I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!


I’m filing this report from my hidden lair along the border between the dangerous Northern Province and the rest of Illinois …

For the sake of those who didn’t see “The Daily Show” Monday evening, I must mention that during a segment wherein correspondent John Oliver searches for the “Wisconsin 14,” Oliver travels through the “Northern Province” of Illinois (which, judging by the “Daily Show” map, appears to be everywhere in the state north of Interstate 80) and calls it a “savage, frozen territory.”

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom Oliver referred to as a “notorious former warlord,” made a surprise appearance, providing the segment with its (bleeping) golden moment. In a nutshell, Oliver asks Blagojevich if he knows where the Wisconsin 14 are, Blagojevich says he doesn’t, and Blagojevich issues a statement of support for the Wisconsin 14.

“These lawmakers standing up for working people, and the fundamental rights of working people to bargain collectively with their employers — that is (bleeping) golden,” Blagojevich says.

Also, Oliver asks Blagojevich if the convicted ex-governor is allowed to “just walk around here.”

The segment can be found here on NBC Chicago’s website.

In other, more serious Blagojevich news today, the former governor withdrew his request to travel to England to speak to the Oxford Union, a student society at Oxford University. Blagojevich likely would have had to pay for his international airfare out of his own pocket, which would have created a new problem for him since he is using public funds to pay for his defense.

Whether Judge James Zagel would’ve granted permission is unknown, though he did reject a similar request in 2009 when Blagojevich wanted to appear on the TV reality show “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” (Instead, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, appeared on the show. I blogged here at The Bread Line about Patti’s jungle adventures on the show, and you can find those posts here.)

I also learned today that Chicago Tribune reporters John Chase and Jeff Coen are working on a book about Blagojevich. Coen’s last book, “Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob,” was widely praised. I already knew that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jimmy Breslin also is working on a Blagojevich book, with Blagojevich’s blessing — which means Breslin’s book will be the BS version of the Blagojevich story.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich’s publicist Glenn Selig previously said the former governor also would like to write another book. Please, no.

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Earlier this month at the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Lit Fest (nee Book Fair), Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn interviewed “Chicago Tonight” correspondent Elizabeth Brackett about her new book, Pay to Play — How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption Into a National Sideshow. Although I was at the book fair that day, a slow start from a friend’s house in Rockford and an unexpected delay due to construction along the CTA Blue Line prevented me from arriving in time to watch the interview.

When I first heard about Brackett’s book, I admittedly thought it was rushed and decided I probably wouldn’t read it unless I received a review copy — and I don’t mean that so much as a knock on the timing of Brackett’s book as the fact that as a political junkie (and one well-versed in all things Blago) I figured I already knew most of what is in her book. However, I was still curious to hear what she had to say about our former governor, and if I got the chance to talk to her afterward I could tell her about my blog and all that I’ve written about Blagojevich, and maybe I would buy a copy of the book and have her autograph it … Well, it wasn’t meant to be. But thanks to C-SPAN2’s Book TV, I got to hear Zorn’s interview later. And as it turned out, I did learn some new-to-me Blagojevich facts from Brackett.

(Incidentally, the interview will air again today at 5:30 p.m. CST, so you can watch it for yourself on Book TV, or you can listen to audio of the interview by clicking here. You also can read Zorn’s thoughts about the book at his blog, Change of Subject.)

I took notes as I watched the interview so I could share some of what Brackett said about Blagojevich:

On Rod’s wife, Patti, meeting her future husband for the first time at a fundraiser for her father, Chicago Ald. Richard Mell: “Patti said afterwards, she told her father, ‘You know, I think if I go out with him, I’m going to have the time of my life.’ She was right about that one.”

On Rod’s vision of himself: “He always envisioned himself as a scrappy fighter. I mean, that’s how he saw himself. Perhaps it was coming up as the son of immigrants … So he saw himself as somebody who had to, you know, run against the status quo. I think that was part of basically who he was.”

On why she finds Rod “puzzling”: “He’s such a puzzling character because he just seems to be such a dichotomy. At one point there’s this man who is gifted politically, can give a terrific speech, works a room like nobody’s business, but on the other hand, he absolutely did not build a single strong political relationship in Illinois. He was at war with the legislature from the very moment, even before, he was elected. And he liked that.”

Brackett said she talked to several psychiatrists about Rod, and they said the former governor probably suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, in which case he is “someone who has an overall need for attention, has to be in the middle of things, much of which is to cover up a lack of self-esteem.”

Brackett also said she is looking forward to reading Blagojevich’s autobiography, which is expected to hit bookshelves later this year.

Brackett was less interested in watching Patti Blagojevich on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

“I watched the first night and that was about enough for me,” Brackett said. “Once the tarantulas went down, I wasn’t too sure that a lot more news was going to be made. But it’s interesting that neither our former first lady or her husband seem able to shy away from cameras. It is critical to both of them, and you have to say one thing about them, they’re doing a good job on their media tour.”

(Click here to read my daily updates about Patti’s jungle adventure.)

Now that Patti Blagojevich’s jungle adventure is over, it’s time for the Blagojeviches to remember why NBC wanted one of them to be on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” in the first place.

Her husband, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, faces 16 felony charges of criminal corruption, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. Today U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel set Blagojevich’s trial to begin June 3, 2010. Two of Blagojevich’s co-defendants, Lon Monk and John Harris (both former Blagojevich chiefs of staff) are cooperating with authorities and are expected to take the stand as government witnesses if the case goes to trial.

The fun and games should be over for the Blagojeviches now, as they have only 11 months to prepare for what surely will be a lengthy trial, and that preparation includes sifting through about 3.5 million pages of documents. Have fun doing that, Blagojevich lawyers.

In reality, the fun probably isn’t over for the Blagojeviches, particularly Rod. I figure Rod will keep popping up in the media until the day he gets taken away to prison. But what about Patti? One of my Twitter followers jokingly suggested Patti can appear on next year’s edition of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” before the jurors are chosen for her husband’s trial. I’m sure Patti will be invited back on the show, but I doubt she will be a contestant again, mostly because the show likely would air as Rod’s trial is just getting under way. Patti will want to stay home with their children after the trial begins.

Besides that, by this time next year, Patti may have her own trial to start worrying about.

In tonight’s season finale of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here,” actor Lou Diamond Phillips beat out former pro wrestler Torrie Wilson and former pro basketball player John Salley to be named “King of the Jungle.”

There wasn’t much action during the show’s final hour, which basically was a flashback episode with the winner announced at the end. Most of the previous participants were on hand to reflect on their experiences in the Costa Rican jungle.

When prompted, Patti Blagojevich, wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, expressed how happy she is about no longer having to “rough it” in the jungle.

“It’s more wonderful than you can ever imagine,” Patti said with a smile.

The best part of the final episode? Wilson entering a pool with several small crocodiles in it, completing that part of the food trial, then picking up one of the crocs and kissing it.

“I love crocodiles now!” Wilson beamed.

And I love that “I’m A Celebrity” is finally over, so I no longer have to watch bad reality television so you don’t have to. But honestly, I had fun tweeting live updates on Twitter as each episode aired. I never thought I’d say this, but I may experience “Celebrity” withdrawal.

In the meantime, I’ll search for other events to live-tweet, as I did South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s press conference earlier today. I’d love to read your suggestions for future live-tweet events, or even just your feedback about whether you followed my “I’m A Celebrity” tweets and if so, what you liked or didn’t like about the job I did. I need feedback, people — stat! 🙂

Former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich and “American Idol” reject Sanjaya “Jungle Boy” Malakar were voted off “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here” Tuesday, though they both will make a return appearance for a cast reunion during Wednesday’s season finale.

Before departing, Blagojevich recalled her two favorite “Celebrity” moments — the time she got swept away by a river current and was able to save herself, and the time she called home.

Interestingly, on the night she got booted from the jungle, Blagojevich endured her toughest food trial. She and the other four quasi-celebrities were locked into harnesses so they could crawl across ropes to grab flags dozens of feet above ground. At one point during the trial, Blagojevich slipped and hung upside down, then dropped two flags before completing the trial in four minutes and 44 seconds — or as she called it, “the longest five minutes of my life.”

Blagojevich will take home an award, too — the “I’m A Celebrity Now Award.” ‘Tis true. The celebrities made up awards for each other while sitting around the campfire.

Blagojevich said being on the show “was unlike anything I experienced before.” She also said “the most important thing I would take away from this experience is a sense of hopefulness about the future.”

She may be hopeful about the future, but I think there may be a different lesson for her to learn from the experience. She tried to win, but in the end, she didn’t make the final cut. And when the Blagojeviches have their day in court, they will try to win, but in the end, they probably won’t.

But I guess the end of that story hasn’t been written yet, has it?

And then there were five.

After Monday’s two-hour episode of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” — and with only two episodes left — only Patti Blagojevich, Sanjaya Malakar, Lou Diamond Phillips, John Salley and Torrie Wilson remain in the Costa Rican jungle. The phone lines currently are open for people to vote which celebrities they want to see stay for the final episode Wednesday. Two of them will be booted from the jungle by the end of Tuesday’s show.

At the end of Monday’s episode, the quasi-celebrities made brief, live comments stating why they think viewers should vote in favor of them. Here’s Patti Blagojevich’s statement: “So, in the last 22 days, I’ve nearly drowned in a river, I’ve been bitten by a tick, I’ve eaten a tarantula, I’ve had Janice (Dickinson) strapped to my back, but most importantly, I’ve earned the respect of my camp mates, which is why I think I should be ‘queen of the jungle.'”

A few minutes earlier in the show, Phillips reflected on Blagojevich’s apparent popularity.

“Patti Blagojevich seems to have a following, and that could be a dangerous thing,” Phillips said.

Blagojevich certainly has been cast as POP (Poor Oppressed Patti), and she plays up that role every time she makes a comment like this one from Monday’s episode: “This experience has been a step away from the problems we’ve been having the last six or seven months, but this could’ve been just what I needed at this time and really gotten me stronger for the fight ahead.”

Judging by some of the “Celebrity” feedback I’ve gotten via Twitter, the POP role is working for Blagojevich. One fellow who follows my “I’m A Celebrity” tweets recently noted that if Blagojevich wins thanks to viewers not voting her off the show, the message is sent that we don’t care about celebrities. His point is well taken, though I must add that our society’s infatuation with celebrities (and even quasi-celebrities) is exactly why shows like this exist — and are watched in large numbers — in the first place.

There isn’t much else to report about POP from Monday’s episode other than her loss of 10 pounds during 21 days in the jungle and her immediate withdrawal from the day’s food trial, which involved sticking one’s head in a plastic box filled with jungle critters.

* * *

Back in reality (as opposed to reality TV), Christopher Kelly was sentenced Monday to 37 months in prison on federal tax fraud charges. Kelly, a former adviser and chief fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, pleaded guilty to the charges in January.

In addition to being indicted in the Blagojevich corruption case, Kelly also still faces charges that he was involved in “a kickback scheme to rip off United and American Airlines at O’Hare International Airport through a roofing company he owned,” according to the Chicago Tribune‘s Jeff Coen. There is no indication Kelly is cooperating with prosecutors to testify against Blagojevich.

Since Kelly is such a good pal of Blagojevich — so good a pal he won’t squeal on him to save his own hide — perhaps the prison can provide him with a few bars of Blago soap to use behind bars. I wish I had a photo of the Blago soap I recently saw for sale at The Alley, but alas, you’ll have to visualize for yourself the bars of soap that have the former governor’s likeness on one side and one of several “Blago phrases” on the other side. When I saw the soap, I wondered who would rub Rod’s likeness on their naked body, but now I think I have my answer. Christopher Kelly would.

Former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich earned a pizza dinner, received a letter from home and learned she didn’t get voted out of the Costa Rican jungle on Thursday’s episode of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

For the day’s food trial, “Mudpit Mania,” the quasi-celebrities had to don wrestling outfits and search through a mudpit looking for three stars. The three contestants who found the stars (Patti Blagojevich, Lou Diamond Phillips and Sanjaya Malakar) got to eat pizza for dinner. Not as easy as it sounds, though — the mudpit was filled with plastic balls, styrofoam sticks and live (small) crocodiles! Janice Dickinson ran out of the mudpit screaming.

Speaking of Dickinson, she and Holly Montag got voted out of the jungle, which leaves six celebrities in the jungle for the show’s final week: Patti Blagojevich, Stephen Baldwin, Sanjaya Malakar, Lou Diamond Phillips, John Salley and Torrie Wilson. For what it’s worth, Montag predicted Sanjaya will win and Dickinson thinks Baldwin will win.

Early in the episode, Baldwin said Blagojevich could be “somebody that’s kind of appealing to the everyday mom out there. She could be a bit of a dark horse.”

The epsiode ended with the final six contestants reading letters from home. Patti’s letter, written by husband Rod Blagojevich, partially read: “Please don’t worry. We’re all fine. The highlight of our day is when we get to watch you on TV at night.”

Rod’s letter ended with a mention of the youngest Blagojevich daughter: “P.S. Annie keeps saying I’m the one who should have had to eat the tarantula.”

Patti said it “really lights a fire under me to make my daughters to be proud of me and act in a way they can be proud of and hold their heads up high.”

I hope she remembers that credo when she returns to Illinois. Perhaps she can rub it off on Rod, too. But I’m guessing that’s not going to happen.

* * *

In case you haven’t gotten your fill of Blagojevich news yet, here are links to three Chicago Tribune stories related to the former Illinois governor:

Feds probe Blagojevich contacts with colleges — Did Blagojevich or his power brokers seek a leg-up for applicants to state universities?

Rod Blagojevich poses with, signs satirical sculpture of himself — The man knows no shame. Article explains how Blago wasn’t in on the joke, either.

“Run, Blago, Run!” graffiti artist launches fundraiser to finance more Blago-inspired artwork — Supporters can help the artist keep it legal.

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