I Like to Watch

On "Lost," some hot people climb the mighty mountain and look down over the valley of polar bears. Plus: Smokers quit on the cruelest reality show yet, the oldest kick out the youngest on "Survivor," and Tyra sends a poor little fighter to her doom.

By Heather Havrilesky
Published October 4, 2004 8:58PM (EDT)

A deep sense of injustice for all!
My editors are bringing me down. Who ever heard of turning in your column at a certain time each week, no exceptions? It's downright archaic, savage even. I tried to tell them clearly, "Look. Putting artificial deadlines won't work." But they won't hear it, so clouded are they by their ideology of hate.

I tried to use diplomacy every chance I got, believe me. I was well aware of the importance of six-party talks, a five-nation coalition, four-layer bean dip, a three-pronged spork of vengeance aimed at the enemy's eye, plus two rounds of "Nanny nanny boo boo," sung with conviction. I even persuaded the girl at the front desk -- Belinda? -- to confront them openly about their obvious distaste for liberty and justice for all. Or at least I convinced her to superglue their pens to their desks.

My boss, whose name I can't reveal but which rhymes with Merry Mauerman, got all angry about it. "Why are you playing jokes when your column is due?" he fumed. See? Liberty, to him, is just a big laugh.

"You're fighting me because you're fighting freedom," I explained, speaking slowly in a soothing tone to prevent him from escalating the conflict. "But I have climbed the mighty mountain! I have looked down over the valley of something-or-other, and I --"

"Why are you fumbling through Stephanie's purse?" he squawked vociferously in his little freedom-hating voice.

"I know that I'm fumbling through Stephanie's purse! I know that!" I snapped. "I change tactics when I need to, and it's none of your beeswax which strategical tactical ... tactic I happen to be employing at the moment. Ooo! Sour apple lip gloss!"

"Merry" stormed off somewhere, claiming he had an edit meeting, but that's just the front he uses when he wants to experiment with plastic explosives. Look, I don't hate the man. I admire the fact that he's a great dad. OK, he's not a dad. But I admire the fact that, if he were a dad, he'd be a great one. That's about all I like about him, frankly. But every life is precious, at least in theory, at least until the nanny-nanny boo-boos of diplomacy fail, at which point, all bets are off. Then I have to do the hard work of loving all those widows out there as best I can.

The trouble is, the enemy only has to be right once. The only way to prevent "Merry's" attack was with a preemptive strike. So I threw his laptop out the window and dropped his Blackberry into his triple latte, and now I'm hiding out in the mountains of Tora Bora. Unfortunately, I still have a column due.

And then there were none
Luckily, whenever my commitment to freedom stands in the way of my ability to meet artificial deadlines, someone writes me a really good letter that captures the essence of something that I'm too lazy to come up with on my own, and does so in 100-200 words. That's 100-200 words I don't have to write myself, freeing up my time for more important things, like ... I don't know. What do you think is behind those ceiling tiles? Should we lift one out and see?

Dear ILTW,

You're probably writing about "Lost" right now. I stumbled into it last night.

Here's what I like so far:

1. The really fat guy with Geddy Lee hair.

2. The Aussie drug fiend.

3. The anticipation that the young hot Korean wife will end up smashing her husband's head in with a large piece of coral.

4. The hot chick is the criminal.

Here's what I don't like so far:

1. Sayed and his Republican Guard pedigree. I mean, come on, people, let's be real. Nobody can do math like that in their head!

2. The whiny blond chick speaks French. (I'm hoping that her asshole brother gets killed soon, though.)

3. The dead bodies lying around don't seem to be causing people to vomit constantly from the stench. On a tropical island? I don't demand a whole lot of reality from my fiction, but really.

4. The hot chick probably committed murder in self-defense, and so isn't really bad after all.


Dear AC,

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote here. What else do you think about "Lost" (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC)? I'm looking for about 700 words, single-spaced. And, uh, spell-check before you send, OK, Hoss?

My personal favorite is the young pregnant girl, with her ethereal good looks and her lovely accent and her spunky attitude. Her positivity is the sort that flies in the face of reality -- the worst kind, if you ask me. Even when she's all overheated and bloated and the sun is broiling her fair skin, even when she's surrounded by rotting flesh and grumpy, disheveled-but-hot humans destined to re-create that scene from "Lord of the Flies" where Piggy gets pushed off a cliff and falls (splat!) onto a big, flat rock, even when the baby hasn't kicked for hours and even if it is alive she's doomed to give birth right there on the beach, sweating semi-erotically, she's still chipper.

God, I hate her, don't you? People like her make the rest of look so much less heroic than we would if she weren't in the picture. We all deserve to be heroes, don't we? Even if it's just because we stopped by Meaty McMeatburgers and picked up a few Value Combo Meaty Meals on the way home from work. We're heroes, because we remembered that our little honeymuffins like ketchup but no mustard and no tomatoes. Even if we sort of resent our little honeymuffins for their dislike of raw tomatoes, even if we see this picky, perverse aversion to raw tomatoes as indicative of all of the larger issues that make our little honeymuffins completely wrong for us in every way, we're still heroes.

Ahem. Then there's Matthew Fox. You know, he played Charlie from "Party of Five," the oldest, the one with "the good kind of Hodgkin's disease"? (Blame Larry David for that one, not me.) You'll barely recognize Charlie, because he's lost the floppy hair and the neurotic daddy attitude and the really worthless girlfriends. Now he's got very short hair and some ridiculously fake red slashes on his face, and he's tough and he's a doctor and he's hot! God love a hot doctor.

I once went to a really, really hot doctor. It was unnerving. Clearly I wasn't the only one who thought so, since he had poster-size photos of his family all over his desk, and instead of facing him, they were all facing the patient's chair. Nice preemptive strike, Dr. Delicious. Recognizing that freedom fighters like myself could never give up and never give in, I heroically opted against hurling my body across the desk at him.

"Lost" is sort of like the hot doctor. An unusual, suspenseful drama populated mostly by unnervingly pretty humans, the premise is delectable at first glance: Plane crash victims get stranded on an island and end up being preyed upon by something unknown, perhaps a group of killers who not only kill here but kill children. But there's a reality behind the sugary exterior that's just as daunting and unmovable as those poster-size photos of the hot doctor's family: Where do we go from here? Even if we hurl our bodies over the desk at this hot new drama, do we really want to subject ourselves to multiple hours of pretty faces, sweating in the jungle, unraveling little bits of a mystery that's sure to be, well, pretty dorky and unsatisfying when we finally figure it out?

I mean, so far we have one extra-large tropical polar bear and a spooky French voice calling for help. I don't like where this is headed, and I'm pretty sure it won't be worth it, even if the sweet-natured angel does lose her baby and the Korean wife smashes her husband's head to little bits with a big piece of coral (although, scratching him really hard with it might work just as well, since it would give him coral poisoning and then he might die very slowly, say, over the course of the entire season, and then everyone will have to keep politely refusing his sushi sampler platters each week).

It's that age-old dilemma that we all face, no matter what age, race, color or creed: Dare we try out that exciting and powerful new street drug and risk waking up five days later in some dumpster with our underwear around our ankles, ready to default on our mortgages for another taste of the good stuff? Is "Lost" the powerful new street drug of the season, or is it an acceptable pharmaceutical, available by prescription only, with equally destructive side effects? Only time will tell.

Colder than cold
Fortunately, there is a drama unfolding elsewhere that's sure to mimic the "Lord of the Flies" aspect of "Lost," but without all of the mechanical bears and fake scars. On PAX, there's a new show called "Cold Turkey" (Sundays at 10 p.m.) that may be the cruelest reality formula yet. Contestants are convinced that they've been chosen to appear on exactly the sort of reality show that speaks to their strongest desires: Train to be an astronaut! Meet the man of your dreams! But soon, the big twist is revealed: All of the contestants are smokers, and the point of the game is to quit smoking.

The press materials tell us that "'Cold Turkey' attempts to reveal a more positive side to reality." I'm not sure what's so positive about people stranded together, pacing and crying and attacking each other with sharpened sticks while the cameras roll, but I'm sure that at least William Golding and Agatha Christie would have enjoyed it.

Piggy gets jiggy
And then there's "Survivor Vanuatu: Islands of Fire" (Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBS). "Look, the islands are on fire!" the opening shots always seem to screech in our ear, and who can blame them, when everything else about this season appears to be your basic, by-the-numbers "Survivor" experience? Maybe instead of handing out blankets and rice and scuba masks, Jeff Probst should pass around big sticks that just cry out to be sharpened.

Until then, here we go again. The older women are criticizing the younger women for not doing enough work. The fat and slow guys are sticking together to ensure that the athletic, ripped guys get booted. Meanwhile, token redneck Twila has something to say about loudmouthed Mia.

Twila: I'll whip the little scrawny bitch's ass 'cause I don't care. I ain't here to make friends.

What year is it again? Look, I'm sure I'll thrill to the sight of those burning islands once I start rooting for one of these nimnooks, but in the meantime, this show just bores me. I feel like I'm back in my fourth-season slump again. You know, that was when lame Vecepia won and Rosie O'Donnell sang and everyone went to bed feeling soiled?

All I can say is, if Sarge and his army of chubby, klutzy soldiers keep voting off the really hot guys, Probst is going to have to find a smaller Safari outfit to keep me tuning in.

Fashion falls forward
Thankfully, the most glorious show of them all has returned, and I can't tell you how good it feels! Tyra Banks is back, accompanied by her favorite gaggle of fashion-forward miscreants and demonic runway-walking sociopaths. Words can't describe the warm feelings and the excited buzz that spreads through the caves, here in the mountains of Tora Bora, every time the theme to "America's Next Top Model" comes over the little portable black-and-white TV that Bingo, the Australian photojournalist, hauled up from Kandahar. "Wah-ee wah-ee wah-ee, wah-ee wah-ee wah-ee!" we all sing together with the theme song, which crackles out the little speakers, coming to us over miles of craggy rocks, bouncing off the nooks and crannies of the Afghan wilderness.

And speaking of nooks and crannies, how great do our assembled future hot-tub sluts look in bathing suits this year? Tyra seems to have put a real emphasis on the high-quality, well-maintained caboose. Not only that, but each and every one of these lovelies has a unique look. Gone are the bland blondes and neither-here-nor-there brunettes that would be most comfortable in a Sears catalog, replaced by exotic beauties, plus-size models, African queens, and of course, one girl with a tragic secret!

Still, what cold-blooded freedom-hater didn't cry when the pretty legally blind girl announced that she would soon be completely blind? Sure, it was the end of the first episode and it did feel a wee bit forced, the entire group of models gathered in a semicircle in the lobby of some hotel, the busy pattern of the carpet swirling in the girls' heads and making them dizzy to think of a life navigating total darkness, without so much as a glimpse in the mirror every now and then to marvel at how remarkably beeeeeautiful they are. But it was still touching and stuff.

That's what's nice about "America's Next Top Model" (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on UPN) (Note to network programmers: There are other time slots besides this one.) Even when Tyra's totally manipulating our emotions and yanking our chains and leaving us twisting in the wind, we love her like the delicious dominatrix of dramatic divatude that she is. We long to be punished by those scenes of the scrappy little fighter from the streets who gets a beer poured over her head by an aggressive stranger at Barney's Beanery, and is somehow expected not to slap said stranger upside the head with a beer bottle.

OK, just a quick aside: Whose idea was it to go to Barney's Beanery? For those of you who are unfamiliar, this West Hollywood hell hole is like a cross between a really bad Denny's, a loud, tacky nightclub of the scary, unsavory, frequented-by-knife-wielders variety, and a Hooter's filled to the brim with horny frat boys, hungry for big tits and hot wings. People vomit and throw punches in the joint regularly, yet it's always packed. Taking a sweet little scrapper ("I don't want to fight anymore!") in there is a colossal error in judgment, like throwing your Jack Russell into a cage at the zoo with some grizzly bears and a really big double-chocolate cheesecake. Just as sure as the little doggie will bristle past the bears, insert its entire face into the cheesecake, and promptly get ripped to shreds by the beasts around it, so, too, will the pretty little scrapper work her way to the front of a "dance-off" with aggro strangers, only to find half a beer soaking through her brand-new weave. Just as your wee dog will manage to maim a few bears on its way to the other side, so, too, will the scrapper throw a glass of something somewhere. She actually showed a lot of restraint, and damn it, she's had it hard and she doesn't want to fight anymore! I wish she hadn't gotten eliminated.

But these are just the little setbacks in the fight for freedom and really spectacular model-focused television, savory chickens, which we have to accept if we're going to take the path to liberty and peace and a portable black-and-white TV in every cave. The way to win this is to follow through on the plan that I just outlined!

What? What plan, you ask? Look. (Pause to make scoffing sound.) What do you think the enemy would think, if I went around talking about the plan all the damn time? Blind faith, chickens, is the truest path up the mighty mountain and over the valley of something-or-other, where together we can look down on a 10- to 15-year occupation in which many human lives (all of them precious) will be lost, and say, "God, it's nice to be occupiers in a bitterly hostile land!" By being steadfast and resolute and strong, by keeping our TiVos programmed, by refusing to question my authority, we can achieve the peace and the hot new dead-end dramas and the creme-filled crullers we all want. May God continue to bless this great land of ours!

Next week: Several 700-word, spell-checked letters from the best and the brightest readers around! Take my hand and we'll fight freedom and artificial deadlines side by side, gentle chicken sandwiches!

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  • 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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