May 19, 2004
In Reality

I don't care who wins American Idol this year.

This may be a startling admission, coming from a self-proclaimed 'quivering reality-TV junkie,' but it's true. I don't care.  I may have been marginally interested, early in the season -- I found Scooter Girl oddly compelling, for example, and I've always been a Fantasia fan, right from the start  -- but the show lost me as soon as it changed from a talent competition into a Teen People cover story (and as soon as poor delusional George Hung's fifteen minutes of fame began to stretch into an hour and a half).

I just don't care anymore.

I don't care about The Bachelor, either, or which vapid blonde Bachelor Jesse chooses tonight in the most dramatic rose ceremony ever. (If it's not going to be Trish, the only remotely interesting person on the show this season, why bother tuning in?)  I don't care why "Playing It Straight" mysteriously vanished from the airwaves, four episodes into the season. (Were they gay? Were they straight? Who cares?  They were ALL wearing COWBOY HATS, forcryingoutloud.)  I don't care if there is a second season of "The Apprentice," or a third season of "Average Joe," or a 43,897,621st season of "Extreme Fear Factor Island Celebrity Mole Makeover."

Don't even get me started on "The Swan."

The truth is that I've felt very little emotional connection to most reality TV programming this season.  I've either watched a show for fifteen minutes and decided immediately that this wasn't for me ("The Apprentice," "Average Joe," "Superstar USA")  ...  or else I've watched for a few weeks but managed to lose interest before the grand finale ("American Idol," "The Bachelorette," "The Bachelor").  In the case of at least one new reality show  --  the unutterably execrable "Swan," in which women suffering from varying degrees of emotional meltdown are given bazillion-dollar makeovers, only to be told that they're still  too ugly to win a beauty pageant  --  I've had to quit watching because it left me feeling icky, inside and out, like I needed to take a Lysol shower as soon as it was over.

The single exception to all of this reality-TV ennui has been "Survivor: All-Stars." 

For confirmed reality-TV addicts like me, "All Stars" was like The Super Bowl, The Academy Awards and The Royal Wedding, all rolled into one.  It had everything: heroes, villians, romance, intrigue, humor, pathos, betrayal  ...  even a little sexual misconduct and drunken debauchery thrown in, just for fun.  (It sorta reminded me of the old Baby Boomer Chat Room  ...  except that most of the All-Stars were sober. And single. And wearing clothes.)  Plus there were not one but two extremely satisfying denouements at the end, including a surprise on-camera  marriage proposal and a second, audience-awarded million dollar prize. As far as David and I are concerned, it just doesn't get any better than "All-Stars."

And that, of course, is precisely the problem.

"All-Stars" was so good  --  so compelling, so emotionally engaging, so much fun to watch, week after week  --  that it has basically spoiled us for anything else.  Now that it's over, everything else on TV seems like just so much "According To Jim."  It's like reading "The Time Traveler's Wife" last year.  Two paragraphs in, I knew I was reading the best book I'd ever read ... quite possibly the best book I'll ever read, for the rest of my life ... so I deliberately read it as slowly as possible, trying to make it last.  One chapter, every couple of days; two, if I got stuck taking the bus home from work.  Even so, the sad inevitable day arrived when I reached the last page, and the best book I'd ever read was over finally.  For weeks afterward -- maybe months -- I was utterly incapable of reading anything new. "The Time Traveler's Wife" ruined me for other books, for a long, long time.

That's how it is with "Survivor: All Stars." I'm ruined for other TV shows for awhile.

I don't think it's permanent.  The next round of regular "Survivor" is only four months away, after all.  (And in the meantime I'll have "Big Brother" this summer, which, although it has been known to suck, has also been known to be lots of fun. See: the oh-so-satisfying Downfall of The Three Amigos last summer.)  And I don't think there's anything wrong with having standards, even when you're talking about something as stoopid and frivolous and in-the-grand-scheme-of-things unimportant as reality TV.  If I didn't have standards, after all, I'd probably be sitting in front of the TV tonight, watching Bachelor Jesse  "propose" to one or another of the vapid blonde Barbie dolls  ... I'd see the new American Idol weeping into her Ovaltine next week   ...  I'd witness the crowning of the world's ugliest (and most conflicted) beauty queen.

And I'd be hating myself for it.


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although  --  if i WERE to care, even the teensiest bit  --  i'd want fantasia to win.
and tara.
and cindy.
but i DON'T care, so never mind.