Cathy's World: Reality Bites

By CATHERINE SEIPP  |  Jan. 15, 2003 at 10:39 AM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- It's January, which means a new slate of schlock reality shows are upon us. After a while they all seem to blend together. The other night, after a week of watching what I think of as "The Surreal High School Reunion Star Search," I dreamed of a new show called "The Bachelorette vs. Joe Millionaire," in which the stars of the two boffo-rated new series battled it over an H-bombed Tokyo like Mothra and Godzilla.

Well that's what happens when I forget to take an Ativan before going to sleep. Anyway, a quick rundown:

ABC's "The Bachelorette" brings back Trista, the cute, blonde, rejected runner-up of the first "Bachelor." Now she gets to choose from 25 men vying for her hand ... 25 men prescreened for the sincerity of their "How COULD Bachelor Alex not have picked Trista?" feelings.

The obvious problem is that men don't usually imagine picket fences and engagement rings after a couple of dates, like nutty Heather and Christy did on the second "Bachelor." So "The Bachelor" catch-line -- "Who will go home brokenhearted?" -- has been changed to "Which men will be sent home empty-handed?"

Not as dramatic, to be sure. Still, men being men, there could be fisticuffs.

About Fox's nasty "Joe Millionaire," in which 20 women vie for the hand of a $19,000-per-year construction worker they think is worth $50 million, the less said the better. Actually, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" said it perfectly last week, in a parody of the Fox promos: "He's young, handsome, and not a convicted rapist. At least that's what these ladies think. And THIS is the secret you'll know from the beginning: He IS a convicted serial rapist!"

CBS, inspired by the success of "American Idol," resurrected the old talent show "Star Search" last week, this time hosted by the genial Arsenio Hall. Thursday's episode was satisfyingly dramatic: a freakishly talented 10-year-old singer blew her 14-year-old competition out of the water and brought the other girl to tears.

This was rather painful to watch. Fortunately, Arsenio moved in fast with comforting hugs all around.

"I'll tell you something," Hall said, when I asked him about it Sunday at the CBS news conference. "The little girl who won, she's such a pro -- in rehearsal she held back. When she got on the air that night she was like some Patty La Belle shit possessed her. And the other girl was like, 'I've been set up!'"

"You just never expect a child to bust out crying on a live show," Hall added. But that 10-year-old really was a phenomenal talent.

"I thought, if her father don't mess it up, she could go all the way," he noted. "And I saw her father and I thought, oh yeah, he could mess it up."

The WB's forte has always been scripted shows, as entertainment president Jordan Levin emphasized at the network's press conference Saturday. "These reality shows are not the kind of thing that develops connectivity and emotional relationships with our viewers," he said.

Also, Levin added, "I don't think the economics of reality programming, once you dig through the numbers, are all that advantageous."

Which doesn't mean that Levin isn't enjoying the quick (if unemotional) fix of those boffo ratings with the WB's two new reality hits, "High School Reunion" and "The Surreal Life." Maybe just that he hates himself as he's doing it.

"High School Reunion" gave the WB its biggest Sunday night ever when it premiered Jan. 5. The brainchild of producer Mike Fleiss, who created "The Bachelor" franchise, the show reunites 17 classmates from a suburban Chicago high school 10 years after graduation. The group of archetypes (The Popular Girl, The Loner, The Bully, The Player, The Gossip, The Nerd, The Tall Girl, etc.) are housed together for two weeks in a Maui mansion.

The first episode was a little dull, probably because The Tall Girl's crush on The Player just wasn't as deliciously nuts as Heather's and Christy's obsession with Aaron, the second "Bachelor" -- although you could tell the producers were pushing her in that direction -- merely silly and rather sweet.

Unlike those "Bachelor" harpies, you don't want to tell The Tall Girl to get a life, just to stand up straight and stop wasting her time on such an obvious cad.

But things sure livened up with the arrival of The Bitchy Girl in this week's episode!

Finally, there's "The Surreal Life," which throws seven past-their-prime celebrities (rapper-turned-preacher MC Hammer; 4-feet-tall former child star Emmanuel Lewis; Playboy Playmate Brande Roderick; former teen star Corey Feldman; former "Beverly Hills 90210" star Gabrielle Carteris; Motley Crue's Vince Neil; and Jerri Manthey of "Survivor II") together in a Hollywood Hills mansion, no cell phones allowed.

The celebrities must interact with each other -- and only each other -- for 10 whole days. Group activities include grocery shopping without benefit of personal assistants. Crazy!

Right at the beginning, there was some tension between the Hollywood celebrities and Jerri, the manufactured reality celebrity of "Survivor." The producers encouraged that, having Jerri arrive last, after all the Hollywood celebrities had settled in and greeted each other with big fake Hollywood hugs.

"I was really disappointed, because I thought that Robin Givens was going to be part of this, and now it's a girl I never heard of before," Brande says sadly on camera.

Brande, you may recall, was one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends back when he only had three: Brande, and the twins Sandy and Mandy. He's since moved on to a bunch more: Handy, Dandee, Randi, Glandee and least, I think that's what their names are.

But Brande better be careful. Jerri's tough. She ate worms on "Survivor," remember. She'd probably eat Emmanuel Lewis and wash him down with one of Corey Feldman's special vegetarian drinks without even blinking.

And speaking of victuals, that was quite a scene at the gourmet grocery store when the gang realized that their $500 budget wouldn't cover the nearly $1,000 in food they'd been throwing wildly in the carts. Corey Feldman got pretty agitated when he saw his box of Raisin Bran tossed into the reject pile.

Still, Feldman said later at the press conference that he considered the show "a healing process. We actually found positive solutions to our problems together as a group of people," he said. OK, if he says so.

"I left a better wife, a better mother," added Gabrielle Carteris. "I don't care what people say about the show."

"That doesn't sound like the girl I heard in the shower playing," noted MC Hammer.

But how real was "The Surreal Life?" Really?

"This is REAL, baby," insisted Emmanuel Lewis, with his cackling laugh. "I got a bunkmate, his name is MC Hammer. You can't get any more real than that."

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