the kids’ middle school, their school lunch consists of things like cheeseburgers, corn dogs, grilled cheese, French fries, and ice cream, and holy crap it all looks so good. What kind of cafeteria serves this stuff, seriously? You can’t even get grub that good at Golden Corral (or any other huge buffet house, if that helps you). Via video tape, Shaq watches a fat kid eat some cornbread and makes fun of him, saying, “Big boy killin’ that cornbread, ‘eh?” Admittedly this food is kind of ridiculous, in that it all looks AMAZING, which should violate all cafeteria rules. Hilariously, the school’s incentive system for good grades is that if you get all A’s, you get free cheeseburgers and ice cream. Dr. Colker shakes his head and says the reward for good grades is dying before the age of 50.
Shaq takes off to the middle school with Tyler Florence to examine their lunches. A group of kids swarm Tyler as he walks across campus, which, yes – I’m sure these kids are all so familiar with this guy that they’d immediately recognize him and beg for an autograph. As the camera pans back, it’s actually a different middle school than where the Challengers previously attended, so if they show up in background shots, then we know this is all BS.
Do our eyes deceive us?
Tyler and Shaq eye their choices for lunch, with Shaq taking chicken tenders and an itty bitty cup of salad. Tyler sits down to eat lunch with Kevin, so yes, this show is a complete crock. (In fact, Google tells me Frank Angelucci is actually a real estate agent in Florida, not a middle school athletics director. Oh, Hollywood!) Shaq and Tyler encourage the kids to petition for better food, and they’re all pretty revved up about it, because obviously no child enjoys pizza and ice cream. Bring in the asparagus, please! Tyler lectures them about the power of democracy and tells them they have rights, and they can change lunches for the 270,000 kids in the school district. Ariel starts a petition in about 14 seconds and announces it on a stage in the middle of the cafeteria. Chris runs the petition around the lunchroom while Ariel stiffly reads about their plan.
Shaq takes the stage afterwards with Tyler, who is now billed as the #1 Chef in the World. The kids all cheer eagerly for healthy food in their cafeteria, and when Tyler offers to cook their lunch, they all shoot their wads with delight.
With Shaq’s deadline drawing nigh, Tarik tries to get the kids in shape yet again. Walter is disco dancing on the treadmill, but Tarik says he is not a man who enjoys fun. He’s not fun at parties or bar mitzvahs, which is a downer. Walter would’ve put out such a schmeer for him! On cue, the kids all goof off and tumble to the floor during their exercises, so Tarik leaves to harass Shaq for missing baskets on another court. Truthfully, Shaq deserves this. He says he never misses a shot, except that he just did. Tarik tells Shaq how poorly the program is going, but Shaq just chuckles and says he sees everything. He decides to train with the kids for the day. I guess his broken knee isn’t an issue anymore, because in general the continuity on this program is pretty astounding.
It’s time to play dodgeball! Immediately Shaq nails Kevin right in the nads, no kidding. Shaq says he never loses in dodgeball, so he slaughters the kids while Walter hides behind Ariel. Walter lisps about how it was just tho thcary to be one-on-one with Thaq. He says he realized he needs a smaller butt to play dodgeball, which Shaq agrees with as he pounds him in the ass repeatedly. Kevin is jealous.
A few days later, it’s an early morning at Chris’s house. His dad and his mole, Consuelo, explain that Chris stopped losing weight due to the school lunches. This isn’t scripted at all, by the way. They decided to pack their own lunches and the weight started coming off. Over at the fake school, Tyler arrives to meet the lunch ladies and prepare for their day. Crystal Manfre is the boss of the kitchen, so she tells Tyler to work a little bit with each person, and then introduces him to everyone in the kitchen. It’s important to note that these women know shit-all about him, but previously all the middle-schoolers were fawning over him. The cook, Irene, says she doesn’t want any of his help. This makes Tyler a sad panda.
He helps Irene unpack boxes of food, which are both hot and cold breakfasts, as well as lunch. This school is like no other in the world. Tyler thinks they could create the same meals with different ingredients, and then he rags on all the items they’re preparing. Crystal looks irritated because hey, she doesn’t go into his workplace and shit all over everything. That said, she consents that the food is only healthy as far as fast food goes. Tyler says he has newfound respect for the lunch ladies because their job is very hard. Wow, he’s not a total d-bag!
Tyler invites the Challengers to a test kitchen at Johnson & Wales University, that way they can sample the meals and see if their classmates will go for his cooking. By the looks of these kids, they’ll eat pretty much anything, so this is just a time-filler. They’ll be testing about 15 dishes, like coleslaw atop a turkey sloppy joe sandwich. Tyler asks Walter if that sounds good, and he says it does but that he finds school lunches delicious. He says something else after, but taking a lesson from Shaq, it’s impossible to discern. Kevin tries a coleslaw dressing and then honestly almost gacks into a garbage can. He doubles over in pain from trying the dressing, what the hell? Maybe they’ll introduce Kevin’s sudden cabbage allergy, that would rock.
Shaq is on his way to the test kitchen, outfitted in a swanky suit. Kevin cheers for the suit and bumps fists with Shaq when he enters. Ain’t nothing Kevin loves more than a well-dressed man. The group is presented with dishes that could potentially be on the lunch menu, and they’re kind of stupidly fancy for a middle school. I can’t see an 11-year-old walking up to the lunch line and asking for the Whole Wheat Penne Pasta with a Homemade Bolognese Sauce. The dishes include sushi and couscous, which Shaq dislikes because black people don’t eat couscous. He says it’s for rich people, and when James points out that Shaq is rich, he mumbles something complicated about chicken.
Finger lickin’ good
James and Shaq have a burping contest next, which is so fucking disgusting I won’t even say anymore about it. Does Shaq understand that he’s 35? I mean, seriously.
Days later, Tarik gets a call from Shaq to meet him at the Miami Heat’s arena. Tarik thinks it’s about the kids, which seems like a total stretch since, you know, the cameras are following him there and everything. In their meeting, Shaq suggests that Tarik should be more fun with the workouts. He agrees but you know he wants to punch Shaq in the nads. Cut to the field, where the kids skip and flop around. Their fun activity for the day is playing soccer, but James has to do 20 laps because he does not deserve a Fun Friday. Really, he isn’t missing much; Walter is a goalie, and when Kit is standing directly in front of him with the ball, he steps aside for her to score. Way to be nice to your lady, Walt, but you really don’t understand the game.
James whines to the camera about how he’s always working while the other kids play. One of the things I love about this kid is that sometimes he turns into a 40-year-old father of five when he complains. He says everyone else gets to party and have a hell of a time while he’s just running. On the other hand, Tarik says James isn’t living up to his potential. He threatens to quit, but it’s that kind of threat where he keeps saying, “I’m serious. I’ll go. Really, I will.” Kit begs James to stay but no one else gives a crap. Tarik orders him to sprint and he just sadly trudges around with his head down, kicking things on the field. Kit runs up next to him and asks what he has to do, and whatever James says back is censored. I’m pretty sure he said he’s not doing shit anymore, which is seriously the best line of this entire series.
In the gym, Tarik says Kevin now has the assignment of motivating James, which means we should have some prime arguments between Team Doug pretty soon. Kevin yaps about how he’s fit for the job because he gained weight but came back with a vengeance, and while that all sounds well and good, he says it in the most harrowing voice known to man. He is possessed. Then he gets down on the floor and makes fun of how James exercises. All these kids are jerks.
Another day dawns and it’s time to try the new school lunches at Pines Middle School, which is not Olsen Middle School, and I’ll never get over that. Tyler wants to serve a roasted turkey wrap served sushi style, which makes Crystal kind of laugh and roll her eyes. Crystal’s on our side, you guys. First Tyler is making whole grain pasta to toss with vegetables, so he asks for the cook’s help since they’re massively short on time. She seems completely baffled, but she does her best until it’s time for her lunch break, at which point she walks out and leaves him hanging. The ladies gossip about how the new meals take too much labor and time. Tyler sweats into the food in agreement.
Whetting your appetite
They’re making the sushi wraps next, and each one must be done by hand with careful precision. The women have never had sushi before, so this will never work in a million years. Everything comes together in an editing miracle, but the serving lines are backed up through the cafeteria doors and the kids don’t have enough time to eat lunch. The schedule is officially running 25 minutes late. Crystal says the kids want to please Tyler because he’s a big celebrity, so they praise the food and the camera pans to him signing autographs gleefully. However, half the lunch trays are being thrown away with food on them, so these kids are just suck-ups. Basically it all goes terribly, so the kitchen staff shares a group hug to lick their wounds.
Shaq confronts Tyler and says the principal didn’t like how the day went, but Tyler claims it was just an unorganized step in the right direction. He knows they can pull it off because they have lots of enthusiasm; Shaq’s up for it, he’s up for it…and that’s about it. Nearby, a cook fries up a pot of meat and Shaq nearly dives in face-first. Healthy!
It’s time for a weigh-in, and Shaq claims to have lost 29 pounds, which is mighty hard to believe. Walter steps on the scale first and reaches the target of 20 pounds total, which is really good for him, since he weighed the most of everyone. Ariel and Kit both break their 20, as do Chris and Kevin. Now it’s time for James, who will be the disappointment. If James hasn’t lost 20 pounds, no one gets the reward of going to the Miami Heat game. Hearts stop around the world as James mounts the scale, but alas, he’s only lost 15 pounds. Ariel gets into his face and yells at him for holding everyone back, and then Walter follows. As I’ve said, when Walter hates on you, your life is a mess. James feels no remorse for anything.
Shaq meets up with the nutritionist, who I’m going to call Joy Behar from now on, since I accidentally spell it as such every time. Joy Behar travels to James’s house to find a way for him to catch up with the other kids in terms of weight loss. Right away she tells him no more rolls, and he looks utterly confused, like she could’ve meant roles in a musical or something. She says he can’t eat subs anymore, and then tells him all the vegetables he has to try. He shouts that once he loses all the weight, he can eat junk food again. That’s the spirit! Get right back on the big fat horse.
At the dinner table, James prays over their meal while his family visibly tries not to giggle. His mom made lasagna with veggies in it, and he complains that it’s bad, yet he eats the whole thing with little help from a fork.
He is not enjoying this meal
The kids meet up outside their school and confront James about how he’s not losing weight. It’s actually kind of awesome how they all band together. Chris argues that the weight should be falling off him if he’s not cheating on his diet, and James just shrugs and blows a fart noise with his mouth. Kit asks him to promise to change, but he just agrees loosely, like he’s pushing them off. They all beg for a better promise, and Ariel says, “Oh, what was that? Talk about a ghost of a little girl!” I Googled that to see if it was a real phrase I’ve never heard before, but all I found were some scary Youtube videos, so I’m assuming Ariel is just a nut. James promises again while sad music plays.
It’s time for an outdoor workout, which involves caged chickens. This should be great! Shaq says one day he saw Rocky, specifically the part where Rocky chases a chicken. He wonders if the kids can do the same. My guess: no. The kids volunteer Walter to go first, so they set the chicken free and Walter waddles after it in a circle. Eventually all the Challengers give it a shot and a truly terrifying background music plays. If I could, I’d capture it and place it in a little chip in your brain. While the kids run, Tarik offers the following words of wisdom: “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, but so is chicken.” Oh. Okay. The majority catch the chicken after a while, so Shaq turns to wrestling the boys. He seriously picks them up and tackles them to the floor, and then tries to break James’s leg with a complicated hold.
After mangling the little boy’s body, Shaq sits down for a talk with James and asks him if he really wants to be here. James, unsurprisingly, has no real intention of quitting the program. Shaq talks to him and says that since James doesn’t have a father in his home, Shaq can serve as his father and raise his voice when he speaks to him. This is the same reasoning child molesters use, by the way. Shaq says if he has to talk to James one more time, they’re going to wrestle for two hours and he’ll give him a wedgie. Then he shoves him to the grass before saying he loves him. Child molester.
Dr. Colker tells Tarik that James really loves wrestling, which makes Shaq’s punishment threat seem even creepier. He’ll punish him by doing something James loves to do, for hours. Ew. Tarik agrees to try wrestling moves with James to lessen his rage, and it’s worth mentioning that while they straddle each other and grunt, Kevin kneels nearby and watches. James talks about the moves he’d like to do on Tarik, including kicking him in his small groin. He pounces on Tarik and Kevin screams, “Yeah! You doubleteam that arm! Get him now, you’re on top!” Some of these jokes just write themselves, but this marks the hardest I’ve ever laughed at this show.
Slap ‘n’ tickle!
There’s one day left before the Miami Heat game, so it’s time for James to weigh in one more time. If he blows it, no one gets to go. James steps on the scale aaaand…commercial break. I’ve never mentioned this before but during the commercials, sometimes Shaq reads off cue cards about how kids should lose weight, and how it feels so good to be a coach. He’s a remarkably bad actor, which makes me wonder what his movie Kazaam is like. If you have time, take a moment to read the quotes from Kazaam on Wikipedia. Shaq must’ve written those lines himself, because dude. I can’t think of a single reason why Shaq shouldn’t star in a movie and say, “Get on your knees and I’ll show you the true ways of a genie” or “This is going to hurt, but remember, you can’t tell your mom.”
Back at the gym, James’s teammates wait anxiously in the hallway while Shaq screams at James from inside. This is obviously a big misdirection, but the kids totally buy into it. Shaq says James actually gained five pounds, which makes Ariel roll on the floor in dismay, but ultimately he was just joshing. It’s game time for everyone! Walter shares that he was so happy for James, he grabbed him by the neck and gave him enough noogies to last a lifetime. Swell. While the kids celebrate, Shaq and Tarik sarcastically joke about how the kids each lost a whole 20 pounds in four months. Shaq didn’t lose too much more, so this is kind of an unwarranted attack, but whatevskies! Shaq mocks them with a victory dance.
A stretch hummer comes to pick up the kids for the game, and they toast with soda and water in the back of the limo. The kids all burp at each other, of course, because elders like Shaq think that joke is hilarious. (I should judge, right? I’m still laughing about the homoerotic wrestling.) Shaq greets the kids when they get inside and takes pictures of them in his team jerseys. His dressing room is filled with chocolate and fatty foods, natch, so the kids pig out while they chill back there. Then they’re treated to a luxury box while they watch the game, and I have no idea what happens because I don’t understand basketball. The sexy Miami Heat girls come in to take pictures though, and Walter creams his pants. Overall, everyone is happy, especially Walter for obvious reasons.
Next week, the principal cancels the fitness program. The lunch situation is deemed wasteful. Kit is still morbidly obese, the kids are still crappy athletes, and Shaq’s Big Challenge is still a failure. During the credits, though, Walter shows his kickin’ dance moves and pretty much prances in a circle. I guess if one good thing has come out of Shaq’s adventure, it’s that Walter moves his feet when he feels the beat. Success!