The ordinary, out

"Ordinary people. I hate ’em."

Harry Dean Stanton said this in Repo Man. I see his point. Maybe ordinary people are not all worthy of hatred, but they're sure not all worthy of being on TV. Why tune in when you can catch someone without a script say things you don't hear every day by just standing in line at Kmart?

But, tedious or not, ordinary people are suddenly stars. We're all crowded around the TV these days watching people just like our neighbors and co-workers on "reality-based" shows that have as much to do with reality as "Gilligan's Island" does. "The Real World," "Survivor," "Making the Band," even "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" all show ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Now comes "Big Brother," about a bunch of people stuck in a house for three months. Yes, there really are people who are stuck in their houses for three months, but if the show was called "Invalid," nobody would watch it.

I will admit to liking "The Real World," mainly because it has nothing to do with the real world. It's full of nice-looking, mostly likable people who live rent-free in a stylish mansion in a big city with bourgeois advantages ... and they still find reasons to bitch. I can relate to this completely. "Survivor," on the other hand, is just a popularity contest with body odor, a creepy, schizoid exercise in teamwork and backstabbing. I've seen enough people eat the tequila worm at parties that I don't care who wants to prove their tiresome mettle by eating maggots on the beach.

Reality blights

To bring this horrible trend to a speedy close, we need to start combining these concepts. Perhaps something like "Who Wants to Marry a Surveilled Boy-Band Survivor?"

Get the boy-band boys. Strap a camera to them to record every hissy fit and dedication of their visionquest to God. Dump them on an island with no food, no hair gel and no tickets to see 98 Degrees. Let them live on moths for a week and watch their squabbles escalate from "Your attitude is bringing us all down, man," to "You ate my sand fleas and I'm gonna roast you like a pig." Then pit them in "Star Search"-type contests for supplies.

Listen as their lyrics change from "Girl, you are my everything," to "Boy, you kinda look like Sandra Bullock." A "Gong Show" decides who is the least talented performer; the reject is chased off a cliff.

Meanwhile we'd have the competition for "Who Wants to Marry the Survivor of the Battle of the Bands?" The brides-to-be are bawdy old bags of wrinkles, alcoholism and dirty jokes, tanned enough to pass for well-cooked bacon, each with at least a million bucks, preferably left to them by their ex-husband, Lou. They fight it out "Celebrity Death Match"-style for the hand of their twentysomething Cinderfella, who needs the money in case his boy band tanks and his budget for hair processing dries up. Rules for a fair fight include gouging your opponent's face with the topaz ring the size of a hummingbird that Lou got you for your 22nd anni-voice-ree, God love him. The winner is whoever doesn't die of emphysema.

Three weeks later People magazine can chronicle the annulment. Titled "Left Holding the Bag" (subhead: "I found Jesus in a condo in Myrtle Beach"), the cover story will let the boy hold forth about the vacant, corrupt pursuit of fame and how you can be a nobody and still be somebody. It won't ring true. He'll say things like, "She's a beautiful person; we just wanted different things." Our aging millionairess won't be quoted, but there will be a photograph of her holding up one pinky and wearing an expression of sourpussed disappointment.

Up with people

Come to think of it, there should be more of these combos. Like "Dessert Island," where Carnie Wilson, Oprah Winfrey, Ricki Lake and other renowned losers of weight will live under constant scrutiny in a gingerbread house on an atoll of crumb cake. The prize goes to whoever doesn't choke to death on the cupcake doorknob.

Next? "Who Wants to Be Real-World Cops?" (attractive people patrolling the streets of major cities, settling gunplay with their, like, totally laid-back attitudes) and "Making the Midwest Regional Customer Complaint Division" (real-life people battle it out for a real-life job by dressing better than usual and acting better than they are in interviews they resent). Is the air not just crackling with the tension of reality?

Yes? No? Is that your final answer?

Can I get you a lifeline, honey? Liz Langley writes for the Orlando Weekly. E-mail to [email protected]

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