Episode Overview: American Inventor heads to the South for a final round of auditions in Tampa, FL and Houston, TX. The judges might ostensibly be looking for the next great American invention, but the producers and the editors of the program seem pretty disinterested in the successes. Let's face it: they know on which side their bread is buttered, and that's a side called “Loons and Tragic Delusions.” So once again, they have served up another heaping helping of those, while seeming to leave the actual viable inventions as mere garnish.
The group of inventors featured on this episode is a nervous bunch. There's quite a bit of stammering and shaking going on, and it really drove home the difference between this and other audition-based reality shows. The hopefuls lined up for hours to appear before the judges don't aspire to being performers…they aspire to being, essentially, engineers. Needless to say, a commanding presence isn't something a lot of them have yet developed. American Inventor is like the American Idol for introverted right-brainers.
The first to tremble his way in front of the judges is a school bus driver who has spent $4700 on his inventions, a “hat-cap combination.” It's a pair of foam platforms surrounding the head and connected by novelty “columns” of sorts that can be varied based on theme (e.g., Halloween, baseball games, etc.). It is both unattractive and not especially useful, and he gets all no's from the judges. While his invention left a lot to be desired, he does manage to leave the judges with a pithy statement. When Sarah Blakely asks him if people will look ridiculous in his invention, he makes the observation that “If one person wears it, it's ridiculous, but if everyone wears it, no, [it's not],” neatly summing up how trends work.
Next up is a youthful-looking 65-year-old man who has an invention he calls the “Double Chin Buster.” It is rolled under the chin while the user makes exaggerated kissing motions with their mouth. Pat Croce points out that the success of the tool is really about the muscle tone achieved by the ancillary exercises themselves, not the tool. It's a no.
Another no for a gentleman from NYC who made, basically, a playground for squirrels in his backyard as some sort of attempt at controlling the rodent.
Moving on to the Tampa auditions, the next person up is a two-fer for the producers of American Inventor. Not only does she have an invention the judges don't go for, she also has big fake breasts for on which the camera does a really ridiculously gratuitous linger. Granted, her invention opens the door for the chest-related shots. It's a soft insert for a mattress for women with rock-hard fake breasts to be able to sleep comfortably on their stomachs. George and Sarah are willing to give it a shot, but a big no from Pat and Peter Croce.
Another inventor with a case of nerves is the guy with a “tongue toothbrush,” a small rubber tip that suctions to the tongue and can then be used to wipe off plaque from the teeth. He is nearly mute with a case of stage fright at the beginning of his pitch, and then, after getting through it and being rejected, finds himself unable to say much more than to repeatedly murmur he is “completely shocked” that the judges didn't go for the invention.
The next inventor is also full of self-confidence about his chances with the judges. He's a waiter, and asserts he has been confirmed to have a genius-level IQ. He is brimming with desire to become super-famous. He's positive the pill he's invented – in concept only, he has not actually made it – is a surefire hit. His plan is to use the beta-carotene in carrots to make a pill that could be used to dye the skin any color. The apparent lack of any significant back-up research leads the judges to quickly dismiss him. Outside the audition room, he complains about his misunderstood brilliance.
Finally, after all that, we have a successful hopeful inventor: Furney Eubanks, an 80-year-old man from North Carolina with a lawn mower that pivots for easy maneuvering. He is a charmer, but his product appeals to all the judges with the exception of Peter.
After Furney, we see a quick montage of other inventions that also made it past the judges: a workout machine that targets the inner and outer thighs, a magnetic shoe holder to allow you to dry your sneakers in a dryer without all the noise, and a tiered table for making displays.
The successes are given a cursory treatment compared to the time and attention given to the wackier inventions and inventors, and this is part of the problem with the show. It's an inevitability that any reality show with auditions is going to have its share of William Hungs. But the fact that the show breezes past the good inventors – who are, after all, supposed to be the whole point – makes the viewing experience start to feel a little unsavory. It's like the show is less American Inventor and more American Venue for Humiliating People with Crazy Dreams. It starts to feel depressing after a while.
The next pair of inventors, two brothers from Missouri, is at least a cheering duo. They're both 59 years old, but they're not twins, as they merrily explain, they're Catholic. They do carpentry and have invented an insert for the kitchen that can hold cling wrap, foil, etc. Peter is once again not impressed, but the others like that the brothers have made this insert versatile in that it can be mounted under a cabinet or stored in a drawer, and they get a yes from the others.
The positive angle doesn't last long. Next up is a Nigerian immigrant who is absolutely determined that the game he invented will be the next big thing. It's a variation of Scrabble, but it uses numbers instead, with the goal being to create a string of numbers that add up to ten. The judges are concerned: it appears to be so similar to Scrabble they worry about the legal ramifications of a game so close to a similar game. The man defends the originality, saying numbers are more universal, but the judges aren't buying it. They urge him to abandon the idea but he says he will never do it. It's once again quite depressing to watch and even the judges are feeling low about it.
And he's followed by two more unsuccessful inventions. One woman created a “Jacuzzi” for dogs, which is basically a plastic tub with holes cut in the top. A man used a slinky to make a telescoping beacon to help identify your car in a parking lot. Both get no's.
After all that, the show at least ends on a positive note. A home builder named Carlos speaks passionately about his idea to build a house from lightweight interlocking plastic bricks (like Legos) that would be fire, flood and termite-resistant. He was inspired by his own experience as a child losing a house to fire, and his aunt losing her house in Hurricane Katrina. George and Sarah like the possibilities, but Pat thinks the idea has too far to go. This leaves Peter to make the decision, and Carlos's determination and vision seem to sway him: he makes him a finalist.
At least there is only one more week of the slog through the wacky and outlandish ideas before the show gets to the semi-finals. Next week, the show finishes up the Tampa and Houston auditions, and it will then all be down to the competition between the individual city winners.
- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of ABC)