I Like to Watch

Surprise! The Amish ditch the overalls for hair gel and sushi, Mark Cuban makes a delightful game of his narcissism, and "Big Brother 5" teaches life lessons. Plus: Chip and Kim take the bucks and "The Amazing Race" takes the Emmy.

Published September 27, 2004 8:00PM (EDT)

Fall forward
Can you believe how the summer has flown by? Seems like just yesterday we were making long lists of the books we were going to read, picking exotic locations on the map to visit or choosing the exact shade of Martha Stewart-branded tan we intended to achieve ("Light Cocoa" or "Tea Bath"? "Soapstone" or "Potato Peel"?). Doesn't it almost seem like we didn't read a single book, like we haven't left the house at all, like our butts are still "Camelia," i.e., a whiter, slightly more jaundiced shade of pale?

Somebody must've just flipped the calendar ahead a few months to mess with our heads. Maybe Les Moonves got so sick of "Big Brother 5" that he persuaded God to fast-forward us into late September. ("Sorry, Jule-Jule, but I talked it over with God and he said that if he had to sit through one more Golden Power of Veto challenge, he might just break his promise and flood the world again after all. He agreed that your ass looks great in those pants, though.")

But who complains about it being late September? Maybe some folks in Antarctica who don't like rushing all those baby seal filets into the smokehouse before the the night fades into one long day, but I can't think of anyone besides them. Late September is, hands down, the prettiest, most romantic time of year. Leaves falling, smoke wisping out of chimneys, Jeff Probst squeezing his goods into that cute little safari outfit ... Jeff Probst is to safari outfits what Pamela Anderson is to little nurse's uniforms. I'm not even sure that Pamela has ever worn a little nurse's uniform, but ... you know.

Luckily, we won't have to bother with all the tailgating and the wool sweaters and the raking of fall leaves, because we'll be indoors on the couch where we belong, tuning in to a delicious double whammy of summer finales and season premieres. Feet on the coffee table, salty snacks in hand, remotes locked and loaded. Life is good, savory chicken sandwiches! Life is very good, indeed.

A wretch like me
Let's begin with the Emmy-award winning "Amazing Race," shall we? Apparently The Donald has been griping all week that "The Amazing Race" didn't deserve to take the Emmy, because when you compare quick-witted, intense teams of two traveling the world to defensive yuppies marching around New York in wobbly stilettos selling ice cream ... Well, there's just no comparison, let's face it, particularly now that The Donald has instituted his new policy of firing people just to be shocking.

Dumb Donald! He was cuter when he didn't have a hit show. Back then, even he knew that he was a little silly, like an old pair of acid-wash jeans in the back of your closet that you bump into on your way to your stacks of emergency porn.

Yeah, I do know you too well, my little Chic-fil-As. That's how I know you were thrilled to see Chip and Kim win the million dollars, just for booking an earlier flight to Dallas. Poor crazy Colin, with his mean face and his undeniably superior athletic skills and his mad-dog competitive spirit and his weepy breakdowns! Poor beleaguered Christie, with her oddly passive-aggressive demeanor and her little shorts that have "Texas" written across the butt! We all know those two "deserved" to win, but the beauty of "The Amazing Race" is that "deserve" is only half of the battle. When you're traveling, lady luck better be in the aisle seat next to you, or you'll likely find yourself munching down your little package of honey roasted peanuts while the other teams cross the finish line.

I don't think I need to remind anyone that I've been a drooling fan of Chip and Kim's from the first moment Chip christened evil twins Kami and Karli "The Bad Seeds," and my admiration has grown every week. As previously mentioned, they were kind to all the strangers they met along the way (even the foreigners!), they held their cards close to their chests while generating very realistic assessments of the other teams' flaws, and they stepped up and went into battle with the other teams the moment that it became necessary to do so.

Kim wasn't that much of a factor competitively, but she was able to take part in all the high-wire acts and white-water madness without becoming a liability when it came time to, say, eat two pounds of caviar. She was also the brains of the operation, crafting their strategy behind the scenes while Chip cheerfully (and wisely) followed her lead. Did I mention how, every time they found out the next location, they'd take a minute to squeal and sigh and say, "Africa! Imagine that!" or "The Philippines! My oh my!" They clearly enjoyed their travels far more than any of the other teams, and I imagine they'll enjoy that money more than any of the other teams would, too.

See how the truly grateful among us always have lots of stuff to be grateful for? Just another important life lesson brought to you by the finest reality TV our great nation has to offer.

Spill the whine, lose that girl!
Some equally important life lessons emerged on the season finale of "Big Brother 5," thanks to Drew, the cute guy who spent the entire show following the strategery of his much-smarter-but-doesn't-know-it girlfriend, Diane. Once Diane successfully wrangled Drew and his sorta-buddy Cowboy into the final three, Drew booted Diane, choosing to take his know-nothing, tumbleweed, sorta-buddy to the final two instead.

From the start, Cowboy has shown all of the strategic wiles and savvy of a common throw rug, but no matter. He was clearly the easiest housemate to manipulate, and this quality won him his spot in the final two. Upon being ejected by the man she'd been taking bullets for every day and smooching every night for the past two months or so, Diane cried quietly and almost immediately resolved not to be bitter about perhaps one of the most bitterness-inducing scenarios in the history of reality TV.

Since Cowboy has all the charms of a common garden slug, Drew was quickly declared the winner. His identical twin emerged, and there were suddenly two Drews onstage (the winning Drew was easily identified by his big, reflective Ponch sunglasses, sunglasses that screamed, "I'm ready for the talk-show circuit, damn it!").

Although Diane was a stone's throw away, neither of the Drews turned to give her a hug or a wave, you know, just to say, "I know you looked like a big slut and a dupe on national TV, but you helped me get the cash, and for that, I'll always be a little bit thankful, or at least I'll feel a tiny twinge of guilt every time I climb into my Champagne-colored Lexus or invite another hot slut over to hang out in my brand-new Jacuzzi." No, no. Drew's matching twin Drew completed him so completely that he was content to put his hands in the air and shout, "Woohoo!" Four-Horsemen-style, determined to think of himself as a Real Winner henceforth.

Important Life Lessons We Can Learn From "Big Brother 5"

1. Ditch the girl you've been making kissy-kissy with if you don't want to seem like a wuss.

2. Ditch the girl, because she got you there, and the others know that she got you there, and they might just give her the money to reward her (unjustly, of course) for getting you there.

3. Ditch the girl and bring your awkward sorta-buddy to the final two, because he has no charisma. In the end, it makes people extremely uncomfortable to even consider making an uncharismatic human filthy rich.

4. After you ditch the girl, cry like you mean it. Give your sorta-buddy a big, hearty man-hug.

5. Julie Chen is a sharp little dresser! Too bad she's rich and untouchable and dating a guy who's friends with God.

Anyway, here's an open letter to Diane aka The Girl: Dear The Girl, By now, if you have an ounce of sense, you and Drew are either a thing of the past, or you're engaged. If the former is true, consider this column the perfect forum for your deepest stores of bitterness. Unearth those fine resources here, perhaps via a short phone interview! A bevy of kindred spirits, sympathetic ears and indifferent chicken sandwiches await your (impassioned and/or enraged) summary of recent events.

Benefactor me in
There's no time to mourn the dying embers of Drew and Diane's love, though. We've got huge volumes of TV yet to discuss. Let me just come out and state right now that I'm going to disappoint many of you with my lack of an "America's Next Top Model" update this week, but that's just because there are about a hundred other shows to cover, plus I want to work up a healthy head of ANTM steam, watch a few shows, and then dive into the endless joys of Tyra Banks' incomparable creation. Let's face it, writing about this show is like taking Shandi from a baby.

Onward: Mark Cuban is doing his best Donald imitation with copycat "The Benefactor" (Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC), a show that will come to seem less and less like a copy once the other 50 to 60 business-themed shows hit the airwaves. Sadly, or luckily, or sadly, I can't decide which, Mark Cuban is no Donald Trump.

That's right. Mark Cuban has an entirely different flavor of narcissism to him, and you can smell it from across the room. He also doesn't mind appearing goofy or catty or overbearing or bossy or illogical or whimsical in his eliminations. Thanks to this lack of inhibition, "The Benefactor" is at once utterly silly and mildly amusing.

Of course, Cuban shares The Donald's (and God's) insistence that everyone around him demonstrate total reverent, fawning behavior in his presence. Cuban eliminates an unlucky guy named Rich within minutes of arriving for mumbling the word "stupid" while discussing the possibilities before them. Thinking out loud, Rich says something like, "I'm sure they'll be stupid, of course, but they might not be that stupid." We're wondering how stupid the tasks will be, too, so naturally we like him right off the bat. Cuban is appalled. He drags out his worst sad-boy face and whines, "You called my game stupid!" Rich is dismissed.

Do you ever get the sense that Mark Cuban was the kind of kid who ran to the teacher at recess and said, "Johnny called me a stupid butt!" but even the teacher sort of hated Cuban and never really punished Johnny for echoing her sentiments?

Still, these contestants Cuban selected are extremely weird humans, and the tasks are just vague enough to create complete mayhem. Plus, I enjoy the arbitrary nature of the eliminations. Cuban is actually good at playing God. You know, he's sort of a chaotic, slightly evil God who messes with people's heads for the fun of it, albeit one who laughs a little too loud at his own jokes.

Best of all, the final decision on whom to eliminate this past week was made by three second-graders. Not only was it really, really entertaining to see which players acted like total goons around kids and which players behaved like normal people, but the kids Cuban found for this job were total superstars -- funny, odd, smart.

The kids weren't crazy about a woman named Shawn, but when they ask her who her favorite Mavericks player is (Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, nimrods), she says, "No. 13." Later, in coming to a verdict on her, the kids all said she was "strange" but as the little redheaded kid put it, "Ya gotta love that she picked Nash!" because all three of them love No. 13, Steve Nash, the best. (Sadly for the kids, Nash left the Mavs to sign with Phoenix this summer.) If every single task was judged by these kids, I'd watch "The Benefactor" religiously.

In fact, why don't they boot Cuban and make the 7-year-old redheaded smartass the boss? Now that's high-concept TV.

The horror!
Speaking of great concepts, has anyone out there seen "Lost" (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC)? I haven't, but the whole notion of a horror drama series is brilliant. Basically, you take the best aspects of "24" -- namely, the bone-chilling parts -- and build a whole story around them. I need to catch up with this one.

Fans of drama and horror should also check out "Desperate Housewives" (Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC), which is just odd enough and smart enough to look promising. I have no earthly idea why it's running in that disastrously competitive time slot, but hopefully there are enough non-HBO households looking for some edgy Sunday-night weirdness to keep this show afloat long enough that we'll be able to see if it's as unique and smart as it seems at first glance.

Naturally, Felicity Huffman is fantastic in it. What's surprising is that Teri Hatcher is also great, and so is Marcia Cross, that scary redhead from "Melrose Place," you know, the doctor who ended up murdering people after the show jumped its ninth or 10th shark? She plays a sickeningly polished housewife who's secretly losing her mind. Huffman plays a stay-at-home mother who hates being a mother. Hatcher plays a single mom who's on a slightly self-conscious manhunt.

The whole show toys with our perceptions of marriage and motherhood. The idea seems to be that, no matter how nice your husband is or how lovely your life might look from the outside, there are aspects of marriage and children that are impossibly difficult. Of course, we all know that being a wife and mother is at once far more gratifying and far more taxing than those of us who aren't wives or mothers could ever fathom, but it's refreshing to see a network drama that dares to slaughter the sacred lamb of motherhood. It's about time the chirpy American family on our TV screens took a major hit, don't you think? Even the happiest, most domesticated among us could use a little cathartic evil laughter at the ugly underbelly of marriage every now and then.

Plus, I love that the show has four female leads over the age of 35. I don't need to point out how utterly unusual that is, do I? Or that the show is likely to get crappy ratings simply because it's about middle-aged women and the word "sex" isn't in the title? Let's rally around this one, chickens -- it's sharp and weird and it's not about cops and if we don't rally it'll be gone in a flash.

Amish you so much!
"Amish in the City" drew to a close last week, and -- surprise! -- it looks like most of the Amish kids are pretty determined not to go back to their Amish communities. While Mose and Randy say they'd prefer to live in small towns, neither intends to rejoin the Amish way of life, at least not immediately. Meanwhile, Jonas, Ruth and Miriam plan to forge completely new paths, Jonas to college (he passed his GED exam during the final episode), Ruth and Miriam to nursing school.

As for the city goons, it's pretty obvious how they're going to turn out, except for Nick, who could choose the path of righteousness, or stray to the dark side of the force. Here's my advice for Nick: Give up on cool. Cool is a cul-de-sac with big, ugly brick houses on it. Cool is a long, slow swagger off a short pier. Cool will leave you face down in your own vomit, your pants around your ankles.

Work harder, Nick. Own your inner dork. Musicians are allowed to be geeks -- they have permission. Reese and Meagan are OK, but don't make those two your world, or you'll be clubbing with morons for the rest of your days on earth. If God were forced to go clubbing with morons, he'd flood the world again in a heartbeat. No, that's not true. First, he'd send a plague of locusts down upon the land, then he'd flood the world again.

Oh my God, there's so much more to write about, but this column is already way too long. I'm sorry, sweet, juicy chickens. You'll just have to wait until next week. Until then, may God, Les Moonves, Mark Cuban and The Donald be with you.

Next week: Meet the models! Meet the survivors! Visit the land of the "Lost"! Plus: "American Dreams," except with baseball and tough guys.

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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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