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Judgment Day

A young redhead stepped before the panel of judges sitting in a darkened hall and began selling herself.

“My name is Jolissa, I‘m from Fountain Valley, I’ve been a forklift driver, I worked in a plastic surgeon‘s office, and I’ve been to Las Vegas 15 times this year.”

“What are your parents‘ names?” a judge asked.

“Dumb and Dumber!”

The judges laughed, politely asked a few more questions and thanked the woman goodbye. In the afternoon sunlight outside, a line of women in their 20s and dressed in low-slung jeans and peekaboo tops wound out onto the balcony of Highlands, a gymnasium-size club perched on the top of the Hollywood and Highland shopping center. They had come here last week for a chance to claim the throne of a queen -- Brooke Burke, the sassy bathing-suit icon who hosts E!’s travelogue program Wild On, was abdicating the show to move on to other projects (i.e., she‘s turned 30).

Wild On is all about coming to terms with the world through bikinis, shopping, tequila-drinking contests and occasional interfaces with nature, but mostly through bikinis. A typical episode may begin with Burke, her boisterous body smothered by a wetsuit, petting a dolphin in some Florida aquarium but only to segue to a visit with the Miami Dolphins’ cheerleaders. Or, if the scene opens on a pristine waterfall erupting out of a rain forest, you can be sure it splashes on a bevy of buxom young women gamboling very much like dolphins in a lagoon below.

Today‘s auditions kicked off an eight-city tour to anoint a successor to Burke, who couldn’t be here because she‘d just given birth to her second child; instead, the club was adorned with photographic cutouts of the former Bally’s Gym model in a bathing suit. A formidable queue of young pretenders stretched near the club‘s plate-glass windows, each contestant with her audition number written on a pink plastic bracelet.

The six judges (all but KROQ’s Ralph Garman were from E!) sat at a long table onstage; after a woman‘s ID was checked against her name and age, she would spend four minutes being asked about half a dozen questions, which went something like this: “Are you a fearless woman? What’s the wildest thing you‘ve done? Why should you be a host of Wild On? Where have you traveled? Where would you like to visit?” Some answers were:

“Wild On needs me because I’m fearless and can be the center of attention and wrestle with the dolphins.”

“I‘m wild but conservative to some degree, and I’m well-spoken and articulate and I love the camera.”

“I‘d love to go to Ibiza.”

“I’ve never been anywhere.”

“I haven‘t been to Ibiza and it’s driving me crazy.”

“I‘m fearless but haven’t had all the opportunities to do all the crazy stuff I want to.”

“I‘ve been to Tahiti, and I’ve swum with dolphins in Mexico. I‘m a down-to-earth person, and that’s important.”

One woman, when asked if she was fearless, apparently thought of the show‘s recurring aquatic scenes. “I think sharks are scary,” she said. Then, realizing her blunder, continued: “But I know I could overcome my fear of them.”

One of the event’s logistical snags seemed to be the geological pace of the line‘s movement; another problem was that these women, many of whom hadn’t eaten for hours, were buying cocktails that Highlands obligingly sold for $10.

A woman named Stephanie had pulled out of line and sat nursing a drink.

“My girlfriend made me come,” she said, sounding a little drunk and stoic. “I‘m just trying to have fun. I’m not expecting anything.” She looked around at all the would-be Brookes. “How do you compete with this?”

Audition numbers 138 and 143 belonged to Danielle and Tiffany, a pair of Asian-American locals.

“We live in Pasadena,” Tiffany said, “but go to school back east, in Pomona.”

The two seemed to take the show-bizzy surroundings and long wait in stride.

“We want to be on camera,” Danielle said. “A lot of these girls are actresses, but we study marketing, so we should be able to sell ourselves.”

A few other contestants were lounging on the club‘s sun-splashed balcony. One, a freckled drag queen sipping a Long Island iced tea (“It’s a perfect audition drink”) was circumspect about her competition.

“They‘re all blond bitches in denim,” she said, the sun glinting on her russet sideburns. “Everyone’s got bimbo hair and their shoes say the same thing. It‘s all Rampage and Express -- who wears them anymore?”

Micah McCain -- who also identified herself as Bridget of Madison County -- described her own look as “upscale casual femmie” and explained Wild On’s appeal to her:

“It‘s like Road Rules without the drama, Survivor with booze. Take me to all the exotic lands and give me good clothes, a free entourage and money -- I’m up for it. That‘s a dream come true.”

Inside, the line continued its imperceptible shuffle. Blond twins from Park City, Utah, were sharing an apple martini; they told the Weekly of their hope that the novelty of identical-sister hosts would appeal to E!

“We have spunk, we’re crazy!” said Maile (or was it Cassie?).

They considered questions about standards of beauty and role models.

“Look at her -- Brooke,” Maile or Cassie instructed, nodding at one of the Brooke Burke cutouts.

“I‘m sure she really drinks at those tequila contests,” her sister said, when asked if Burke actually participates in the show’s ostentatious boozing. “She has to -- she‘d want to!”

On the stage the judges were momentarily bewitched by a celebrity applicant -- a woman named Kelly who’d once been a castaway on Survivor.

“I was the star, let‘s face it,” she confessed. “But I’m in front of you lovely people, and that‘s all that matters.”

Inevitably, Kelly’s interrogators wanted to know about her being voted off the island.

“I didn‘t mind the craziness,” she replied calmly, her hand on a hip, “because I wanted to be on camera.”

With its beach locales and daredevil stunts, Wild On is a first cousin to Survivor and extreme-sports shows. More than this, it has boldly stepped forward to declare the Zeitgeist to be one long spring break, or at least, one big wet T-shirt contest. In the new global division of equatorial labor, people are either models and tropical partiers on the one hand, or doormen and tour guides on the other -- which is why a better title for the show might be Gringos in Paradise.

Kelly got more than four minutes and left her jury with a benediction to “Have a wonderful rest of your life.”

Outside, on the balcony, a waiter offered Micah McCain a tray of food.

“What are we serving?” the drag queen inquired.

“It’s $3,” the young man replied. “Chicken salad, sir. Incredibly delicious -- and you‘ll win. Chicken’s good protein, good for the body.”