I Like to Watch

The good hippies of "The Amazing Race" save hippiedom from the bad hippie of "Survivor." Plus: Is "Grey's Anatomy" just elaborate, expensive pornography for women?

Heather Havrilesky
May 21, 2006 5:26PM (UTC)

Dearly beloved chickens, we are gathered here today to marvel at the fact that last weekend, I became legally wed to a man of great courage and optimism, a man whose courage and optimism perhaps outweigh his good sense. For it is a somber and weighty thing, making a commitment to a woman of my temperament and sensibility, a woman who not only insists on watching every minute of every hour of every season of "The Amazing Race," until cancellation shall we part, but who breaks into regular conversation with talk of "The Hippies" or "MoJo" as if any random person is supposed to know what the hell she's talking about.

And who of sound mind would enter into that state deceptively referred to as "matrimonial bliss" anyway, but a fool armed with delusions too mighty to fathom? Who would fancy himself capable of bestriding the certain perils of lifelong commitment, as if he alone has the patience and generosity to endure day after day with the same stubborn troll of a spouse, bouncing as she does between bossy proclamations and discussions of Tyra Banks' latest preening, self-satisfied maneuver?


Pity him, chickens, for he's hopelessly ensnared by my limited charms, and seems eternally grateful to be snagged thusly.

Waiting to exile

That's right, I got married. But don't think for a second that my new status will hinder my hunger for crappy TV. As many of you know, the structural integrity of any committed relationship depends on a solid foundation of multiple amusements and distractions that prevent one from focusing too narrowly on that smelly human who'll be elbowing in on one's personal space for decades to come. Therefore, a steady flow of televised entertainments is just what the doctor ordered to ward off the contemptuous outbursts, seething silences, spontaneous bickering matches and other nasty ills so common to marriage.


I know what you're thinking: "I can't believe she tricked someone into marrying her." No, not that thought, the other one: "TV is just a drug that keeps people comfortably numb, blocked off from true intimacy!" And to that I say: Precisely. TV is one of the strongest, most relaxing, most effective drugs I know, one that keeps the many unfortunate side effects of "intimacy" -- boredom, irritation, rage -- at bay. Thus does my relationship thrive on the sweet sustenance of television the way the humble lavender soaks up every last drop of pure, delicious rainwater to keep its blooms fragrant and lovely in the heat of summer.

That's right. TV engrosses our minds and souls so that the awkward gestures, rambling anecdotes and offensive smells of those around us become less obvious. Instead, we're shackled by a steady flow of diversions. TV is the force that binds the family, if not the galaxy, together.

Take "Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island." While the travails of those ragged island dwellers draw the family into the living room each Thursday night to feast on pizza and speculate as to whether Courtney or Danielle will be the next to go, the survivors themselves have no such amusements to share in. Without the rich and potent nectar of TV, those poor people are left to annoy the hell out of each other, bore each other to tears, and pick each other to tiny little pieces using their bare hands.


This season's gaggle of survivors were an ornery bunch, too. Aside from Cirie, who seemed to have a healthy friendship with everyone and was thus doomed to get kicked off before the final three, none of the tribemates was very beloved by any of the others. Terry hated Aras, everyone hated Terry, and Shane and Courtney snapped and bickered like small children from the moment they laid eyes on each other.

Were Courtney and Shane madly in love, or did they want to kill each other? Any married person knows it can be difficult to tell the difference. But whether it was love or hate, it hardly matters, for when Love stumbles and skins its knees, Commitment drags itself to its feet, dusts itself off, and fixes itself a stiff drink. Look at most married couples: They may not be able to tolerate each other for more than a few seconds, but thanks to the vows they've made, they'll stick by each other's sides long enough to get what they want out of each other, whether it be children, a warm meal, a hefty pension or a three-car garage.


Unfortunately, as time wears on, couples often discover that underneath their lifelong alliances lies an unfortunate truth: They frackin' hate each other. This is the fragile pact we found between Courtney and Shane. Courtney could barely say two words to Shane without making him grit his teeth and visibly flinch. They bickered and cursed and rolled their eyes and fumed for weeks. Like many of those who quarrel constantly with their lovers, Shane was convinced by this perpetual strife that he should stick by Courtney to the bitter end. After all, who would vote for Courtney instead of him? A reward challenge confirmed that everyone thought Courtney was the most annoying person at camp, which meant that she was the oft-annoying Shane's only hope.

Still, the rest of the camp wisely sniffed out Shane's plan, and Cirie in particular decided that as long as Courtney was beloved for her hatefulness, she would have to go. As empty as camp would seem without a tedious hippie whose low self-esteem led her to tie little flames to the ends of ropes and prance around the beach, undoubtedly conjuring the strains of "Fire on the Mountain" in her Medusa-like head, the survivors would have to make do without her.

Like many a jilted wife, Courtney took the whole thing very personally, but pretended that her spiritual wisdom placed her above the pettiness of mere mortals. This made for a seriously entertaining display of passive-aggression at the final Tribal Council, where Courtney hurled insults veiled in kindness and dropped such faux-philosophical nuggets as "I'm a bird, so I gotta fly" and "My life is to learn." Her words brought laughter and smiles to the entire jury, proving once again that happiness truly is a warm hippie.


In the meantime, Terry had failed to win the final immunity challenge, and Danielle, reasoning that Terry's former tribemates would rally around their hero, chose to take Aras to the final two. Aras had his own flow of empty wisdom, waxing expansively for the jury, and even though no one seemed all that convinced, he ended up with the million-dollar prize.

So, as usual, two relatively dull, cautious players ended up in the final round. Who wouldn't have preferred to see Terry, Cirie, Shane or even Courtney there? Someone with a little personality, maybe? But as often occurs on "Survivor," only the weak survive, while the strong -- athletically strong, strongly adored, strongly loathed -- are left on the sidelines.

Like many a bad marriage that can only be remembered for its low moments, intolerable fights and unbearable, strained silences, instead of looking back on "Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island" with a rich appreciation of the many colorful moments we shared with those scrappy island dwellers, all we can really remember is Shane punching numbers into his imaginary BlackBerry and Courtney dancing with her little flames on the beach. We're left to wonder why we committed to such a fickle, petty bride in the first place, and we'll keep wondering as much until -- you guessed it -- another season of "Survivor" comes along, at which point we'll say to ourselves, "This one is sooo different from the last. This one is in the South Pacific! Look how crystal blue the water is! Everything will be different this time around!"


But no matter how it ends, as Courtney so wisely said, it was a beautiful reflection into life. I'm glad we've all learned something and we're all gonna walk on a higher road, aren't you? There are many more dreams in the future!

When skies are Grey

Christ, can you imagine being married to someone who talked like that? You'd smile and nod along for years and years and then one day, you'd wake up in the household goods aisle at the grocery store, idly fondling a box of rat poison.

That's where Derek Shepherd aka McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy" finds himself as the second season finale draws to a close. (Yes, if you haven't seen the finale, you should skip this section.) Shepherd's impatience with his agreeable, attractive, smart wife has been building all season, and the reasons for his lack of interest are as mysterious to us as they are to him.


The primary story line of "Grey's Anatomy" is pretty dangerous and daring in that way: Dr. Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) has an affair with intern Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and doesn't tell her that he's married. Even though his wife, Addison, just slept with his best friend, we eventually learn that Addison was jockeying for attention from her husband and she still loves him and wants to work on the marriage. Instead of making wife Addison a she-devil with a fondness for torturing innocent interns like Meredith, the writers present Addison as a reasonable, capable, strong human being.

This puts Meredith and Shepherd in a serious bind, the kind of bind that most married people don't really like to think about all that much. In fact, by the end of the finale, when Meredith and Shepherd finally respond to the sexual tension they've been feeling all season and get it on in some empty room in the hospital, it's hard not to feel a little bit shocked and prudish about the whole thing. He's taking off her underwear? They're actually going to do it, right there? What if Addison walks in? What are they thinking? It was so much easier to cheer Meredith on back when we thought McDreamy was just your typical insanely hunky doctor with no strings attached. The moral? Insanely hunky, unattached doctors don't exist, girls, so don't worry your pretty little heads about them for another second. And while we're at it -- remember how Stella got her groove back with a man 20-odd years younger than her? Well, he turned out to be gay, so put that one out of your mind, too.

Insanely hunky, unattached guys with severe heart problems do probably exist out there, somewhere, but they might die at any second, which can be more than a little inconvenient for a young lady in her prime. Despite warnings from her fellow doctors about "crossing the line," Izzie (Katherine Heigl) falls in love with her patient Denny and jeopardizes her career trying to ensure that he'll get a heart transplant, only to find him dead from a stroke a few hours later. This was a pretty satisfying story, thanks in part to Denny being almost as hunky as the unnaturally hunky Patrick Dempsey, but it was still pretty obvious Izzie would screw up her career and Denny would kick the bucket in the end.

And then there's Dr. Burke (Isaiah Washington), the insanely hunky surgeon who Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) fell in love and moved in with. In an "ER"-like finale twist, Burke gets shot by a disgruntled restaurant employee and nerve damage to his hand threatens to end his career as a surgeon. Luckily, though, Burke is unnervingly hunky -- particularly when he sheds big, salty tears -- so he'll still be loved and cared for by Cristina, even if she's a little bit flinchy in the face of playing caregiver to a broken man.


Hmmm. So basically, "Grey's Anatomy" is all about incredibly hunky men who need -- really, really, really need and love and adore -- the women in their lives, either because the hunk in question is struggling or he's dying or he's in a crappy marriage. In other words, "Grey's Anatomy" is the most elaborate, skillfully produced pornography ever created for women. No wonder I feel like molesting charming heart patients and sneaking off with pretty married doctors when I watch it.

That doesn't mean it's a bad show or anything. "Grey's Anatomy" is a good, well-written show. It just has the added bonus of being aimed squarely at a female audience prone to daydreaming about hot-yet-needy doctors. (Again, they don't exist, girls. I urge you to refocus your powers of imagination on a pleasant-looking accountant instead.)

Hippie canoe (and Tyler, too!)

Who, me? Oh, well, I landed a hunky professor. But I think you can deduce, from the fact that I get paid to watch TV all day, that I'm a little luckier than your average bear.


But speaking of lucky, how about the finale of "The Amazing Race"? (Skip this if you haven't seen it.) Not only did it come down to the wire in the most satisfying fashion, but The Hippies emerged as the winners of the million-dollar prize!

You'll be comforted to know, too, that I don't discriminate against all hippies, as has previously been alleged by some indignant hippie-lovers out there. In fact, BJ and Tyler of "The Amazing Race" are exactly the sorts of hippies I embrace wholeheartedly: They're fun-loving, they speak Japanese, they're smart, they goof around constantly, they behave good-naturedly even when the other players are messing with them, they don't turn on each other when times get tough, and -- most important of all -- they don't look like they smell (although we'd have to get some confirmation from someone who's smelled them to know for sure). The Hippies, in other words, are the sorts of hippies that give hippies everywhere a good name: They're intellectually curious, cheerful, easygoing and clean. Plus, The Hippies always seemed to make friends with the most likable teams, while alienating the losers. The Hippies loved Fran and Barry and Ray and Yolanda, but they didn't love the Frat Boys (or the Frat Girls, as Ray called them) or Monica and Joseph or those weird girls with the overly plucked eyebrows and the matching pink clothes.

Meanwhile, Monica and Joseph (MoJo) hated The Hippies from the first day, because Monica and Joseph are the types who hate all hippies, good and bad, because Monica and Joseph think that people who don't iron their T-shirts and bleach their teeth are queer (as in strange, but it's not hard to imagine these two are homophobes as well). The Frat Girls started to hate The Hippies, too, because The Hippies were always happy, had insanely good luck, and made the Frat Girls look really square and lame by comparison. Not that the Frat Girls were all that bad. They were dorky and sometimes unethical, but they were also pretty funny and not all that frat-boy-like, truth be told. In fact, the Frat Girls wanted to win so they would never have to work again, because they don't like working. "The Slackers" might have been a fairer name for them -- if not for their carefully chiseled abs and their tendency to hit on every woman within shouting distance.

But shout as they might, the Frat Girls couldn't take home the big prize, thanks to their inability to solve the final flag challenge, where they had to put the flags of all the countries they had visited in the order that they visited them. The second this challenge was introduced, it was clear The Hippies would win, and it was satisfying to see them do so. All in all, this was a really lively, fun season of "The Amazing Race," the kind that strengthens my undying commitment to watch every second of every hour of every season of this show indefinitely, until cancellation do us part.

Marry maker

I want to end with a special message for all of you young people out there: Don't let bitter old people tell you that marriage is a terrible thing! I've been married for a whole week, so I can tell you from personal experience that marriage is totally, like, the awesomest thing I've ever done, dude! I always thought weddings were expensive and stupid, but you know what? Getting dressed up and drinking and dancing with all of your friends is really fun, plus they all send you expensive gifts afterward. And I think it's pretty obvious that if your spouse is really nice to you right after you get married, fetching you stuff and doing the dishes a lot just like you dreamed about, that means he's going to act just like that for the rest of your lives together.

So what's not to like? Getting married is one of the smartest things I've ever done. Just make sure that, before you get married, you have six or seven long-term relationships, experience several painful breakups, become disillusioned, regain hope only to fall in love with a total jerk, dump him only to spend a few depressing months trying to get into online dating but never getting past the point where you roll your eyes at every single personal ad, and finally resign yourself to living your life alone, totally and completely alone. If, just as you're starting to feel really excited about being alone forever, about never getting married or even owning a high-maintenance house plant, if at that moment you meet the man or woman of your dreams, that's when you know you're ready. Congratulations! A lifetime of happiness is yours!*

*This offer not good when you're pissed off, irritated, busy, tired or longing to sleep with Patrick Dempsey.

Next week: Updates on many, many more finales, including "24," "Lost" and "The Sopranos"!

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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