>>> Bang for Your Buck
By staff writer David Nelson
November 13, 2005

Essential New Word of the Week: mimelestation (definition hint: silent abuse)

It might not be cool to admit it, but I'm a fan of reality TV. If a group of former celebrities are singing their way through a business task in order to get off an island, chances are I'll be watching. It's no wonder, really, when you think about how crappy scripted shows have been lately. I guarantee you, you're not going to see a lot of sexy hot tub dates if you watch CSI, and very few episodes of Desperate Housewives will feature the cast having to eat Malaysian Hissing Cockroaches. Once, there were a handful of reality shows I could turn to after a long day in order to rest my massive brain. Now, the market has become so oversaturated that, in order to fill a half-hour time slot, TV execs can just send some dude with a camera into the wilderness, hope he doesn't die, and call it a reality show. It's getting harder and harder to defend the integrity of the genre. And social critics are lining up to say “I told you so.”

Most people think reality TV is a relatively new development in broadcast television. Don't forget, though, a little show called Cops made stars out of many a shirtless, coked-up, abusive husband. But you never get to meet them at conventions, oh no. Also, the reanimated corpse of Allen Funt was screwing with people's heads on Candid Camera long before Ashton Kutcher would take his dong out of Bruce Willis' wife long enough to make Punk'd. So, it's a genre that has some staying power, but industry experts are claiming, through the use of trained helper monkeys, that reality is on its last legs. Where did it go wrong?

“Strangely enough, a lesbian version of Queer Eye would never work, because, outside the world of pornography, most lesbians make it their business to look as gross as possible.”

There are really four main archetypes of a reality show. The first is your standard garden-variety reality competition. Contestants are placed in adverse or humiliating circumstances in order to win fabulous cash prizes. The second is a candid reality show, where D-list celebrities allow you access to their wacky lives. The third is “how-to” reality, where a lucky person's house, car, face, or pet is given a makeover. The fourth is a reality dating show, where they find a hot guy or girl gather a group of suitors for him/her, immediately dismiss anyone who isn't white, and force them to go on awkward dates that end in hot tubs. Let's take a little tour of these shows and see if there's any cause for hope.

Reality Competition


This was the type of show that brought me into the fold. When I first saw Survivor, I thought it was just about the best thing ever. It used to be a show about surviving, with a competitive element. Now, it’s degenerated into a bunch of whiny idiots bragging to the camera about their mastermind schemes. That’s the sort of thing only superheroes need to watch, so they know what to expect when they’re suspended over a vat of acid, listening to Dr. Nefarious reveal his evil plan. Over the years, contestants have had just enough name-recognition to convince them to branch out into other projects. There have been film roles, motivational books, and even sex tapes. What galls me is, some of these people lasted less than a week on the show. That's not an ordeal, that's just camping. I have a rougher time visiting my parents.

Recent editions of the show have featured a deaf girl and a guy with a prosthetic leg. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before they stick a guy with Downs Syndrome or something in the middle of the Amazon. And let's face it, voting him out ain't gonna be easy for anyone.

Big Brother:
From what I could tell based on my 4 1/2 minutes of observation, this is a show where beautiful people live in a house and give each other oil rubdowns. Seriously, Big Brother, like many pioneering shows, was actually imported from Europe. This is why we saved those guys from Hitler's undead brain? Even though there are slightly voyeuristic overtones, nobody on the show is ever doing anything worth looking at. And if I want to indulge my inner voyeur, there are better places to do it, like on my balcony with a pair of binoculars, or on the internet.

If I were writing this article three years ago, I would have made a joke about how the show could be improved by, instead of voting contestants off, having them fight for the privilege of remaining. Well, it's clearly time to start wrapping my head in tin foil again, because the executives at Spike TV have been rummaging around in there. In The Ultimate Fighter, a bunch of dudes live in a house, compete for various perks and privileges and fight each other once a week in order to stay on the show. Mixed martial arts is still an emerging sport, but I can safely say that, if all tournaments were framed by a reality show, the movie Bloodsport, starring Jean Claude Van Damme, would not have been the cinematic work of genius it’s known as today.

American Idol:
Since when did singing become so damn important? Why the hell isn't there a “Breast Cancer Research Idol,” where mean British judges evaluate contestants' attempts to isolate cancerous cells. Now, I'm not American, but from what I could gather from your popular media, future archaeologists will debate to what extent the U.S.A. based it's entire civilization around this show, and also, whether Ruben should have beaten Clay. If you think about it, all a judge can really say is whether a singer was good or not. After several million performances, the judges have become quite proficient at stretching “good” or “bad” into three-minute monologues. Except for the fat black guy, who just says things like, “Yo dog, you threw it down. It was just alright, dog. Yeah.” He says this to lull contestants into a false sense of confusion-induced security, prior to cooking and eating them.

The Apprentice:
Donald Trump may fly his golden jet into his diamond mansion, where his model wife wipes her ass with thousand dollar bills, but there's one thing he can't buy: umm….a unicorn. This show used to be good, but now every product in the world is clamoring to be at the centre of one of the challenges. It's probably not long until we see the contestants in the middle of Times Square, demonstrating the proper use of the Trump Douche, in order to “create buzz.”

The Apprentice has been so successful that other countries have been rushing to produce their own versions. Including, I’ve now heard, China. Surely this is the final nail in Communism’s coffin. Rumor has it the ghost of Mao will lead contestants in the challenges. It is not known whether he will charge families for the cost of the bullet he will use to execute the creators of poorly thought out marketing plans.

Fear Factor:
I have some questions for whoever originally thought up this show. My first question is, what the god damn hell is wrong with you? My second question is, if the contestants are challenging their fear of, say, tigers, why are they in red spandex? Are they trying to distract them with their chiseled groin bulges? My third and most important question is: Why does this show start with a warning that these stunts are dangerous and I shouldn't attempt them? You morons thought a show about attention whores eating armadillo testicles should be on during prime time, and now your condescending ass has the nerve to warn me not to re-enact such stunts? You try calling a construction foreman and saying, “Hi, would you mind dangling a rope from your tallest crane? I want to put on a bikini, fill my mouth with scorpions, and jump for it blindfolded. Trust me, after your cellmate has his way with you, fear will be a factor.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire:
This show provided all the fun of watching a family member being tortured to death. Regis Philbin, later replaced by QuizShowBot 2000, would give contestants multiple choice questions that the show's writers might have been asked by their kids that very morning. If I had to describe the format of the show to curious aliens in ten words or less, I would say, “Some retardedly easy questions, followed by some impossibly hard ones.” The moronic questions prove that the deterioration of the American educational system has finally caught up with their game shows. It's not like British quizzes I’ve seen, where you'll have to go to faggy plays and obtain a doctorate in quantum mechanics to win. No, if you put your socks on by yourself this morning, you'll excel at Who Wants to be a Millionaire. For example, you might be asked what country borders Spain, and all the answers except the correct one will be names of candy bars. Seriously, I once slipped on a banana peel and fell on a cream pie while wetting my pants, but now that I look back on it, that's not nearly as embarrassing as missing an early question on this show.

Contestants are reduced to hysterical weeping after being bombarded with “IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER??!!??” I understand legal liability and all, but did he get his game show training from interrogating war prisoners? I've heard the home version is just a third grade textbook and a stun gun. Even though this show was designed by experts for maximum unwatchability, it once got huge ratings. It might be our dream of watching an idiot win lots and lots of free money, but it could also be because most Americans were mesmerized by Regis' monochrome ties/hair.

Candid Reality

The Osbournes:
Don't get me wrong, I liked “Crazy Train” as much as the next guy, but there's only so many times I can watch a shambling cokehead pick up dog poop in his living room.What really made this show so popular was watching the legendary rocker's chubby, spoiled, untalented children fight amongst themselves. I never thought I would see kids more in need of a sack-beating. Then, Growing Up Gotti came along. But I'm not complaining. I wish my dad was a Mafioso or a rock star so I could slap around my Mexican gardener while wearing a coat made out of Eskimos and boning my nanny.

Take a Britney Spears clone and her D-list husband and follow them around with cameras during their first year of wedded bliss. Sounds like a desperate move by MTV to recapture the faded Osbournes glory. And somehow, it worked. The show rocketed past Ozzy and crew in terms of ratings, and Jessica Simpson's solo album shot up the charts and landed her a sitcom and a movie role. Much has been made over Jessica's tuna/chicken confusion and other obvious inanities. But through it all, I said, “Meh.”

Fame is no longer something that Depression-era cabaret performers would commit grisly murders just to obtain. Shows like these have become the Zen riddles of the entertainment world. Does Jessica Simpson have a show because she’s famous, or is she famous because she has a show? The answer, of course, is “boobies.”

The Surreal Life:
Imagine if you will, six or seven former celebrities who still have giant egos being forced to live together in a mansion for two weeks and do all sorts of crazy activities like visit a nudist colony and take surfing lessons. Sounds like a great show, right? Well, it was, but the first season was only slightly marred by the presence of Corey Feldman, who I've always viewed as the mysterious lump on society's testicles. Subsequent seasons have given us TV gold, such as Mini-Me pissing in a corner, Flava Flav hitting on mutant Brigitte Nielsen, and Ron Jeremy giving Tammy Faye a massage. Some day, God willing, I'll be on this show.

The Simple Life:
If I'm watching Paris Hilton, and she's not grainy and naked, then clearly film has been wasted. The premise here is that two rich young socialites are sent to rural America. Isn't it about time the entertainment industry, as a whole, put a moratorium on “fish-out-of-water” premises? I'm sorry, it wasn't funny when Balki came to live with cousin Larry, it wasn't funny when three New York Jews went on a cattle drive with Jack Palance, and it's not funny to see Paris and Nicole Ritchie pluck chickens. They're not good at a lot of things, we get it. They could have stuck Paris and Nicole in war-torn Bosnia, and the show really wouldn't have been any more or less funny.

How-to Reality

Trading Spaces:
This show gets two neighboring families to agree to renovate one another's homes. And if you think this sounds like a good idea, you’ve clearly never watched in horror as your neighbors demonstrate their sense of style by putting out lawn jockeys next to pink flamingos. Come on, people! Thankfully, experts are always around to do the work and the show pays for all the renovations. I think this takes the edge out of the show somewhat. I'd like to see how many families trust their neighbors without this support. Everyone on this show carries a tape measure. Therefore, I presume that, in addition to renovation, there are also frequent dick-measuring contests.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy:
This is a makeover/renovation show with the twist that the improvements are supervised by five gay guys. So, clearly, this is a show that embraces stereotypes. The producers already have a show in the pipe about how Mexicans are mostly gardeners, and another one reinforcing that black people are hilariously afraid of ghosts. Now that conservative morons are ruining America, shows like this are important. They demonstrate that, even though a man might prefer the back of another man's ass, he can still be good at things like cooking, hygiene, and interior design. I don't know if I would personally trust them. The back of a man's ass (that's the part that gay men want to have sex with) is one of the most horrible sights in the animal kingdom. And if you think it's attractive, I'm not sure I want you in charge of my new look.

Strangely enough, a lesbian version of this show would never work. Why? Because, outside the world of pornography, most lesbians make it their business to look as gross as possible. The show would sound like: “Hey, make this part of her hair uglier, it's still not lopsided enough. Also, tear the sleeves off this plaid shirt. No, not with scissors, you walking penis. With your teeth. Make it look like she got hit by a lawnmower. She has a rugby game later today, she needs to look her worst.”

Dating Reality

Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire:
This show is often remembered for starting the FOX network's inexorable slide to Gomorrah. It was just a one-time airing, but something like twenty million people saw it. Several years later, it’s safe to say that anybody who has ever stood in line at a grocery store probably knows as much about the show as anyone else. It was more or less a beauty contest, but instead of getting a tiara and a song from host/penis mutilator Bob Barker, the winner became, in essence, history's highest paid prostitute.

Because it aired a long time ago, I don't remember that much about it, but I do remember that the first thing the mysterious millionaire did with his new purchase was slobber all over it. Just like after you buy a ham sandwich! Before she could even say hello to him, his tongue was already down her throat. I think it was very ballsy of him to try to kiss his new merchandise. Didn't he see Pretty Woman? If he had, he would have known that heart-of-gold prostitutes never want to be kissed on the mouth. You can cover them in ranch dressing and duct tape their hair to the wall, but kissing is out of the question. This show couldn't have been more repelling if each contestant was covered in pig manure, and the millionaire turned out to be the corpse of Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.

The Bachelor:
A gormless, unappealing dork wades through a harem of would-be actresses and models in order to find true love. Contestants are eliminated in overwrought, tacky “Rose Ceremonies,” in which every girl but one is given a rose and allowed to continue, and the lone undesirable is dropped, via secret trap door, into a pit full of vipers. The people who make the advertisements for this show in particular are masters of hyperbole. The first Rose Ceremony set the standard. The next was the “Rose Ceremony you have to see.” Then, “The most dramatic Rose Ceremony ever!” Now, several seasons in, they make claims like “If you don't see THIS Rose Ceremony, Dracula will come and eat your face!”

The Bachelorette:
See above, only in reverse.

Temptation Island:
Hey, I’m a sleazebag too, but even I can see that trying to break up couples by rubbing horny hot people on them is pretty low. Nice show, TV executives, maybe next time you could just arrange for an island full of elderly nuns to resort to cannibalism.

So, are there any lessons to be learned from these, and other shows? It seems clear that if there is a line of quality and good taste, reality shows crossed it long ago. Now it’s time to produce some really entertaining television. Like the worm-eating kid at school, there are countless people willing to humiliate themselves, just so we’ll look at them. I say we should be rushing to take advantage of that.

Essential New Word of the Week:
mimelestation \majm’lEst’eshun\ n: The act of being molested by a mime. You've all seen mimes. You know how these god damn street performers approach you and pretend they're in a glass box or something. I fucking hate mimes. I mean, everybody hates them somewhat, but I hate them with the fury of a thousand nuns. This word was generated in Las Vegas, when a mime snuck up behind me silently (is there any other way for a mime to sneak up on you?) and tickled my ear with a feather. However, I didn't react in the usual way, which, presumably, is to swat the area around your ear for the insect you think is there. No, rather, I immediately started screaming like a little girl: “Help, I'm being molested!” I actually screamed this. Out loud. In public. I'll close this entry by making an observation. There are many forms of artistic expression in the world: music, architecture, nude oil wrestling…but nothing is as universally despised as mime.