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Faux Reality

Survivor: The Australian Outback -- Reality TV’s last gasp?



Unless you’re watching Caught on Tape, Cops or one of those $19.95 late-night infomercial tapes—like Girls Gone Wild: Spring Break Uncensored, with drunken college girls giddily flashing their boobs, or Backyard Wrestling, with drunken boobs giddily bashing each others’ skulls in to impress girls—you’re not watching network-approved Reality TV. You’re just watching plain ol’ reality TV.

The Only TV Column That Matters® completely ignored CBS’ Survivor when it premiered last summer, thinking an idea that stupid would inevitably snuff out its own tiki torch in a matter of weeks. Turns out, in a rare instance of me not having my finger on the pulse of the American TV viewer, people actually did want to watch a bunch of self-absorbed no-talents plot against each other, eat rats and develop serious island-funk stank—125 million people, to be sadly exact. I’ve since stopped referring to them as “slack-jawed mouth-breathers,” because I’m a uniter, not a divider.

The unmitigated success of Survivor gave us, much in the same way a cheap hooker gives a conventioneer something that itches and burns for the trip home, the inescapable television trend of the moment: Reality TV. It also gave us the omnipresent gay blade known as Richard Hatch, the noxious ultimate Survivor whose 15 minutes of fame I’d personally like to see end with blunt head trauma administered by one of those Backyard Wrestling freaks. If that’s a “hate” crime, so be it, because I really hate Richard Hatch, regardless of lifestyle choice.

Of the currently on-air crop of Reality TV cash-ins—ABC’s The Mole (barely watchable Mission: Impossible meets scavenger hunt), The WB’s PopStars (barely listenable star search for the next Destiny’s Britney) and Fox’s Temptation Island (barely mentionable, period)—none measures up to Survivor. That’s a promising sign, because the annoying trend that Reality TV supplanted, Game Show TV, fizzled soon after other networks launched inferior knockoffs of ABC’s now-choking Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Remember Fox’s Greed? CBS’ Winning Lines? NBC’s Twenty-One? All dead, slowly dragging Regis Philbin’s mono-hued corpse into the game-show grave with ’em.

If industry insiderisms are true, Fox may have a tougher time than anyone digging out of the impending Reality TV hole. The buzz? None of the attached men and women ever gave into sexual “temptation” during Temptation Island’s six weeks of taping. It’s just one big tease with no “payoff” forthcoming. And didn’t Fox promise “no more sleaze” after Who Wants To Marry a Multimillionaire? Should have spotted another Big Lie coming when Temp Isle introduced a prissy male model named “Kaya” as heterosexual hubby material.

ABC probably would have done well to give Millionaire a few months off, á la Survivor, instead of jamming it into every programming hole available and burning it out at the expense of developing new comedies and dramas. You know, shows that employ the same sidelined writers and actors who’ll be expected to pick up The Regis Network’s slack after the final-answer nail is in the Game Show TV coffin.

The unavoidable downtime presented by the time-consuming activities of rounding up photogenic new contestants, dropping them in a new camera-covered “wild,” and shoveling truckloads of comfy new CBS cash into creator/producer Mark Burnett’s tent has piqued the nation’s anticipation for Survivor: The Australian Outback (Sunday, Jan. 28, following the Super Bowl, as if you didn’t know). The new players are prettier, savvier and more bloodthirsty. As Burnett says, “Richard Hatch would have been eaten alive by this group.” Did someone invite Kaya?

There’s really no point in running down any more details of Survivor 2, because the oppressive Viacom Global Media System has been pimping the show like Anna Nicole Smith at a Matlock convention. If you’ve been exposed not only to CBS, but also UPN, MTV, VH1, TNN, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, Noggin, TV Land, Showtime, The Sundance Channel, Salt Lake’s City’s own KUTV 2, or any Paramount Studios, Blockbuster Video or Simon & Schuster Publishing product, you’ve been properly indoctrinated by cross-promotional corporate synergy. Viacom owns every last one of ’em, not to mention the most insidious promotional ’ho of them all, Entertainment Tonight. Satan, thy name is Mary Hart.

The manufactured hype just might keep the Reality TV boat afloat until, say, June, even though CBS Prez Les Moonves has already signed on for Survivor 3 and 4. He’s even half-joked, “Hopefully in the near future we’ll be announcing Survivor 19 and 20.”

Yeah, and hopefully I’ll be killed in a Backyard Wrestling tape before that happens.