Benza Gets Bounced
Originally posted: October 23, 2009

Text by: Cyndi Seidelman

I am a huge fan of High Stakes Poker, I've watched it ever since the first episode of the first season and have been hooked ever since. Whether it be the players putting over $100,000 of their own money at risk, some great table talk, or watching Phil Hellmuth blow up after somebody draws out or beats him at a pot always makes for great television. Aside from that, what makes this show great is the commentators. AJ Benza and Gabe Kaplan have great chemistry together. They play off each other really well, and both of them seem quite enjoy each other in the booth. Now, after Season 5, we get an announcement that GSN will produce an unprecidented 6th Season of the show, tying it with Lingo for the most season for a GSN show. Then on Saturday, AJ Benza announced on his blog that he was canned from the popular show.

To me, this is a huge blow for the show. One of their main cornerstones of the show and someone who has really improved his hosting style because of the show is now being shown the door. According to Benza, he said he'd even take a pay cut to stay on the show. Unfortunately, GSN execs, mainly Vice President David Schiff thought different. They said they won't renew his contract and the new co-host will be female. Personally, I perfer performance to looks, but if they want to put a woman on there, then they have a good pool of female poker experts to select as their new host. I will miss Benza as host of High Stakes Poker, but if GSN wants a female to host the show, then I can name 3 great female replacements for Benza off the top of my head.

1: Annie Duke. Her star is shining right now after her appearance on The Celebrity Apprentice and being screwed out of the title thanks to Joan Rivers and crew. She not only has the knowledge, but the accolades to back it up. She was the 2004 WSOP Tournament of Champions Winner, has hosted her own special on GSN entitled "Annie Duke Vs. the World", has hosted GSN Live and is well liked by the network. To me, she is the front runner.

2: Shana Hiatt. The former co-host of the World Poker Tour, Poker After Dark and the National Heads-Up Championship would do well with this show. Not unlike Duke, she has played in a handful of tournaments as well. Although in 2008, she left the latter 2 shows because of pregnancy, I do believe she'll be back in the game come February 2010, whether with NBC's shows or with Kaplan on High Stakes Poker.

3: Vanessa Rousso. Although recently, she has denied that she has officially replaced Benza, her name has been the most bandied about by the poker news magazines and websites. Even Doyle Brunson himself said that she'd make a great host for the show, if she did replace Benza. Honestly, it seems to me that she has gotten the job, but is denying it for confidentiality reasons or just waiting for GSN to officially announce it. Honestly, I'd place her in between Shana Hiatt and Annie Duke, with Duke getting the official nod in a couple of weeks.

But back to Benza for right now. He really got the royal screwjob here. Although GSN has never sent him for any promotions or anything, he's been promoting High Stakes Poker, and the rest of GSN on his own time, and dime. That's saying something about Benza. He really enjoyed this job, and GSN decided, for whatever reason, to say no more to Benza, even though he's one of the better hosts on the network, poker show or not. Seeing how GSN's levels of stupidity have been going the past 6 months i.e. Game Show Awards, Big Saturday Night, Wanting to make Carnie Wilson one of the faces of the network etc., it wouldn't surprise me if they put in someone who has no experience whatsoever on there, or worst yet, put Carnie on that show. I am feeling bad vibes for Season 6, but let's hope I'm wrong.

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