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GSN Documentary Series Plays Familiar Hands

1/06/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Venturing beyond the buzzers and flashing lights of its traditional fare, GSN tests the documentary waters with Anything to Win, a 13-episode original series focusing on the sometimes noble, sometimes ignoble lengths to which some people will go in order to gain glory.

The segments are well-crafted and familiar in structure: archival footage paired with the talking heads that witnessed the event. But the series may be hobbled by its insistence on the inclusion of overexposed subjects. For instance, with the popularity of televised card playing, the blackjack cheating scam perpetrated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology students has been heavily chronicled, even fictionalized. Yet it is rehashed here.

Perhaps the best look back is the first episode, which details the controversy surrounding the woman who “won” the 1980 Boston Marathon. Journalists were instantly suspicious of Rosie Ruiz, who seemed too fresh at the end of the 26 miles, and appeared out of nowhere ahead of nationally known runners who were the focus of marathon observers. She didn’t have the right answers about training techniques for sports reporters after the race and was unknown among elite running circles.

The producers scored a coup, tracking down Ruiz, living a life of obscurity in West Palm Beach, Fla. She gives her first interview in decades, but the interchange, while rare, is no more enlightening than her post-race comments. One senses the producers gained access by agreeing not to ask certain questions, such as why Ruiz, now Vivas, never ran again in an elite event to prove herself against her critics. If the question was asked, its answer does not air here.

But the documentation is meticulous for the conclusion made by the running community: Ruiz was mistakenly registered with a great finishing time at the New York City Marathon’s medical aid tent after taking the subway to the end of her debut race. She enjoyed the glory at work when peers lauded her for her fine finish and when the employer sent her to Boston, she replayed the same ruse, only to enter the Patriots Day competition way too early.

It’s the only story given two hours, and it’s compelling.

As for the other segments: Does anyone really need to know more about skater Tonya Harding?

Hands? Didn’t think so.

Anything to Win debuts Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. on GSN.

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