Cowboy Him 

A hometown boy's skills on the open range could win him $25K, Mariano Favazza offers a money-back guarantee, and Unreal gets to the seat of the issue at the new ballpark; plus, won't someone from the STL break the marathon-bowling record?

Everybody's getting into the reality act these days, even second-tier cable networks. But, hell, Bravo was a second-tier cable network and it pumped out what might be the two biggest nonfiction hits of the past year: The Restaurant and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Now comes Country Music Television's (CMT) Cowboy U, which premiered January 16 and features eight previously urban cowboys and cowgirls vying for $25,000 and the title of All-Around Cowboy. Among them is Ferguson, Missouri, native, Truman State grad and current Los Angelino Amir Raziq, who took time out from putting mad cows out of their misery to humor Unreal.

Unreal: Of all the reality shows, what motivated you to audition for this particular one? Or did you even have to audition at all?

Amir Raziq: The audition was just a simple interview. I didn't want to do it at first because of saturation and how reality portrayed people in a bad light. But I sat down and thought about it for a while. It sounded like a cool experience, the whole cowboy deal. The fact that it's not on mainstream stations, even though it's nationally syndicated -- I don't think I'll be labeled "That Guy on That Reality Show." I do some modeling out here, and the show wanted to label me as a model and I didn't want to do that. I told them no.

Did you have any prior physical training that gave you an advantage over your co-stars?

No, none whatsoever. One of the girls, we found out she used to friggin' ride when she was a kid.

Was she booted?

No. They just acted like they didn't know. I was still better than her at riding horses. As much as they wanted you to fight for that prize, I could give a shit less. It's a lot of money, but in the big scheme of things, $25,000 is not that big of a deal. You know how reality works: They just love to have drama, to play all that bullshit. And I'm not into that.

Compare and contrast Cowboy U with the runaway reality hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Let's just say I wonder whether well-cultured cowboys would be ready to accept the Queer Eye guys. It wouldn't work. Cowboys are hard workers, they bust their ass during the day. But you hear these stereotypes about them being ignorant and getting drunk -- well, that's true.

Do you think Queer Eye for the Straight Cowboy would make a viable spinoff?

It could be the cause of lots of controversy, to say the least. Hell, there's a gay guy on the show. On and off the set, those guys [straight cowboys] were snickering all the time. They did some things that were kind of harsh.

Did the Cowboy U producers make you guys wear assless chaps?

No, but I bet they would have liked that.

Money Back If Not Delighted

Donors afflicted by buyer's remorse shouldn't get in line just yet for refunds from St. Louis Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza, who's running for Dick Gephardt's Third District congressional seat.

Contrary to a recent item by Jerry Berger in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Favazza says he's not about to give back any donations anytime soon. The daily had reported that Favazza stood ready to refund money given to donors dissatisfied with his "slow-starting" campaign. In fact, there's a catch: Favazza, who boasts that his refund promise has prompted e-mails from as far away as New Jersey, says he won't give any money back until after he's elected.

"They can ask until the cows come home," he says. "Until I'm in office, it doesn't count. This is flip-flop insurance."

If the line formed now, it would be a short one. According to the latest reports filed in October with the Federal Election Commission, Favazza has raised $18,360 -- a pittance compared to nearly $200,000 raised by frontrunner Russ Carnahan.

No worries, says Favazza, who's counting on the Internet to propel him into office à la Howard Dean. Indeed, on his campaign Web site, Favazza has borrowed the term "straight talk" to label a video message billed as unscripted and unrehearsed. The would-be congressman used the word "cool" at least four times in the space of five minutes to describe his site, which can be reached by punching in any of three addresses: favazza.org, favazzaforcongress.com and unitedtogetherwecan.com. "A lot of people can't spell 'Favazza,'" the candidate explains.

If nothing else, the site might be useful for folks learning English. While the text of statements on such subjects as national defense and Social Security appear on the screen, Favazza reads along in clearly enunciated tones, enabling political newcomers to hear firsthand such key phrases as "wreak havoc with our economy" and "no matter how difficult the course, we must remain committed."

Bye Bye Busch

Green or red? Rarely has such a question as the color of the seats in the Cardinals' new stadium burned so hot in Unreal's mind. So we went to last Saturday's groundbreaking to hear for ourselves the pronouncement from owner Bill DeWitt Jr.

Thanks in part to a heavy rain and temperatures colder than a well-digger's ass, the ceremony felt more like a funeral than the birth of the largest construction project in downtown since, well, we can't exactly remember when. At $345 million (which doesn't include $43 million in street improvements and other infrastructure costs), this sucker is costing more than the Ed Jones Dome, more than the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse, more than the convention center hotel. And it won't even have a roof.

More than 100 fans joined Unreal on Busch Stadium's lower concourse, which offered a better view of the proceedings than the folding chairs arranged in front of the stage. Plus, we didn't have the red wristband ushers wanted to see before letting folks anywhere near the stage.

DeWitt's announcement (red seats) was upstaged by Stan Musial's rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the harmonica. The tempo was slow, almost bluesy -- and certainly sentimental. Looking down from the concourse, Unreal thought more of past glories at Busch than future exploits at the yet-unnamed new ballpark. We were quickly jerked from our daydreams, however, by the Billy Joel number that ended the ceremony.

It was "New York State of Mind." Maybe the owners are thinking this new stadium will make 'em as rich as the Yankees.

Hoosier Hall o' Fame

Gene Wethington of Lebanon, Indiana, recently got himself on SportsCenter by bowling for 54 hours and 4 minutes straight -- the longest bowling session ever, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

"I kept asking myself why," the automobile-factory worker told the Indianapolis Star. "I haven't had much in my life, so it kept me going."

Such thoughts are apparently common among marathon bowlers. "Sometime early Thursday morning, I asked myself 'Why am I here?'" former record-holder Lawrence Jackson told Air Combat Command News Service after setting a then-record mark of 36 hours, 2 minutes in 2001 at Beale Air Force Base in California.

Before Wethington came along, the record had been upped to 52 hours, 15 minutes. Surely we lower-case-h hoosiers in St. Louis, the world's bowling mecca, can do better, given that would-be record-breakers are allowed fifteen-minute breaks every eight hours and no one tests for performance-enhancing -- or stay-awake -- drugs. Plus, it's good for business. Even in the wee hours, bowlers waited two hours for lanes at the Lebanon Bowling Center, where spectators shouted "Bingo!" whenever the man with nothing better to do rolled a strike en route to a 118 average during his marathon.

"Bingo"? An average less than 120? It doesn't get any more Hoosier than that.

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