Monday, September 20, 2010

New, More Evolved VH1 Brings us "I Love Money 3 4"

I can't speak for all "celebreality" fans, that would be foolish. But for myself, one of the pleasures of these programs was observing the various ways in which people manipulate each other, and themselves. At any time, did anyone actually believe that those women on "Flavor of Love," or "Rock of Love," or the men on "I Love New York," or "Daisy of Love," or "Megan Wants a Millionaire" were competing for true romance? No -- at least not at the beginning of each series. They were competing for screen time. They had to manipulate the characters who had their names in the titles, and the producers, in order to convince those people to keep them around. They did this by playing along with the fiction of the shows.

There was always a lot of talk about who was there "for the right reasons." The "right reasons" were supposed to be "to find love." But there was another layer to that. "The right reasons" were also to be entertaining to the viewer. To connive. To manipulate. To become exaggerated versions of real people.

Real people get into arguments. On celebreality shows, they throw things at each other. Real people drink occasionally. On celebreality shows they become sloppy drunk and vomit. Real people hook up. On celebreality shows they hook up.

But some of the characters reach a point where it seems they've submitted completely to the fiction. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." On celebreality shows, they were pretending to be looking for love. Those who remained on the shows long enough either submit to the fiction completely, a la Mindy, from "Rock of Love Bus," or they collapse under the weight of the fiction and crack up, a la Ashley, also from "Rock of Love Bus."

Occasionally you get a magical contestant like Megan Hauserman, who seems impervious to anything like real emotion, who exists solely to manipulate and grab more screen time. She was never going to fall in love with Bret Michaels. It was totally obvious. She was a success because she was almost psychotic in her devotion to her own aggrandizement. She parlayed that devotion into memorable appearances on "I Love Money," "Charm School," and her own "Megan Wants a Millionaire."

 The former queen of VH1, used and callously discarded by the network.

Today, Ms. Hauserman is one of the most successful of the celebreality contestants. She actually appears occasionally in a Showtime television show (the network of "Dexter" and "Californication"!). Of course, it's a soft core porn "Baywatch" parody. But it's outside the celebreality universe.

This is a good thing, since the celebreality shows collapsed after the Ryan Jenkins-Jasmine Fiore tragedy. And here we get into another layer of the manipulation; that of the network and production company. First, it was 51 Minds sending the reprehensible Stuart Brazell out to "Larry King Live" and "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell," to talk about how the murder of a young woman affected her, Stuart Brazell.

Then, there was VH1. Only a few months ago, Jeff Olde, that network's executive vice president, attempted to manipulate the press into believing they were giving up on the "trashy" celebreality shows. They were going to "more evolved." At least one "journalist" actually bought it.

Had he never watched a celebreality show?

What VH1 did was not funny. It was a direct insult to the intelligent of the viewers. We didn't watch the shows because we were looking for positive role models. We weren't looking for uplift. We wanted to see (sorry, I guess I'm speaking for all of us, now) how humans behave in real life -- we just wanted to see it bigger. There's nothing wrong with that.

Don't condescend to us. Don't tell us that we should like something like "Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business," when we want another season of "I Love Money."

But for crying out loud, if you are going to condescend to us. If you are going to tsk tsk us and tell us how ashamed you are of yourselves for airing that stuff, and of your viewers for actually paying you the compliment of watching it, if you are going to insist that "I Love Money 3 and  4 won't air," don't then turn around and air "I Love Money  4."

And if you are going to air "I Love Money 4," don't announce it's going to air, put it on the schedule, then take it off the schedule and replace it with some "VH1 Special (1 Hour) POD Version" nonsense, only to put it officially on the schedule a few days before it's set to air. (And by the way, now that it's airing, why not acknowledge it on your website? Remember when VH1's site used to do ILM recaps? No more.)

Be honest about it. "I Love Money" is the best reality show on television. You need to own that shit. Because it's some good shit.

But, have you ruined things, VH1? After all, as I've already written, no one would hold you in any responsible for the death of Jasmine Fiore. Nor would we hold you responsible for Ryan Jenkins getting onto "Megan Wants a Millionaire." We don't even hold 51 Minds responsible. Yes, they should have used better background checks, but mistakes can be made; people occasionally get through even the best, most thorough background checking systems. For crying out loud, even Los Alamos National Labs recently had employees who with security clearance who were caught trying to sell nuclear secrets to what they thought were representatives of the Venezuelan government.

What we object to is your implicating us in the crime. That somehow because we like to watch exaggerated versions of real human beings, you were forced to cast dangerous people on these shows. So, given everything that's happened, can we watch another season of "I Love Money" without all the baggage? The first episode of the fourth-to-be-filmed-but-the-third-to-air season aired last Thursday. Unfortunately, it's difficult to watch without judging the producers and the network.

Suddenly, all that manipulation doesn't seem as entertaining.

And what's worse, we're being told that this latest season is in fact a watered down version of the show.
A VH1 spokesman says season three will never air, and added that season four has been revised before airing.

"It's a new, edited version," he adds. "We have a new programming filter here."

Since the scandal erupted and raised questions about the screening of contestants, VH1 has shifted to a different type of reality content.

For instance, the network is airing three new series this weekend, including one centered on troubled "American Idol" contestant Fantasia Barrino and another on the planning for the wedding of Lala Vasquez and NBA star Carmelo Anthony.

The fourth season of "I Love Money," says the spokesman, "is focusing more on the competition as opposed to some of the interaction between the cast."

There's also been an additional background check on contestants to see if legal problems emerged between the time of filming and the present, he says.

"I Love Money" featured contestants on previous VH1 shows in a series of physical and mental challenges, all in an effort to win a $250,000 grand prize. During the competition, the contestants lived together in Mexico, a stay that led to drinking and other reality-show escapades.

Focusing more on the "competition," as opposed to the "interaction"? The interaction is the competition. For crying out loud, the "physical challenges" were always just an excuse for the "interaction."

Not a good sign, when the network doesn't even understand it's own product.

First off, before the show even begins we get a shot of Janice Dickinson holding a knife over the head of Omarosa, from an old episode of "The Surreal Life," as part of a promo for a show called "20 Greatest Celebreality Fights." I guess that whole "new, more evolved" image for VH1 didn't take, did it?

Did anyone think that it would? Oh, yeah. Some lazy "journalist" from the Associated Press. Way to go, AP.

See? Even before the show's begun, and I'm watching a teaser from the previous  program, I already feel snarky.

The show begins with 18 former celebreality castmembers being taken by boat to the remote Mexican beach to begin what Craig Jackson (how I have missed Craig Jackson, the best host of any reality show) calls "the adventure of a lifetime." This is exciting and  brings back memories of how much fun the last season of "I Love Money" was, but at the same time, every word is loaded now, after what happened with Ryan Jenkins and the way VH1 handled it.

Suspiciously absent from the logo is a number. "I Love Money 2," the second season, had that "2." You know, to let us know it was the second season. This season was of course the fourth season filmed, yet it is the third to air. Everyone knows this. I suppose nothing VH1 did in this instance would be satisfactory; they'd get criticized for the number or not. So I'm criticizing them for not using the number. Take that, more evolved VH1. Your representative, Stuart Brazell, criticized me for liking the shows, so I'm criticizing you. How's that feel?

Oh, yeah. I'm also criticizing them for calling themselves "more evolved." A lot of us enjoyed the "Of Loves," and "I Love Money." Are you saying that we're somehow "less evolved"? That you were going to move on without us, until the ratings came in?

Discovery runs "evolved" reality shows. VH1, you run junk. That is why we watched it.

As the contestants ride up to the beach in their boats, they (re)introduce themselves. We get glimpses of the glorious celebreality past. Mamacita crying drunk and announcing she's going to go pee. Marcia drinking, vomiting, and kissing Bret Michaels, in that order. Blonde Baller backstabbing and interviewing, "I do what I have to do, and I don't ask anybody for anything." That and, "I don't think anyone in this house can trust me."

In other words, she states the obvious. Why would any of these people trust any of the others, with anything? Especially when there's money at stake. Unless they're suffering from "Flavor of Love Syndrome" spinoff "I Love Money Syndrome," in which the afflicted come to believe, for some reason, if there's money involved, you can trust a reality show veteran.

As we will see, "I Love Money Syndrome" is real, it does afflict people.

For crying out loud, that AP reporter believed the VH1 vice president when he said that "I Love Money" 3 and 4 would not air on VH1. Remember that? Remember how gullible he was?

From the mens' boat we meet 20 Pack, who says he's a "veteran of 'I Love Money 2,'" acknowledging a time when the "I Love Money" seasons were numbered (remember that much more innocent time?), and stating that Myammee "screwed" him out of $250,000. Those of us who watched know that he's trying to manipulate us, and, perhaps, himself, into believing that his decisions didn't cost him the money. 20 Pack screwed himself, but hopefully he's learned his lesson, right? He's the "veteran" now. He's salty. That's why he says Myammee screwed him out of the money.

 20 Pack, the veteran. If only Myammee hadn't been against him in the previous season, he'd have won it all. After all, he's really, really smart.

Chi Chi says he'll "be a little bit more gangster," because he's competing for money, as opposed to the love of a wonderful woman (Daisy de la Hoya).

Next is Cheesy, from "I Love New York 2." I missed most of that show, so this was the first time I'd seen this character. He is perhaps the inspiration for the line "a whiter shade of pale," and perhaps the most socially awkward character ever to appear on these shows. He twitches and speaks in a halting, misfit cadence that elicits sympathy and scorn in equal measure. "I don't look like a typical threat," he interviews. But he's lying because he is a threat -- to himself.

Then there's Garth the Plumber. "You might know me from 'Megan Wants a Millionaire,'" he deadpans. Oh, yeah. I do remember that. We get to see a few clips of him singing "his" song "Sex Mode." (And yes, I did freeze the images of his singing to see if I could get a glimpse of Ryan Jenkins in the background -- I think you could see him but I'm not sure.) Garth apparently didn't write "Sex Mode," even though at the time he claimed that he did.

I wrote a blog entry about it. I thought that would be the biggest scandal associated with that show. That Garth the Plumber didn't actually write "Sex Mode." Different times.

 Garth the Plumber attempts to shift right into "Sex Mode" with Megan Hauserman. The series was cancelled after the third episode,  but somehow I don't think things worked out between them.

Also from MWAM is Punisher, the millionaire former stripper. His arch enemy is Francisco, another MWAM alumnus. (There are four contestants from that ill-fated show on "I Love Money 3 4," as it turns out, including Alex, who's enough of a drip that we don't get to meet him right away.) In order to show their rivalry, we get some clips from MWAM that I don't remember ever seeing before. Is it possible that we're seeing previously unaired footage of that notorious program?

Anyway, when the boats finally make it onto the beach we're given our first real piece of shocking information: Brittanya, the tattooed hottie with the criminal aggression problem (who by the way wears a necklace with brass knuckles on it -- not the most tasteful look for a young woman who had to take a day off from her stint on VH1's "Charm School" to go to court for her assault charges) "f*cked" (her word) both Chi Chi and 20 Pack.

That's right-- Chi Chi and 20 Pack are both straight. I about fell out of my chair when I heard that.

Chi Chi: I just wish she would come over, grab me, and give me the biggest kiss ever. I just love her...

20 Pack: Brittanya's my boo... Yeah, we hooked up. Eight out of ten thoughts I have her [sic?]... I constantly think about her; I constantly care about her.

These guys aren't going to win the money.

 Brittanya's standards don't match her body.

The first challenge has the men taking on the other men, and the women taking on the other women, to decide who will be the first team captains. It involves spinning around in circles to open a safe in which is a bag of money, taking that money to a safe with a lock, the combination of which is the amount of money in the bag, and then removing from the safe a hook, which they will then use to lift a third safe, allow it to drop onto the ground and break, thereby liberating a handle the contestants will use to detonate a final safe.

Much is made of the fact that Mamacita seems confused by the rules but, in fairness, the rules are needlessly byzantine.

For the men, much to Punisher's chagrin, it's Francisco who wins. For the women, untrustworthy Blonde Baller. Those two will pick the teams the way teams were chosen in high school. You remember, back when you were always picked last, including after the mentally handicapped girl with only one arm. Or, was that just me? Anyway, this means that once they get to the house, they need to start promoting themselves to the two captains. Showing their worthiness, and what they can bring to their respective teams.

Of course they start drinking right away. Cheesy, who isn't much of a drinker, decides to show what a tough guy he is by drinking as many tequila shots as it takes to vomit. His strategy seems to work, too, because he does end up running to the bathroom.

Blonde Baller consults 20 Pack for advice. Because he's a veteran and, "watching his other show, he's loyal." In other words, Blonde Baller knows he's stupid and will do whatever she wants, if she aggrandizes herself to him early. Blonde Baller has got to be the favorite to win, but is she peaking too soon? These are not the most able-minded people in the world, and she'll probably be able to manipulate them only so long before they grow resentful and eliminate her. Remember on her season, Megan Hauserman laid low for a few weeks.

Blonde Baller is no Megan Hauserman, but she's trying. Here she is in someone's kitchen, um, taking photos of herself.

20 Pack explains that you need strong men on your team to win the physical challenges. Because of the schoolyard team-picking set up, Francisco would end up with more strong men than Blonde Baller; and I'm sure she's used to getting as many strong men as she wants. This means that Blonde Baller needs to come up with a way to get Francisco to not pick Punisher, 20 Pack, and 6 Gauge. Blonde Baller goes to Francisco and asks him if there's anyone he wants out of the house tonight, and Francisco foolishly tells her Punisher.

"Even though I don't think that I can trust this girl, the idea of that [eliminating Punisher] sounds kinda cool," he interviews.

This after 20 Pack and Blonde Baller had assumed that Francisco would naturally pick Punisher first. Since he's probably the strongest man.

Francisco asks Blonde Baller which woman she'd like to see eliminated. "Marcia, I just don't like her," she says. Now they have a deal. Marcia and Punisher are going home tonight.

So much for not focusing on the interaction.

Before the elimination ceremony, the contestants are presented with their $250,000 checks. Before they can receive them, however, Craig insists they humiliate themselves by explaining what the money would mean to them. This is a great opportunity for the contestants to build sympathy for themselves and score some points for their enlightenment and sensitivity.

Chi Chi would split his money three ways, among himself, his roommate Sinister, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Even though Punisher's a millionaire, he earned his money as a stripper, "a dollar at a time... a fat woman at a time," and so he definitely understands the value of money. Also, it's a recession. He wants all the money he can get.

Mamacita doesn't know what it would mean to her to win the money.

Cornfed would use the money to move to Fargo North Dakota to open a frozen yogurt business.

Alex has some strategy for parlaying the money using leverage to invest for his investment company, blah blah, but then interviews that he really wants to win the money so he can "have sex with attractive women, and then have them tell other people about me, so I can get referral sex from their attractive friends. Duh."

Hot Wings would use the money to help her father, who recently had a stroke.

Brooklyn would use the money to resurrect his dead father. I am not joking. That is literally what he said he would do with the money. "If two-fifty could bring my father back, I'll invest all of it," he tells Craig.

Mindy would use the money to give her sister the life she deserves.

Marcia attempts to explain what she would do with the money, but Mamacita keeps interrupting her. First by talking and then by passing gas.

Later, Mamacita confides in her fellow contestants that Marcia is a below-average Brazilian, while she, Mamacita, is an above-average Mexican. Having ridden the bus in Los Angeles almost every day for five years I can tell you that Mamacita is most definitely not an above average Mexican.

 The above-average Mexican Mamacita whispers something above-average onto Chance's cheek on "Real Chance of Love 2."

Punisher goes to Francisco to tell him that it would be in his best interests to pick him first. Then their animosity would be cleared up and everyone would be put on notice -- their team would be the strongest.

Mamacita and Alex spend some time dry humping and wrestling on the bed. Alex is a millionaire after all, and the above-average Mexican might need a sugar daddy if the whole trying to win $250,000 on a trashy VH1 reality show thing doesn't work out. Is she a typical above average Mexican?

The below-average Brazilian tells Francisco he should pick her because she's been working out in the gym and, she "can swim like a dolphin." Most of the women, apparently, can't swim. I believe that Marcia was also on the (unaired) third season of "I Love Money." That was the season that Ryan Jenkins allegedly won. So maybe Marcia has first-hand knowledge of the womens' swimming skills.

Francisco interviews that Marcia is just wasting her time, because he and Blonde Baller have a deal. Then he interviews that everyone's here to win the money and no one can be trusted, but if he can trust Blonde Baller to keep her word to get rid of Punisher, then they'll both have a great chance of making it to the end. See if you can follow that logic.

How did Francisco become a millionaire again?

The night of the ceremony, Francisco shows just how charmingly naive he really is, wearing a beaded Barack Obama t-shirt. How many promises has that man broken? How manipulative has his math been regarding the whole "health care reform" thing, to name just one example. In fairness, this season of "I Love Money" was filmed before Obama had been president for too long, so maybe Francisco still had "HOPE" that Obama would live up to his hype. And this early in the game, he still had "hope" that Blonde Baller would live up to her word, too.

But she breaks her word to Francisco fairly quickly, picking Punisher as her second male teammate. Not only does she pick Punisher, but she also announces to everyone that she and Francisco had made a deal to get rid of Punisher, but she's decided to go against it.

Francisco insists that this announcement will be the end of her in the game, because now everyone knows she can't be trusted. In fact it's probably the end of Francisco, because she's exposed him for the weak, easily-manipulable tool that he is.

Anyway, he shows her by picking Marcia. After all, Blonde Baller, who's already shown herself to be a manipulator (I'm not calling her dishonest because she's trying to win "I Love Money," not running for president) told Francisco she didn't like Marcia.

Of course, Blonde Baller interviews that she doesn't really care about Marcia one way or the other. She was just trying to get Francisco to let her have both Punisher and 20 Pack. Like I said, she might be the favorite at this point,  but then again, she might be too manipulative for her own good.

Anyway, it's the awkward Cheesy and the above-average Mexican Mamacita who are the first to leave. Cheesy I understand and no big loss --  but Mamacita might have been excellent television. Mexicans need an above-average role model, right?

Yes, the first episode of the new season of "I Love Money" was a fun time, but VH1 has nearly ruined it with their attitude. Perhaps as the series rolls along we can come to see past all the crap and just enjoy the show for what it is: A profound commentary on the ways in which the people who run the media manipulate and despise their viewers by "giving them what they want."

I mean, it's just a fun show about a bunch of jerks who get drunk and yell at each other.

I mean, it's both.

I mean, dammit, VH1, look what you've done to me.

Blonde Baller in a bikini pic source.
Mamacita and Chance pic source.
Brittanya pic source.
Garth the Plumber and Megan Hauserman pic source.
Megan Hauserman pic source.
20 Pack pic source.


A.Jaye said...

The best effing recap to TV's best reality show. I salute you Ricky Sprague. I'd also like to think I had some influence on the publishing of this post (ego talks).

Hot Wings is cute but I love a chick who brain power the hoi polloi. Thumbs up to Blonde Baller and lets see how she can stand up to the target on her back. What she needs is a bitch. Someone to take the bullet for her. A Bones or a Brandy C. Sassy maybe.

Keep up the great work dude. Due to the current political coalition climate in my backward country I'm on hiatus.

Ricky Sprague said...

Thanks, AJaye, your kind comments are greatly appreciated.

The news of your hiatus is more disappointing to me than when I first read that "I Love Money" wasn't going to air. Please don't let it last too long.