Saturday, December 29, 2007

On The Fourth Day Of Christmas

On the Fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me....Four Reality-Competition Show Stars. (Well five really but two of these are so joined in the public imagination that they can safely be counted as one.) Okay, admittedly these are people from shows that I watch and I don't really focus on shows like Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, or American Idol, but do you really want to be reminded of Sanjaya?

Yau-Man Chan: Everybody's favourite loser on Survivor: Fiji. Yau-Man was smart, enthusiastic, agile, and beloved by his fellow competitors. He opened a sealed wooden box when brawnier members of his tribe failed through the simple expedient of dropping it on its corner. His childhood in Borneo gave him some knowledge of the jungle. He almost single handedly won an immunity challenge for his team by applying physics – by way of "unorthodox" techniques – to a challenge involving traditional Fijian weapons. He not only managed to tell his alliance that he had one of the hidden Immunity Idols when forced by two other players, he managed to build on his alliance by revealing that his belongings had been searched. He read his opponents so well that he knew the exact time to play his Immunity Idol – if he hadn't played it at just the right time he'd have been eliminated by a 4-2 vote. His one misstep involved the "car curse." In a Reward Challenge he won a new truck. He immediately decided to use it as a bargaining chip, offering it to cheerleading coach "Dreamz" in return for a promise that if "Dreamz" won the immunity challenge in the final four he wouldn't vote for Yau-Man. "Dreamz" took the truck and then broke his promise, with Yau-Man finishing fourth. The "car curse" turned out to be doubly powerful – "Dreamz" not only didn't win the million dollar first prize, neither he nor Cassandra (the other player who faced the final jury vote) got a single vote.

Dick Donato: "Evel" was by turns abusive, arrogant, tender, mocking and strategically brilliant during his time on Big Brother 8. The California National Organization for Women called for his removal from the show because of remarks he made about a female competitor, and online petitions circulated for and against him. And yet there was usually method in his supposed madness because when it came down to it, Dick's primary objective was not to win the half million dollar prize for himself but to win it for his daughter Danielle who was also a contestant. He was the first person in the history of the American version of Big Brother to have been able to used the Power of Veto to save himself and instead use it on the other nominee – his daughter Danielle (she later returned the favour). And although he tended to be less than successful at challenges his determination a marathon task that didn't work as planned (part of the mechanism for the challenge broke down early in the challenge leaving the two remaining contestants to hold onto a rope while being drenched in water) was only a prelude to his success in the remaining two parts of the final Head of Household competition. This in turn allowed him to go to the final two with his daughter, as he had planned. The quality of his game play (combined with his popularity with the public in a season where phone voting controlled one player) allowed him to win the season.

"Jeric" (Jessica Hughbanks & Eric Stein): You know you have something when you have two reality-competition players whose connection is so deep that they grow a compound name, and their fans petition for their inclusion in The Amazing Race. That happened to "Romber" (Rob & Amber from Survivor: All Stars, and one of the best teams ever to appear on The Amazing Race in my opinion) and it happened to Jessica & Eric. Admittedly they didn't win Big Brother 8, or even finish in the final four, but they had amazing chemistry together and their romantic relationship blossomed on the show. Admittedly things were complicated for Eric due to the whole "America's Player" thing, which allowed viewers at home to determine who Eric would vote for and some of his other actions – on his own Eric probably wouldn't have made some of the voting decisions that were made for him – but somehow they worked through it. True, Eric's first kiss with Jessica had been voted on by the fans, and it was their choice that he give his (supposed) childhood "woobie" to her but there was a definite connection there. Even their evictions from the house had an almost Romeo & Juliet quality to it – in a double eviction episode Eric was removed from the show just minutes after Erica. Since their appearance on Big Brother they are apparently still together, if in a rather long distance relationship at the moment. More to the point they were such fan favourites that when Eric made a comment about how he'd like to be on The Amazing Race, fans started a petition to get the couple on the show.

Julia Williams: Reality TV fans are a fickle lot, and nothing showed that more than the reaction to Julia. She became a fan favourite on the third season of Hell's Kitchen due to her underdog status. While most of the other competitors had experience in fine dining establishments, Julia was a short order cook for the Waffle House chain. The abuse started almost immediately, when she was relegated to chopping apples during dinner service. It was only after one of the "better trained" members of her team repeatedly failed to fry quail eggs that she let her frustration go. Even then, some members of her team wanted to eliminate her because she "worked at the (expletive) Waffle House." She was nominated later for "not knowing proper culinary terms," something so absurd that Ramsay voided the nomination. Julia's performance continued to improve, and when Ramsay was finally forced to fire her, he not only praised her performance on the show but even offered to pay for her to attend culinary school. She was most assuredly the fan's favourite at this point in the show. And then came the series finale. The final two were "Rock", an executive chef from Virginia, and Bonnie, a self-described nanny an personal chef from Los Angeles. The relationship between Julia and Bonnie had never been good – Bonnie was one of the people who thought Julia should have been fired in the first episode – and Julia seemed resentful that Bonnie in particular was there and she wasn't. The fans – some of them at least – turned on her. She was pouting; she wasn't sufficiently grateful for Ramsay paying her way to culinary school. Worst of all, she was a "sore loser" and may even have used her attitude to keep Bonnie from winning. Even I felt that if it were a real restaurant rather than the finale of a reality competition, Bonnie would have been justified in firing Julia's ass – after service was over. Still, no one can deny that at least for most of what was really a lacklustre season for the show, Julia was the one the fans were behind.

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