Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Reality Bites

The new fall season is upon us. Time to stop wondering what the heck is in the hatch, and start thinking about the identity of the poor bastard in the Applewhite basement. Also, it's time for me to obsess over the starts of reality shows.

The Apprentice

I know, I know...I said I'd give up on this. But I just had to tape the fourth season priemere last night. Just for the heck of it, here's the big speech Donald Trump gave to the troops:

"My name is Donald Trump. Maybe you've heard of me...I put my name everywhere in New York. I will do anything for attention, up to and including wearing a straw hat and overalls, and singing the theme to Green Acres with Megan Whasserface at the Emmys. See, I know that this show is average at best, and it won't win awards. But I had to upstage The Amazing Race. I hate that show. For the third year in a row, Phil Keoghan sent the losers kiwis. If there's one thing I hate, it's a New Zealander telling me that I can go eat him.

"Anyway...we all want to forget last season. I want to forget, Big Daddy Burnett wants to forget. I have succeeded in hunting down and killing most of the cast from that season. I personally put a silver stake into Kristen's heart. Chris? Took twenty of my best men to bring him down. Last I heard, we had some resistance....Tana, Craig, Bren and Danny were hiding underground in Europe. We'll smoke those fools soon.

"My point? I handpicked you brownnosers myself for maximum drama. I took a look at your psychological profiles, and brought in the most dramatic assholes I could. Markus...I noticed that you scrawled "MG + DT 4EVA" in your notebook about a thousand times. Normally, you'd be out on your ass with a restraining order, but I welcome the stalking this time. Melissa, you're very twisted and you kept saying you don't work well with other women because you're that good. Bring it on. Alla...jeezus in a birchback canoe, you are a friggin' car wreck. Read your profile on The Smoking Gun before my headshrinkers gave me their analysis of you. No freakin' way should you be gunning for this gig...but you're here anyway. And there's no way we'll be getting ratings unless one of you snaps and tries to kill me. I came so close with Chris, but I broke his spirit before firing him. Once somebody jumps over the desk and tries to pull a '187' on me, we get a fat 40 share, and I get to close the show on a high show.

"Behind me are two people who basically have to agree with everything I decide upon. George is basically my Albert to my Bruce Wade, whatever that means. Carolyn is the most overrated person in reality television. Yadda yadda yadda, eyes and ears while I'm the only person doing any real work. Also, I will occasionally trot out my three Apprentices. They're like the Iron Chefs, except Chairman Kaga never kept his boys in a windowless office. Do not ask them for advice. Do not make eye contact. If Kelly asks any of you women if he can 'check your box,' tell me immediately.

"Seeing how I never learn from my mistakes, I will divide you into teams of men and women. Gentlemen, any loss to the women in any task means that you should be wearing skirts and heavy lipstick. Over the next thirteen weeks, you will be competing in various tasks with companies good enough for you to have heard of them, but not good enough so they can skip the part where they kiss my ass. There's a new rule where winning team members vote on whether their Project Manager gets exempt from the Boardroom after the next task. Please be as mean and spiteful about that as possible.

"That's it. Your first task involves gym classes. Oh, and there's a helocopter on the premises. First team to have two members reach it gets to fly into the city. I bet you silly girls wished you hadn't worn those fancy heels, huh? And if you listen closely, you can hear this show jumping the shark yet again. Good luck, God bless, and release the hounds!"

I'm done. For real this time. There was more to this episode, including Randal's grandmother dying, and the unfamilar thought of "Shut up, Melissa!" bouncing through my head. But I had to make sure this wasn't worth watching, and I was right. I'll watch Survivor, post my thoughts in the forums, then watch Smallville on tape.

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart

Okay, so I understand that Martha Stewart is a certified bad ass. I realize that if I cut her off in traffic, I'd wake up with potpourri where my kidneys should be. But this show feels softer than Trump's version, and I feel it deserves your reality-starved attention. So how come it got smoked in the rating by a Lost recap special? How many newbies are there that didn't watch last season AND couldn't get the DVD?

In this edition, Martha asks the boys and girls to spin fairy tales for a modern audience. Like with Trump, Martha gives a monologue that ruins the surprise of which team goes into the big room to face her. The good news...idiot Project Manager Jeff was the first to walk the plank. The bad news? We got our first villain in Jim, a smirky, eye-rolling asshole who's trying to fill Omarosa's pointy shoes. The man is ten pounds of smug in a five pound bag, and waiting for him to get his just desserts might be enough for viewers to tune in every week.

What are the differences? Well, the theme song kicks ass: "Sweet Dreams" by The Eurythmics. Think of this possiblity: if Martha were to surpass The Donald in popularity, Trump's show could kick off with Marilyn Manson's cover. Imagine the once-cool shock rocker droning on Annie Lennox's lyrics, as a fully made-up and pierced Trump rides a pig to the Boardroom, tugging on a collared George and Carolyn. Martha also has a different line of "fire power"; instead of Trump's "you're fired," Martha has this: "You just don't fit in." Not quite as punchy as Trump. In a neat twist, after Jeff vacates the premises (and talks smack to Jim...who wouldn't?), Martha writes him a letter. Maybe the aftermath will be different each week. When Jim gets fired/dismissed/whatever, Martha could break an antique chair for the express purpose of beating him with the leg. Heaven help me, I might be coming back every Wednesday.

Survivor: Guatemala

This might be the most awesomely brutal season ever. If you're one of the sixteen first-time Survivors, you gotta wonder what you've gotten yourself into. Harsh tropical environment, eleven-mile death hike through the jungles, screeching howler monkeys barking in the early morning...oh, and just for the hell of it, Mark Burnett brought back Stephanie and Bobby Jon from Palau. This is scary, since those two know how the game is played. Okay...they know how to get their butts kicked by the likes of Coby, Janu and Willard. It's funny how Jeff Probst never brings that up.

So far, nobody has made an effort to step up to take hero and villain roles. The most hyped ongoing plot involves Gary the ex-NFL quarterback trying to keep his past a secret. With Bobby Jon and Steph coming on board, the heat looked to be off Gary...until Danni (sports radio host) blurted out something to raise the paranoia during a challenge. Most of the folks kinda blend together, with a few recognizable shapes thrown in (Judd the burly doorman, Lydia the fishmonger who looks kinda like Mama Solis). The first two votes were unamious affairs, as we said goodbye to Jim (fire captain, broke a bicep on the long hike) and Morgan (magician's assistant, didn't work much at the camp). Also, Bobby Jon and Stephanie finally won immunity challenges, so they're officially on the rebound. It's still too early to tell where this season will go or who will win, but it'll be worth watching to find out.

Battle Of the Network Reality Stars

Anybody smell that? Aaaaaah, the soothing aroma of bullshit.

As I look through the forums, I see people happy that the so-called "Underdog" team won the final mission. Yes, I've liked the down-and-outs in the past. Hell, I was the conductor of the Sarah Greyson love train during The Gauntlet. But I have two problems with the finale:

1. To me, underdogs should be lovable, worth rooting for. Nikki McKibbin? I still remember her letting Omarosa in her empty head during the reality "star" episode of Fear Factor. Rachel Love Fraser? She won The Swan...big whoop. Mirna Hindoyan? Reverted back to her hysterics after being voted off Team Miz, then rubbed the win in Heidi's face, to the point where Heidi called her "trash." Brian Worth? He's an "Average Joe," so whatever. Adam Mesh? Same as Brian, but he's fugly, obnoxious, and flapped his yap about Coral while she was recovering from an injury. Bradford Cohen? If he didn't waive his exemption and put his onions on the line during The Apprentice, there's a good chance Ivana would've been canned, and the second season might not have sucked as hard as it did.

2. The finale was rigged. First, the teams had to shoot basketballs from different spots. The heavily-favored Team Miz gets a good start, while the Underdogs flounder. Next task: players sink putts from different distances. The Mizzies finish that first. Third task: arrange colors on a board to represent where each team finished in every competition. The Underdogs were folks voted out from three different teams. How is that not an advantage. After the Underdogs breeze past the Mizzies (and Mike probably gets wicked awful flashbacks from The Gauntlet and The Inferno), I watch in horror as the Underdogs got $10,000 apiece, none of whom deserved it. I figure that Mirna can be proud that she's 1/100th as successful as Chip & Kim, Nikki can buy 20,000 of her albums, and the guys can pay to have sex...because how else are they going to get it? Those six went into BONRS as losers, and they walk away losers with money.

All in all, a dissapointing finish to a promising series. While Chip's lack of fire might have hampered his team in the end, I still wanted to smack Susan and Theo for ripping into him. If Theo really did have problems with Chip's leadership, may he come back next time under the guidance of Colin Guinn. I'm sure Mr. Broken Ox himself could teach Theo about having some fire. On the bright side? This wasn't Kill Reality. I peeked into that atrocity a few times, and I'm glad I didn't stay for the duration. As for BONRS? You have to be crazy to accept the end results as a good thing...just like this guy.

The Amazing Race

Had a bad omen today. Got up a little after 7:30 a.m. to record TAR-related bits from The Early Show...and I missed them completely. Had to sit through segment after segment, including an interview with Denise Richards (plugging her show on UPN, which is CBS's red-headed stepchild station), and a not-live concert from Bon Jovi ("Have a Nice Day"? Are they kidding me?!?) I did see the material online...the Schroeder family coming back to their wrecked home in New Orleans. Before their return, they stayed with the Rodgers family in Shreveport. At least some good came from the iffy idea that is Family Edition.

Last week, the show won its third Emmy. Of course, since the folks who run the show aren't that gung-ho about the genre, they brought in Blue Man Group to reveal the winner. I'm sorry, but I had to mentally insert a painted David Cross into the scene, crying about how it took three hours to blue himself. From what I've heard, the only team that was there was Uchenna & Joyce. While I didn't like Rob & Amber's inclusion in TAR7, bringing them in would've rubbed salt in Mark Burnett's wounds. Think about it...maybe for TAR9, they could bring in Kwame & Troy, just to piss Trump off.

As we wait for TAR8 to start (less than five hours as I write this), GSN will finish off TAR6 tomorrow night. The way I see things, it was as if all the good karma involved in Chip & Kim winning the prior season was squeezed out, leaving the evil and stupid teams to thrive. I know Avi & Joe deserved their boot for trying to find a clue in a seven square-mile lagoon and for not following Gus & Hera to the Pit Stop, when they could've rushed past Gus. I know Meredith & Maria earned their ejection for not knowing to drive a stick shift. But after seeing Lena struggle with a hay-rolling Roadblock, while five teams whizzed by her and sister Kristy despaired on the sidelines? That was a huge sign. And those were two Mormon women who weren't annoying, which hurt worse (I wasn't that bugged by Neleh Dennis, but I heard that Carmen Ramussen was an awful singer. Julie Stoffer? Come on, do I really need to explain what I don't like about her?)

There were many screw-ups along the way, including frequent bunching and poor race design. Those that irritated got to overstay their welcome. I still get mad thinking about Jonathan & Victoria, the biggest black mark in the history of the show. It was morbid fun to look into the BONRS thread and see new people recoil from how big a jackass Jonathan was. After he and his abused wife were eliminated, the crowds rejoiced. In the next leg: bunching, bunching, Detour, bunching, Roadblock, finish. The end result: likable wrestlers Lori & Bolo were eliminated, and we were stuck with three teams who bugged.

The only hope for a happy ending came from Kris & Jon, the long-distance dating couple. In my mind, they were an experiment to combine the racing know-how of Colin & Christie with the lovablity of John Vito & Jill. They got along with each other, they didn't have too many scares, and everything ranged from "sweet!" to "this sucks!" But they never got unruly. In contrast, there was bickering couple Hayden & Aaron, alternative wussy boy Adam and emasculating shrew Rebecca, and empty suit Freddy and foot-in-mouth bitch Kendra. Going into that final episode at TARCon, most of us were pulling for Kris & Jon to win...but they had some bad luck with a travel agent, and Freddy & Kendra won the damn Race. Worse, they didn't show up at TARCon. I mean, Flo came to TARCon 3, and just about everybody despised her at the time (a collegaue of mine and a friend showed up in matching "Shut Up, Flo!" t-shirts). Colin dropped by TARCon 5, where many fans wore homemade "My Ox Is Broken!" t-shirts. Heck, Jonathan dropped by...but he's probably of the "no publicity is bad publicity" mindset. This was as close as I wanted to get to the festering wound of a man. This woman? Wasn't as fortunate.

Still, I'm hoping for the best for TAR8. I read part of an article on TV Guide (had to slam on the brakes at a spoiler warning), and the first task is very unique. I'm hoping that the level of quality remains the same, and that having kids doesn't drive viewers to other shows. At worst, it should be a mild distraction on the way back to the two-person format.

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