I admit to being a bottom-feeder when it comes to reality shows. While I am moved, deeply, by the triumph of the human spirit over hunger and mosquitoes (Survivor), foreign language and jet lag (TAR), and IKEA furniture (Big Bother), what really makes me happy are the the random Warhol flotsom shows, shows with no redeeming human value whatsoever (My Big Fat Paris Hilton type stuff). Therefore, I savored the near-Fellini brilliance that was Surreal Life Season One and was prepared to be disappointed with the premiere of Season Dieux. And so I was.
But enough preamble! Let’s metaphorically hop aboard the Tour the Stars’ Homes Trolley the WB uses to round up the housemates (do any stars actually live in Beverly Hills, or do these tours now include the homes of gaffers, agents and Pilates instructors?) and meet this year’s little colony of has-beens:
1. Rob Van Winkle. I know, you’re asking “Who?” Every time someone referred to “Rob,” I went “Who?” Rob is Vanilla Ice, boys and girls. Indulge your vicious inner child and giggle – Rob VAN WINKLE? Having survived what he deems the tragedy of early fame and financial success, Rob now looks like an anemic Ted Nugent and is saddled with a real name even less cool than “Vanilla Ice.” He is also the #1 contender for this year’s Feldman Award for Most Annoying QuasiCelebrity.
2. Trishelle. Trishelle has a last name but, like Cher, is now so ubiquitous she can leave the moniker at home in Cut Off at the Knees, Louisiana. (“My father always guessed I wouldn’t want to stick around Louisiana very long,” Trish confides. I suspect it was more like Pops BEGGED his wayward little girl to skip town before any more traveling salesmen visited and she became the talk of the Gas Station Attendants’ Ball). Real World Vegas Trishelle is my personal albatross, my own little flying dutchDAW (and believe me, there are distinct career opportunities for Miz Trish in certain districts of Amsterdam) – as I have no taste and no life, Surreal Life II makes the third contiguous reality show I have watched featuring the Lil Dynaho.
3. Ron Jeremy. Once upon a time (in the distant age we call “the 70s”), Ron was a handsome, Tom-Sellecky looking guy who found fame and fortune in the X-rated movie biz. However, proving again that life is really kinder to men, it was when Ron, as he puts it, “went from the gym to the buffet” and turned into the amiable schlub we see a lot on VH1 list shows, that he really hit porn superstar status, because now “average guys can relate to me.” You will never, ladies and gentlemen, hear a female porn star rejoice that, now that she has given birth to triplets, the stretchmarks and varicose veins have only added to the popularity of her adult films. Anyway, Ron looks like a nice but slightly sleazy uncle type who runs a cheap diamond center and appears to have an icky interest in the figure of…
4. Tammy Fay Baker . You might be young and lucky enough not to remember Tammy Fay, but most of us are still haunted by her former Marilyn Manson makeup techniques and copious television weeping. Tammy has toned down the face-paint slightly and gets along pretty well with her new nonchristian, unsaved colleagues. When they swear, she simply plugs her ears and hums, which method worked really well for Tammy all those years she never questioned where Jim Baker was getting the money for the sixth refrigerator, or why he smelled a lot like Teen Spirit.
5. Ponch. Or should I say, “Paunch.” Erik Estrada wants us all to know that he Bucked the System, Man, and that’s why we saw very little of his famous choppers after the demise of CHIPS. It seems the Powers that Be resented his savvy business acumen (he owned a piece of the CHIPS residual pie) and made sure he wouldn’t eat lunch or wind up on Nick at Nite again. His teeth are capped, his tanning salon membership is paid in full, and any minute now he’ll ask Tammy to pull him across the pool by his “hair” to demonstrate the realistic quality of his rug. In short, he sports more synthetic materials than Traci from Baywatch (see below).
6. Traci from Baywatch. Traci also has a last name but no one cares. She boards the trolley late and immediately flouts the cardinal rule of Surreal Life by exhibiting signs of career life; she will join the gang this evening, but is filming (god only knows what but since Ron Jeremy is staying on the trolley I’m thinking it’s probably a Merchant Ivory historical piece) during the day. Trishelle realizes that Trace, a BAP, or perhaps a JAP, or maybe both, has larger breasts than her and instantly decides she might not quite like the Baywatch beauty. “There’s something kind of artificial about her,” Trishelle muses. Actually, there are two things incredibly artificial about Traci, specifically the basketballs sewn under her skin just above the former ribcage, but she’s on Baywatch and surgical enhancement is part of her contract, along with the ability to run in slow-mo. So we can’t really be too hard on Traci yet (actually, yes, yes we can).
The merry band of wanksters arrives at a Cal-Neva style ranch house that looks like where DeNiro lived with Stone in “Casino.” This refined, subdued Vegas Strip decorative motif continues on the inside of Surreal Ranch, where the walls are alive with festive sparkles of neon and vivid red and white Ralston Purina checks. (There are so many checks on every surface, in fact, that the furniture keeps getting lost). The house is so tasteless that Tammy Fay Baker, Jeremy the Porn Star, Trashelle from Real World STD House Party Season 69 and Rob (not Vanilla!) unanimously pronounce the new digs “tacky,” which means interior design as officially reached its nadir.
If you watch a lot of reality shows you know the following drill – who gets what room, I really want to bunk with the girls, I’m not going to bathe in a raspberry tub (well, that was unusually specific), etc. etc. etc. There is one single bedroom, decorated in pea green and pink velvet (it’s the Austerity Room in this house), perfect for a cast member who is a little older, a little more old-fashioned, a bit more restrained and feminine, than the others. Paunch immediately grabs this room for himself (although, to give meager credit where due, he does eventually relinquish the “Princess Suite” to Tammy).
That’s about all that happens (watching Trishelle drink and talk nonsense in the hot-tub does not count as anything happening; this is the new television equivalent of the Yule Log burning ceaselessly over the holidays). Trishelle and Traci have a little kitten brawl about “attitude” and bathtub preferences (one of the odd things about Surreal Life is you wind up rooting for people you loathe, like Trishelle, who was absolutely in the right about Traci’s diva stylings). There is a field trip to buy groceries, and the Farmer’s Market (with its fresh, unshrinkwrapped meats and organic produce tables) confuses and infuriates Rob (who?) because there are no Jimmy Dean Frozen Pork Sausages or nondairy creamers for sale. Traci returns from the set of Masterpiece Theatre with a bottle of cheap suds and Trishelle suddenly finds she no longer dislikes Traci.
We see chilling scenes of episodes to come, featuring visits from Todd Bridges, Gary Coleman, Vince Neil (and his hermaphrodite girlfriend, if it’s the same “gal” as last year) and Rick James (obviously, it’s time for a barbecue!), none of which convince me that this season will compare in awful grandiosity, or grand awfulness, with last year’s. But I’ll bet I watch every lousy episode.