Monday, September 15, 2008

U.S. Army Aids Hungry Refugees... On MTV?...

MTV's newest installment of The Real World/Road Rules Challenge promised us pampered pseudo-celebrities marooned on a desert island. There would be no teams, no challenges, no luxury, but in the end a small group of the original twenty would split the "treasure" of $300,000. The first episode premiered last Wednesday and delivered... well, almost one hundred percent.

The cast will be living on an otherwise unoccupied part of Panama, but they have full-on Swiss Family Robinson huts, as Kenny so astutely pointed out. They have bedding and furniture and silverware, and oh yeah, outhouses with running water. It's not roughing it more than any familial camping trip! And it's not like they'll be stuck eating bugs or trying to spear fish with the underwires from the girls' bras (yeah, like any of them thought to bring one!): the production team set them up with a huge "Unicef supply of rice" (thanks for the intelligent quote, Dunbar!), and periodically throughout the duration of filming, the U.S. Army will circle the island and make airdrops with essential supplies-- most likely toilet paper, more rice, and vodka. I sincerely hope when T.J. Lavin said "U.S. Army," what he meant was "equally underpaid production assistant." After all, the army has much bigger problems on their hands than some spoiled kids who are delaying getting real jobs for yet another few months.

Now, naturally when I first heard of this Survivor-esque concept, I was jumping for joy. Here are twenty-somethings who have made a virtual career out of appearing on these basic cable programs, winning countless Zune mp3 players, Schwinn ten-speeds, and even sea-dos in the process. They sign on eagerly, expecting to live in a giant mansion in some exotic paradise with a never ending stream of booze and some equally attractive and randy like-minded individuals, so what would happen when they showed up to a sandy strip of beach in the middle of nowhere? Sadly, I never got to find out. While there are some challenge "vets" on board, a few (like Abram and Rachel) hadn't been on one in awhile and probably weren't foaming at the mouth the way greedy Kenny, Johnny Bananas, or Robin was. The majority of the cast, though, is made up of newbs, like the Challenge virgins Ashli, Cohutta, Kelly, and Dunbar from Real World: Sydney and Dave from Real World XX: Hollywood. The only sure thing for drama queen behavior is Tonya, who in episode one, already broke down about "not being able to handle it," and then about "not being strong enough to pull some pegs out," but keeping around someone as nutbar as she isn't worth it for the other players who dislike her so much and see her more as a loose cannon than good TV, so of course she had to be the first to go. So what's the plan now, MTV?

T.J. also warned the group that he will give them the rules of the game a little bit at a time, which might screw with alliances and assumed strategies and cause for some more breakdowns, but so far The Island just seems like so much more of the same from Challenges past: drunken hook-ups, convoluted games, a rookie versus veteran split, and a ridiculously old-fashioned and sexist alliance determined to get rid of all of the girls before the end (um hello? Didn't you guys try this last time? And how'd that work out for ya?). Perhaps the best part of The Island is the fact that while people will be voted off along the way, at the end, there will still be people sitting on the beach who won't get to share in the money. The cash prize is hidden in a treasure chest on another island, and the cast members must build two rafts to get to the other island. T.J. will give parts of the raft out at various points in the game, and all parts must be used in creating the rafts. The rafts can only hold four people each, which leads me to believe that at about week eight, when there are twelve people left, the final event will take place, having the final eight sail off in search of their prize, while four very sad and bitter losers will have to watch them, knowing they are going home with nothing.

Since the treasure cannot be unlocked without a literal key, each person on the raft must have his or her own one before setting sail. Here's where The Island gets a little confusing and a lot barbaric: keys are won by competing in Gauntlet or Inferno type mano e mano ring events-- or in this case mano e mano e mano. BUT down the line you can still go home even if you won a key on a previous night. In that case, you entrust your key to someone else. I'm wondering what would happen if a key was just stolen from another player in the middle of the night; I'm seeing tree bark shanks and pillow cases filled with rice being dropped on people's heads, or maybe some will just be medivacced out due to alcohol poisoning...

The Island definitely lacks when it comes to personalities: aside from Derrick, who I'm beyond happy to see return (though I am less-than-happy to hear he returns with a wife and child on the way), there are too many unfamiliar faces. Since I don't usually watch The Real World, and I've never seen a full season of Road Rules, I have no idea what the majority of these kids like Dan or Ryan or Dunbar can offer a game like this. Yet, I will give the show their props for seeming to acknowledge that shortcoming by pulling out the stops with crazy situations and creative head-to-heads. And reducing people who think they own the game to sniveling, teary-eyed beggars at a face-to-face voting ceremony. Friendships, and cross-series alliances are about to be tested. Grab your popcorn now!

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