Yeah, I tried to get on a reality show…

October 16th, 2008

I’ve been watching a lot of reality television. Let me clarify—a lot of reality television for someone who doesn’t really watch much television (let alone work a remote control). In this case “a lot” translates to “two, possibly three” shows.

I watched “I Want To Work For Diddy” because my former camper Boris Kuperman was one of the contestants. I’m watching “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF” because a woman from Woodbridge, Lauren Watts (who goes by “Zui” on the show), is a contestant and I want to write about her progress. I will watch the next season of “American Idol,” if, as rumored, my old classmate John Twiford is a contestant. (A while back I wrote how Twiford turned down a previous season of “American Idol,” but he e-mailed me recently to let me know he’s had a change of heart).

What I’ve learned? There’s a big difference, at least on television—between those who want to work for Diddy and those who want to hang out with Hilton.

Zui hasn’t had much screen time as I write this, but so far she comes across as the only laid-back contestant on the show. She simply doesn’t care, she’s along for the ride, she’s there to have fun. Good for her. Most everyone else? The way MTV edits, they de-serve a punch in the face.

But on the Diddy show I’d only want to punch Diddy in the face. He’s barely in the show, but when he appears, it’s usually a monologue tribute to his greatness. The contestants, for all their television-drama-for-the-sake-of-television drama, are there because they sense a real opportunity. Boris told me he understood the challenges were kind of bogus, but you had to play the game to win.

So why would anyone subject themselves to this? That’s a question I hear a lot when I talk about Boris or how I’m following Zui. I mention my own attempt at reality television, plus what Boris and Zui told me. We all sensed opportunity; we all thought it would be fun. And, all of us wanted to be on camera.

That’s it, then. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. Boris, who came in fifth, believes he can use the show to further his goals and work in the entertainment industry, or for Diddy, regardless. Zui said she wants her own reality show.

And why not? Why shouldn’t Boris, or Zui or anyone else be able to go on a reality show, humiliate themselves in front of a national audience, in order to achieve their own goals and ambitions? (At this rate, soon I’ll know more people on television than not).

But the odds are stacked against them. Name one reality television contestant who went on to find some sort of success. (Forget “American Idol,” which relies heavily on talent rather than cunning, politicking and teamwork).

I’ll give you one: Judd Winick.

Depending on who you ask, Winick is either best known for being a “Real World” cast member or writing comic book icons like Batman and Superman. A struggling cartoonist straight out of college, Winick used his stint on “The Real World: San Francisco” to further his cartooning career. It was very, very smart. I’ve never seen any of his episodes, but I’m told it’s “classic”—the season was the one with his roommate and HIV positive friend Pedro and the “villain,” Puck. (Winick chronicled all of this in a comic “Pedro and Me” which I’d highly recommend.)

That’s pretty much what I was thinking when I applied for the short lived “I’m With Rolling Stone” reality show (marketed as a sexed-up “Apprentice”). It would be fun, funny and I could further my career as a writer and cartoonist. Plus, I don’t mind a little humiliation. I even went as far as to try to sell myself the same way Winick did in his audition tape. They don’t want writers, I reasoned, they want characters, archetypes and stereotypes for compelling television.

I didn’t make the show. I never watched it, but wow. All of my friends who saw it said it was horrible—and not in a good way. They told me I was extremely lucky I didn’t make the show; that no good could have come out of it. Maybe they were trying to cheer me up (unnecessary), but the way they tell it, I dodged a bullet.

Still, I’m glad I did it. Now, when I think back about Boris hustling for massages on 5th Avenue or Zui playing polo on some guy’s back, I can empathize; understand why they’d put themselves in that situation.

I’m just thankful it’s not me.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@insidenova.com.


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