I Like to Watch

Competing for our scorn: The "Survivor" hippie, MTV's evil cheerleading coach and the Fox programmers who scammed baseball fans.

Published October 16, 2003 10:00PM (EDT)

Hippie Wrongstockings
On "Survivor" this week, the Morgan team continued to soil itself and cry piteously for help. During a reward challenge, Osten, who has a strange way of forgetting that he's built like a brick shithouse, panicked while swimming and became convinced that he was drowning. Luckily for Osten, host/den mother Jeff Probst stayed cool as a cucumber, sending two of the strongest swimmers out to lead him from perceived peril to perceived safety. Despite Probsty's cheering them on, the Morgan team lost and sulked back to their crappy camp for another night of nibbling on cold rice and itching infected bug bites.

But then, at the immunity challenge, the tides seemed to turn! After losing every single challenge, the Morgan team suddenly won, and with relative ease! Shocked at their victory, they shrieked and hooted and jumped up and down, a display made downright pitiful by the fact that the Drake team threw the competition in order to thin out their team and be rid of frat-boy threat Burton.

But in an unexpected twist, the sad-sack Morgan team got to kidnap one member of the Drake team. In its most able move yet, the Morgan team wisely chose Sweetums (Rupert), the wild-eyed, skirt-wearing pirate who's not only likable and funny, he's kept "The Drake" knee-deep in fresh fish from day one. Thus did Sweetums sail away with the Morgan team, and an overconfident Drake team still booted Burton, much to his square-jawed surprise.

Shocking indeed that the Drakes didn't opt to vote out brutally irritating hippie Jon, but at least we've all been granted another week to hate him with impunity. The smug "I'm such a trickster!" grins, the creepy little gestures, the drunken stand-up routine ... He's like that one guy at a Dead show who no one really wants to pass the bowl to.

He looks like patchouli smells. You can almost see him at a party with his guitar, putting one foot up on the coffee table and affecting a scratchy voice for a soulful, conversation-halting rendition of "Tangled Up in Blue," or pulling a mushy grilled-cheese sandwich out of his back pocket and eating it while doing that awful, boneless Deadhead dance to "Fire on the Mountain." Even den mother Probst had trouble hiding his scorn for Jon during tribal council, glaring at him and calling him out for being drunk.

If they keep Jon around long enough, "The Drake" will learn the same lesson that Leo DiCaprio learned in that movie "The Beach": It's not paradise if there are hippies there.

Foul ball!
Ever the ravenous ratings hound, Fox abused its powers of baseball coverage this week, airing the two different playoff games simultaneously instead of consecutively. Viewers got either the Cubs-Marlins game or the Yankees-Red Sox game depending on where they lived, and the network thereby avoided committing to a huge, moderately popular block of baseball by maximizing its ratings in every region. As a result, Fox won ratings battles most nights last week, but lost the affection of die-hard baseball fans nationwide.

The Little Network That Could and Would Regardless of Whether Or Not It Should also took the opportunity to heavily promote its fall lineup, most of which begins after the playoffs are over. Love or hate Fox, but you can't really argue with the effectiveness of its tireless pandering for viewers, even if it means we all started to despise "Skin" sometime late last week, several days before it even hits the air.

Deep quote of the week
"You know, with great power comes great responsibility. [Pause] Who said that? I think that was in 'Spider-Man,' the movie." -- Adam from "The Real World," on the war with Iraq.

Twisted sisters
One of the things that's really great about watching sorority sisters fight is the low-pressure system of enforced diplomacy that looms around every interaction. What's better than watching two 19-year-olds who hate each other looking for ways to creatively put each other down without coloring too far outside the lines of sisterhood?

Salina: You didn't say that you were mad, but you could totally tell by your expressions? Like ...

Salina (voice-over): I feel that Michelle isn't really being responsive about what I'm saying? And I don't think she really understands? I think she kind of has her guards up.

Michelle: Why can't I be mad? I mean, I still let you guys do what you want. I mean, I don't understand.

Salina: OK, well ... I don't know how else to explain it to you. I don't know if you realize it, but you were being really rude yesterday.

Michelle (voice-over): I think it's just because I'm pledge captain? And I'm a freshman? And there are so many other people that are older? And so I think they sorta see me as someone below them.

We see you as someone below us, if that helps, Michelle, but only because you remind us of our own pathetic college years. Still, we appreciate how you and Salina totally misunderstand each other, find it impossible to communicate the simplest ideas, and privately come up with radically off-kilter explanations for each other's behavior on MTV's "Sorority Life."

In other words, you're exactly like real-live sisters! You go, girls!

Chocolate-dipped sluts
Remember when you were a kid and you thought there might be a small chance that the whole world revolved around you, and everyone you knew was just programmed or acting or something, and the fate of the entire universe rested in your hands? No? Maybe it's strictly a Catholic thing ...

Actually, it makes perfect sense that "The Joe Schmo Show" on Spike TV was created by a bunch of fallen Catholics, given all the hot girls in bikinis running around. Basically, this is a small-scale version of "The Truman Show": Matt Gould (aka Joe Schmo) has agreed to participate in a reality TV program called "Lap of Luxury" in which a bunch of people live in a mansion and compete for a $100,000 prize, completing Howard Stern-style challenges like being covered in honey and rolling in cash, or licking chocolate off strippers. What Matt doesn't know is that he is the subject of an elaborate prank. The other contestants and the host are actors, and a team of writers is dreaming up every scenario that occurs.

Sickened yet intrigued? Then Spike TV has you exactly where it wants you.

The first time I tuned in, the whole project seemed far less interesting than it initially sounded. The camera zooms in on Matt so often, it's almost like a whole reality show that focuses on one sort of dull guy.

But then I caught last week's episode, in which Matt and hot virgin (actress) Molly are handcuffed together in the hot tub as part of "Lap of Luxury's" supposed rules, and Molly's innocent boyfriend (actor) makes a surprise visit to sing her a love song on his guitar. The boyfriend is shocked and angered to find his lady in a bikini, handcuffed to Matt. Naturally, Matt is incredibly uncomfortable, turning away from the couple so they can yell at each other without him watching. After the boyfriend storms off and Molly is un-handcuffed so that the smarmy host, Ralph (actor), can comfort her privately, Matt says of the boyfriend, "Dude, first of all, my man's a little bit square."

Even better is the scene where host Ralph is forced to dress up in a bumblebee costume, and gripes to the contestants, presumably when the cameras aren't running.

Ralph: Nobody warned me about this.

Molly: It's cute.

Ralph: I look like a fucking clown.

Matt: I see your point.

Ralph: This is my first big exposure television gig.

Matt: I see your point about it, and I don't think it'll have detrimental effects upon your career, really. But then, I'm from Pittsburgh.

Could Joe Schmo be any more Joe Schmo-like? Although the show isn't consistently entertaining, you have to admire the inventive scenarios these writers come up with. And who won't want to tune in for that moment when Matt finds out that the entire show is about him? It's just too evil to be true.

Cheer factor
Speaking of evil, as exhilarating as it is to do a robot dance to "Freakazoid" in a 3-inch baby-blue polyester skirt, nothing prepares a young cheerleader for the horrors of cheerleading camp. Aside from the frightening sight of thousands of cheerleaders shrieking and doing hurkies every five minutes, the adult cheerleaders who run such camps are clearly recognizable, even to the teenage eye, as the very worst species of mutant on the planet. When they're not lecturing you on the importance of good crowd communication and game awareness, these angry cheer beasts insist that you compete for such disturbing honors as "Most Positive Mental Attitude" and "Most Team Spirit." Each year, my curmudgeonly team and I stood by and watched as these awards went to girls with personality disorders that made them plaster smiles on their faces for hours, and compelled them to do toe-touches every time a mutant announced another water break.

But until I watched MTV's "Camp Jim," I had forgotten about the utterly unhinged and moronic methods by which the adult cheerleader mutants "taught" girls to participate in unsafe stunts or climb to the top of structurally unsound pyramids. Like adult cheerleader and camp savant Jim, who seems to hide countless layers of fury under a thin veneer of psychotic-clown cheer, the mutants would shame girls into bottling up their fear long enough to try a stunt that any logical mind could guess had a high chance of resulting in a broken wrist or ankle (and often did).

On Monday's "Camp Jim," scary Jim used this method on Meredith, responding to her pleas for more specific instruction on how to do a back handspring by blurting angrily, "You're boring!" Maybe Jim was feeling a little defensive about his inability to offer gymnastic training, beyond urging Meredith to "be more outgoing," or maybe he enjoys watching tears well up in little girls' eyes, but every time Meredith asked a question or hesitated, he would repeat the word "boring" until she was ready to quit the psycho camp for good.

Sadly, Meredith didn't quit, and instead endured countless perilous stunts, which the mutant experts taught her to perform simply by saying, "Let's do it again!" and "Get on up there, now!" After a while, ridiculously dangerous stunts became almost blasé from sheer repetition, and Meredith emerged singing the praises of how sadistic Jim's tough love made her so much more confident and outgoing. Meredith might feel proud, but the viewers are witnessing a tragedy: a little girl covering layers of fury under a thin veneer of psychotic-clown cheer, taking baby steps toward someday becoming an adult cheerleader mutant herself.

Nonetheless, you have to hand it to MTV for sniffing out this kind of freak show parable for our bemusement. Bring it on! I want my Mutant Television!

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By Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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