By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
SO THE QUESTION THAT BEGS ASKING: Are the contestants turned into psychos, or are they psychos waiting to happen? It wasn’t enough that “Boston” Rob Mariano lied his way through Survivorso that his showmance Amber Brkich could win the million-dollar prize. But CBS was so happy with this couple that viewers loved to hate, they unleashed them on The Amazing Race to do even more dastardly deeds — like driving past a rival duo’s rolled-over truck and a hurt cameraman. “There was no way we were stopping,” Rob said about the wreck as they zipped by.
CBS allowed the knife-wielding Sebik on Big Brothereven though the network could have checked into Sebik’s criminal record and known he’d been arrested twice on assault charges. Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen stepped closer to the cliff’s edge on that score: the show purposely hired an ex-con as a contestant. The point presumably was that, every time he got angry (which was disturbingly often), viewers would wonder if he’d stick a shiv in someone.
MTV’s Real World: Key West has ratcheted up the danger factor from angry words to angry slaps to angry drunks. But to boost ratings for its 17th season, Real World:Key West just featured its most damaged cast member yet: Paula Meronek, whose host of problems included bulimia, depression, drinking and an abusive relationship. The show that once seriously delved into hot-button issues like homosexuality, AIDS, racism, religion and abortion was now purposely pushing someone’s buttons to have that person implode on air. (No doubt, Kurt Loder would narrate the MTV special about her suicide.)
Until now, the worst accusation against Reality TV, besides its obnoxious product placement and general dumb-assedness, was its obvious dishonesty.
Much has been written and aired about just how far contestants, editors and producers go in the name of big ratings, from reenacting scenes to falsely editing footage to bringing in professional writers to help contestants with their dialogue (prompting a public campaign to unionize the writers of reality television). New lingo like “overdubbing” and “frankenbiting” has emerged to describe Reality TV’s effective brand of manipulation. But the practices continue because these shows operate in complete secrecy. Contestants often sign ironclad nondisclosure forms, and the media are rarely allowed on the set or in the editing room during production.
Like all things Hollywood, what’s at stake is money, and gobs of it. CBS, for example, reportedly collects $390K for each 30-second spot during Survivor — although this year’s race-baiting season is losing sponsors like General Motors.
Back to Big Brother All-Stars, which concludes on September 12. Boogie used most of his time on national network television as an opportunity for guerrilla marketing his extensive L.A.-area restaurant network, which includes Dolce, Geisha House, Bella Cucina Italiana, and Les Deux (whose T-shirts he wears 24/7). “It’s our show, and these bitches think they’re going to steal it from us,” he told the cameras. It’s high time viewers steal it back. Since CBS and other networks won’t discipline Reality TV contestants for their brutal behavior, the audience needs to do it for them. Several Internet forums have suggested boycotting Boogie’s feeding troughs. That’s one way to tame this beast.