Arrive Magazine, November-December 2003
Enough already with all this alternate-reality programming. It's time for a
show that really tells it like it is.
By Bruce Kluger
reality. During my childhood especially,
there was nothing like tossing off the
weighty affairs of the day (school, my
latest crush, completing my Batman
card collection) and settling in at the
tube to watch a shapely genie zap in
and out of her bottle, or a secret
agent talk into his shoe.
But that was then and this is now.
people playing Robinson (and Roberta) Crusoe on a real live island. At the end of
the day, the contestants’ victories—whether in the art of endurance or the craft of
craftiness—were somehow ours.
Over time, however, viewer fascination in reality programming has dimmed, as the
shows grow more absurd and less, well, real. I mean, who can relate to Fear
Factor's eating segments, in which a contestant can actually win $100,000 for
ingesting reindeer testicles? For the past 46 years, I’ve been forced to swallow my
aunt’s Christmas soup (ingredients unknown) and, so far, no one’s forked over so
much as a dime.
Yet Donald Trump may have saved the day. For his new show, The Apprentice,
rather than gathering a bunch of beautiful people to duke it out in paradise, he’s
taken a more realistic tack, hiring a pack of MBA-laden wannabes, putting them
through the corporate wringer, then firing one of them every week. Only one
contestant walks away with a six-figure salary. Now that’s what I call reality.
Keeping this in mind, maybe we’ll see some more cutting-edge reality programming
on TV this season. Happy viewing.
Who Wants to Marry a Loser? Good looks and big bucks count for nothing in this
edge-of-your-seat matchmaking game for “the least desirable dude on the planet.”
First-week contestant, Rowena Mittleman of Baltimore, Maryland, couldn’t ask for
anything more—uh, less—when she selects as her life-partner an unemployed
toupee model who still lives with his mom. The couple’s honeymoon destination? A
pot-luck dinner in the parking lot of Chuckie Cheese.
Trading Trailers: Goodbye Ethan Allen, hello Walmart. This blue-collar knockoff of
the popular Trading Places series—in which neighboring homeowners swap
abodes, then redecorate—is an instant hit in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where
thousands of trailer-dwellers catch the show each week via satellite dish. The fifth
episode, however, ends in dispute, when trailer-trader Doris Fagan is so enraged
that her neighbor, Selma, threw out her Chia Pet collection, she retaliates by
barbecuing Selma’s mudflaps. Although the show is immediately cancelled, the two
women go on to appear on Judge Judy, Celebrity Boxing and The Jerry Springer
Smear Factor: Dubbed “the first TV show in history to celebrate dissing your loved
ones behind their back!” this wacky free-for-all allows contestants to secretly listen
in as family and friends dish the dirt about them. In the first episode, Carl Jacoby of
Wilmington, Delaware, nearly walks off with the grand prize when he overhears his
golfing partner critique his game (“The guy putts like a putz”). But New Yorker Julie
Bettman is pronounced the big champ when she’s shown a clip of her wedding
video, which reveals her Maid of Honor whispering to a fellow bridesmaid: “She calls
that a wedding dress? It looks more like a drop cloth.”
The Weakest Shrink: Combining all the excitement of American Gladiator with the
smarts of a Discovery channel documentary on Sigmund Freud, this “mind-bending
elimination game” pits the nation’s leading psychoanalysts against one another in a
thrilling battery of athletic competitions. The season’s first winner—Dr. Elias
Spitsburg of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania—successfully dispatches his scrawnier
rivals in the final episode by lifting his 600-pound analyst’s couch over his head—
with the patient still on it. The season ends in scandal, however, when Spitsburg’s
million-dollar winner’s check bounces. Turns out the network’s HMO doesn’t cover
Three Supermodels, Two Gay Men and Bill O'Reilly: This creative attempt to
borrow from three popular hits—the E! Channel’s Wild On series, Bravo's Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy, and the Fox News Network’s The O’Reilly Factor —gathers
together a disparate group of cultural icons in the hopes of watching sparks fly. No
such luck. The show is abruptly cancelled in the middle of the first episode when
programmers discover that the contestants really don’t have anything to say to one