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Reality Roundup
March 15, 2005
by David Brown

When you’re stuck at home with a newborn baby in the frosty months of winter, you do some crazy things. Not crazy in the dance-naked-on-top-of-a-pool-table sense. No, I’m talking crazy enough to watch Judge Judy back-to-back at 3:00 and 3:30. Crazy enough to know every local news personality by name and astrological sign. And crazy enough to watch more reality television than one man should witness in a lifetime.

So since I’m a housebound reality TV expert with a few free moments before my daughter wakes up to discover she is not in my lap but in her crib, let me break down the current crop of crap for those of you who like to go out every once in a while and don’t have time to figure out which American Idol star can most entertainingly interpret the works of Marc Anthony.


The original reality series (if you don’t count The Real World, which was light years ahead of its time). Survivor broke the prime time network mold, and continues to dominate. I’m not sure why this show is still compelling—perhaps because I’ve destroyed my palette with hundreds of hours of bad TV—but it is. And this season, the producers have returned to the clever trick of forcing big-breasted ladies to wear little or no clothing while competing in physical challenges that challenge the limits of the bra industry. Contestants were forced overboard without benefit of clothing appropriate to the setting. The result is a lot of people running around in next to nothing, an experiment that has yielded mixed results. Eventually, this show will be all-nude, with models as contestants, and broadcast on pay-per-view.

Believe it or not, one of the biggest reasons for Survivor’s continued success is host Jeff Probst. Most reality shows feature wooden, expendable hosts who wear out their welcome on screen in mere seconds. But Probst is there to make sure things stay interesting, and he accomplishes this week after week by fueling the fires of infighting, lies, and jealousy by pitting the strong against the weak, the hard-working against the lazy, young against old, beautiful versus ugly, and sane versus psychotic. Jeff Probst is not afraid to be a prick, and he plays the role to perfection.

The Amazing Race

This show has just about run its course (get it?). It was compelling in the first season or two, although the idea of a bunch of rubes playing the ugly American across five continents, pushing around the meek and wretched in a desperate, greedy quest to further enrich their own standing as Winners was always grotesque. But even worse than the often appalling behavior of the contestants, the Amazing Race has turned into a predictable battle between Third World taxi drivers, each being berated to go faster in English as well as crude versions of their indigenous language (assuming that language is Spanish or that the contestants think the local language is Spanish). They really should rename this show "Which Cab is Faster", because inevitably, each week, cab drivers ultimately determine who wins each leg.

This show must be an absolute bear to produce. But there’s got to be a better way to do it. Make these people have to traverse Mongolia in the winter time. Good luck getting a cab at rush hour in Ulaanbaatar.

The Apprentice

This is my new favorite, probably because the contestants are mostly dim-witted, arrogant and flat-out nasty. And then there’s the host.

The Apprentice is pure Donald Trump: completely over the top, filled with self-promotion and not nearly as brilliant as its producers would have you believe. But that’s all part of the charm. The dramatic boardroom scenes are a joke, right down to the grim stares of Trump’s henchmen and his grand entrance from an anteroom after all the others are seated. (What is he doing in that room while he’s waiting on everybody to get settled? Reading? Opening his mail? Playing Grand Theft Auto?)

For a bunch of young go-getters with strong resumes and can-do attitudes, these idiot contestants come up with some really bad ideas. The whole show is hysterical. A recent episode featured a typical argument about who is screwing up the team that quickly spiraled into a young woman crying about how she considered cutting up her face in high school because she was so much more beautiful than all the other girls. And not for a second did I think she was insincere. God bless Donald Trump and the minions he inspires.

One more note about The Apprentice. This show leads the league in product placement. Each episode doubles as an advertisement for Yahoo, the Trump empire (Trump Tower, Trump National Golf Course, Trump Taj Mahal, etc.), and whatever product or company is worked into that week’s assignment. This show must cost nothing for NBC to produce. In fact, they probably make money on it before they sell one second of ad time.

Only one show can match the shamelessness of The Apprentice’s product placement...

American Idol

My God, you’re saying, Does he actually watch that show? Yes he does! And it’s on three times a week! It’s an annoying talent contest doubling as a billboard for Coke and Ford, hosted by a Level C teen idol and judged by; a) a former Laker Girl turned pop star whose talent is as questionable as her intellect; b) an effeminate Brit who is clearly the smartest guy in the room and looks really unhappy to even be involved with this show anymore; and c) Randy Jackson. I don’t know who Randy Jackson is or is supposed to be, but his affected hip-hop mannerisms and speech is as unconvincing as mine would be.

This show is simply about propping up the dreams of the stupid and delusional in order to trample all over them while embarrassing these fools for our own amusement. Honestly, what’s not to like?

The Contender

After watching the premier of the latest Mark Burnett production, I have to admit, I’m probably hooked (Sly had me at “Yo”). The fact that this show is about boxing was enough to pique my interest. But what’s most interesting about it is that this is truly a reality show. These guys are actual professional fighters, all middleweights looking for a title shot. And each time they fight in the show, the bout is a sanctioned fight that counts toward their record. These guys have a lot more at stake than some bartender from Seattle camping out on a beach in the South Pacific. And if you don’t appreciate that, then at least you get a five-round boxing match at the end of each episode.

Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but this show held my interest for almost two full episodes. That’s more than the average television program, so I feel compelled to mention it. Now forget I mentioned it.

(David Brown is a staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine)

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