My latest column, Savage TV, asks the question: Are the contestants turned into psychos, or are they psychos waiting to happen? Reality TV is turning into Savage TV. First freak shows. Then, over the weekend, freak accidents. Now it’s freakin’ mayhem. Examined within the context of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin’s death-by-stingray are the latest seasons of CBS’ Big Brother, CBS’ Survivor, MTV’s Laguna Beach, MTV’s The Hills, Bravo’s Project Runway, NBC’s The Apprentice, CBS’ The Amazing Race, Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen and MTV’s Real World. Here’s how it starts:
“This week marked a Reality TV milestone: Los Angeles restaurateur Mike ‘Boogie’ Malin threatened violence against one of the female houseguests on CBS’s Big Brother All-Stars and the show’s producers did nothing obvious to stop it. According to the live feeds of the final-four showdown pitting two ‘hos’ against two ‘bros’ (their billing, not mine), Boogie made an obscenity-laced pledge to turn into a wild animal against cocktail waitress Janelle Pierzina if she used the all-important Power of Veto against his partner-in-reality, Will ‘Dr. Evil’ Kirby, a Playa Vista dermatologist. ‘If she votes you out,’ he told his pal, ‘I’ll shit in her face. I’ll piss on her face right there on the block on TV.’ It was a dramatic change from five years ago when houseguest Nicole Schaffrich, pledged to ‘kick ass,’ ‘slit wrists, horizontally, not vertically’ and ‘cut heads off,’ leading the show’s producers to warn her about her behavior. Back then, the contestants who used threats or intimidation toward other houseguests faced expulsion from the game. Now? CBS obviously felt that having a wild animal in the house spelled wild ratings.
“For the first time in Reality TV history, not only did this season’s BB houseguests openly fret about the show’s popularity (because presumably their own 15 minutes of fame depend on it), but without any producers’ prodding they came up with skits, costumes and cravenly concocted ‘showmances’ — even talk about making a BB baby — to goose the ratings. During the week of August 21-27, three episodes of the show ended up in the Nielsen’s top 20. But Boogie’s tantrum didn’t look like shtick. With this latest untamed behavior, BB will surely climb into the top 10.
“That Reality TV has become savage TV was underscored even further this week when Discovery Channel star Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray’s barb through his heart while filming a segment for a series called Ocean’s Deadliest. Lost amid the many tributes to the quirky ‘Crocodile Hunter’ as an ardent conservationist were warnings that his death was a ‘sobering lesson’ about TV gone too ‘gladiatorial.’ ‘He clearly took a lot of risks, and television encouraged him to do that,’ survival expert Ray Mears told the Aussie media. ‘The voyeurism we are seeing on television has a cost and it’s that cost Steve Irwin’s family are paying today.’
“Now CBS’ Survivor: Cook Islands is plumbing new depths with its plot twist to pit four teams of different ethnicities — black, white, Asian and Latino — against each other. That the show is so desperate for eyeballs during its 13th season is hardly a surprise. What is startling, however, is that anyone would think this isn’t a pathetic ratings ploy to bait the contestants (handpicked, no doubt, for their racial intolerance into uttering previously taboo-on-TV racial epithets. C’mon, we all know that Mark Burnett will get a hard-on when the first ‘nigger’ or ‘spic’ or ‘gook’ spews from a contestant’s mouth, only to be artfully bleeped so viewers can still understand the word.).
“Going from primitive to plush, Survivor’s and Big Brother’s psychic sister is MTV’s Laguna Beach, which just started its third season with young girls savaging each other from the get-go. No need to build up to name calling this time around; cruelty is exactly what viewers come for. The show euphemistically calls it ‘drama,’ but new bitches Kyndra and Cami are happiest when drawing blood. Laguna Beach’s summer spinoff The Hills suffered by comparison because it was too well behaved. The only reason to watch was in the vain hope that any minute L.C. would plunge a nail file into boyfriend Jason’s roaming eye.
“Bravo’s Project Runway has succumbed … Continued here