The other night I was channel surfing, and landed on an absolutely gorgeous, sweeping, aerial shot of St. Lucia. Now I'm a sucker for just about anything that has the Caribbean in it, so I landed there, only to discover to my horror that what I was watching was The Bachelor
. Now, one of my co-workers had told me last week that his wife watches this show, and since he is an intelligent fellow with presumably an intelligent wife, I decided to hunker down with this mess and see what the fuss is about.
Apparently this was the finale, which involved some lantern-jawed guy with pec implants deciding between a pretty, sort-of-normal looking girl with lovely honey-colored hair, and a vapid-faced bleached blond with the gaping mouth of an inflatable sex doll and huge pneumatic fake hooters. That anyone still thinks reality TV is the way to find a life partner is appalling, no matter how gorgeous the location shooting is. But to make a long story short, I'm watching Mr. Fake Pecs describe Pretty Girl as "perfect...warm...loving...would make a great wife", and Big Boobs Blondie as "fun...I feel like a kid when I'm with her", and I immediately knew that Pretty Girl didn't have a snowball's chance in hell with this guy. I had to turn it off when Pretty Girl was driven away from Perfect Location, tears beginning to stain her golden gown, babbling about true love while the cameras were rolling.
It's enough to make you realize what a smart show Survivor
is by comparison, even if it IS the show that started all this crap in the first place.
This season, Mark Burnett and the other Powers That Be couldn't resist another "All-Stars" show to celebrate Survivor
's 20th season. This was a big mistake the last time, and it's an even bigger one now, because it's becoming more difficult to recruit ordinary people who want to do this, and the show over the last few seasons has been dominated by Los Angeles famewhores that the casting people pick up in bars. That was one of the reasons why the Tocantins season, with its odd and endearing bromance between the wide-eyed and adorable Alabamian James (J.T.) Thomas and the nerdy, anxious New Yorker Stephen Fischbach, was one of the best -- it reminded us of what can happen on this show when the compelling narratives involve people who wanted to play the game, not get into show business. Today, everyone who goes on this show knows the score, and it culminated with the Gollum-like troll Russell Hantz, who sucked up all the oxygen on Samoa (and all the memory in the cameras) by being outrageous last season.
This season needed a different twist, so the theme is "Heroes vs. Villains". The problem with yet another "All-Stars" is that you tend to get the famewhores rather than people you'd actually want to see again. There's no Bob Crowley here, or Yul Kwon. Instead we get a THIRD viewing of Parvati Shallow's vamping and a fourth of Stephenie LaGrossa's scary Jersey Shore eyebrows. And even the players who originally landed on the show by accident have a knowing quality they lacked before. Cirie Fields was the woman who was afraid of leaves, but by her third crack at the show, she was now regarded as one of the game's great strategists. J.T. has clearly found that a million bucks and killer eyelashes are good for getting laid a lot. Instead of endearing, he's now coming across more like John Edwards: The Early Days.
And then there's "Boston" Rob Mariano. No one in the history of reality television, not even Elisabeth Filarski Hasselbeck, has been able to parlay Survivor
into a career and a nice little nest egg in quite the same way. For someone who's never won, Mariano is regarded as some kind of evil genius. His real genius is being able to get CBS to pay a guy who's not all that attractive and talks funny to pay him huge sums of money and provide him with all kinds of goodies. This is a guy who met his now-wife, Amber, on the LAST "All-Stars", and got to share in the million bucks by marrying her. This is a guy who got CBS to give them a big wedding at the Atlantis in the Bahamas, complete with bachelor and bachelorette parties, and then a honeymoon someplace else. "Romber" has been on The Amazing Race
twice and now, with Amber at home with a new baby, "Boston" Rob is back on Survivor
Maybe it's because Hantz is as odious as he is, or because Ben "Coach" Wade is such a self-important New Age buffoon, or because at this point I'm seriously thinking Parvati would do well with a few less teeth. Maybe it's because Tom Westman is taking this "hero" crap seriously, and J.T.'s smile has become a smirk, and what the hell is the bland Amanda doing back again, and what show was Danielle on again? -- but this season, Rob Mariano comes across as -- dare I say it? -- likeable. He's hardworking, he's playing nicely with others, he's a strategic player without seeming like a scumbag. When he collapsed last week from a combination of flu and dehydration, I wanted him to recover instead of past seasons, when most viewers would have wanted to watch him expire right there in the jungle.
Perhaps Mariano just needed to grow up. Perhaps he's one of those guys George Gilder used to talk about who need marriage in order to keep him from being completely id-dominated. Or maybe so-called reality TV has become so populated with the loathsome and the outrageous that a mere opportunist looks good by comparison.
Labels: pop culture, television