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Reality Check

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it. I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I would only be worse off for it. It was of no discernible worth, but I couldn’t stay away. I’ve been watching the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet II” on MTV.

It’s like (disgusting metphor ahead) a scab; you know you should just leave it alone, and it’ll be gone in a while. You know that, but you can’t help but check it out, pick at it a little. Before you know it, you’re bleeding again, it hurts and you’ll now have a scar to remind you of the time you couldn’t leave it alone. That’s what watching The Gauntlet II is like: a big, oozing scab.

To summarize the challenge show format, a variety of “Real World” and “Road Rules” cast members from years gone by have returned to some tropical locale to compete in a variety of team competitions to earn cash and prizes and avoid any sort of legitimate employment. This year, the teams are divided into Challenge Rookies and Challenge Veterans, which means that we’ve had enough challenge shows to merit deeming some players “Veterans.” Now here’s the twist: if a team loses a challenge, the team captain and a member of their own team must face off in The Gauntlet to compete to stay on the show and avoid the terrors of paying bills and gainful employment for another few weeks.

The major problem I have with these shows is that the people on them have done nothing worthwhile to merit their celebrity status and do not really deserve the opportunity to win $10,000 for their team bank account by covering a board in paint without using their hands. In fact, that’s the reason these people were chosen for these shows; they weren’t exceptional or unique. The original premise of “The Real World” and “Road Rules” was that MTV was going to give America’s youth some “real” youth for us to watch and relate to. Somewhere along the way, the importance of that connection was lost, and we ended up with caricatures of youth archetypes, as well as that weird Puck guy.

However, I think it is the cast members themselves that are most damaged by their unaccomplished celebrity. For example, Mark Long, from the original “Road Rules” is on the current challenge. His debut on reality TV was in 1995, and he is still going strong. He is also almost 34 years old. I believe that most people would like to see their lives at 34 include a steady job, probably a loving spouse and possibly even a family. Mark’s 34-year-old reality consists of him completing objectives such as pushing a ball down a hill without using his hands, as well as dealing with the drama that comes with telling a younger woman (Jodi) that you love her and then leaving her, only to find that you are living on a tropical estate with her and your new girlfriend (Robin). This is nowhere near “reality,” but it is rapidly approaching “pathetic.”

But I am sure that if you asked Mark, he would say that he views his life as an essential thread in the fabric of American society. Of course, he would be wrong, and that is another issue with these shows: the over-inflated sense of self-importance that these pseudo-celebrities develop since everyone around them is feeding on that same self-interest.

For example, in a previous episode, the two female team captains were having a heart-to-heart. Kina asked Ruthie, the other captain, if she was worried about being gunned after by her own teammates, since she is smaller than most. Ruthie’s response? “My whole life has been about the fight … Kill or be killed.”

The next day, what “fight” did Ruthie find herself having to “kill or be killed?” The teams had to soak up sea water with sponges attached to their bodies, and then squeeze it out over buckets in suggestive poses. The winner got a Nintendo DS. Not exactly survival of the fittest.

The people on this show take very seriously something that is not serious in any way whatsoever. No matter how you slice it, we are watching a bunch of people who backed into their celebrity commit demeaning tasks as a way to put off dealing with the mature responsibilities that their age should demand. Thousands of members of the youth of America watch this show and think this type of behavior is OK, and it’s not. These people got their start on a show called “The Real World,” and now through these challenges, they are doing all they can to avoid it.

Peter Schroeder is a senior English major. If he could be a tree, he would be the mighty redwood. His column usually runs every other Monday. He can be reached at pschroed@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.