Looking back on my initial exposure to this genre now known as “reality television”, I recall thinking what an interesting concept it was. It was when the first season of “The Real World” had just debuted, and it seemed like a great sociological experiment. The idea of a group of strangers coming together, being forced by circumstance to forge relationships, to confront preconceptions and stereotypes, to live life...it seemed like it could make for a riveting viewing experience. Little did I know then just what we were all going to be in for over the years to come.
By now, the phrase “jumped the shark” has made its way into the everyday lexicon. For those few of you unaware of this expression, it’s used to describe a television program that has crossed over from being watchable to being an electronic abomination. Whether or not Average Joe was ever considered truly watchable may be debatable, but I think most of us can agree that something happened this week, something that took the show from guilty pleasure into the realm of “that’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.” It wasn’t quite “Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire?” bad, but it was bad enough.
Competition Part II - Electric Boogaloo
It all started out innocently enough. There was a Baywatch-type opening sequence which was just cheesy enough to be funny. Brooke Burns and Michael Bergin, both former Baywatch cast members, were on hand to oversee a lifeguard-themed contest between the AJ’s and the new guys. I’ll admit, I was damned disappointed they couldn’t get David Hasslehoff himself to attend the festivities, but he’s probably busy saving a former Soviet republic or something. As Brooke and Michael are introducing themselves, Brooke pulls a Troy McClure by saying “You might remember us from Baywatch.” Actually Brooke, no. No I don’t. Then again, I’ve always said that Baywatch went downhill the minute they lost Nicole Eggert, so what do I know?
The guys break up into their respective teams, with Brooke in charge of the AJ’s and Michael heading up the new guys. Each coach has words of wisdom for their eager pupils. Brooke’s advice to the AJ’s is “It’s all in the buttcheeks.” Nice. I wonder if she realizes that this is Average Joe, not Oz. Michael counters by telling the hunks that keeping the stomach tight is the main thing, and that they should “go beat that girl team.” What a champ. It’s always heartwarming to see a man use “girls” as an insult. Chivalry may be dead, but misogyny sure isn’t. Way to go, Baywatch boy.
This competition, just like the “back to high school” day, is broken up into three events. The first is a paddleboard race. The guys are to paddle out to a buoy and back on a surfboard. It’s neck and neck, right up to the last two guys. Mike K. gets the jump on Thom, but by the time they reach the buoy, Thom is right there with him. As they race back to the shore, Thom pulls ahead and never looks back. The AJ’s have won the first competition! You know, just like last time. Afterwards, Brooke attributes the loss by the new guys to “shrinkage”. Oh Seinfeld, will you ever stop haunting us with your omnipresence? I was waiting for her to tell Thom that he was spongeworthy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Okay, I’ll stop now, I promise. After bringing home the win, Thom shares that this is one of the proudest moments of his life. I would have thought that honor would have gone to the day he finally mastered the head spin/electric slide combo, but maybe I just take breakdancing a little more seriously than one Mr. Thomas Grande. Word up.
Shocked by their loss, the new guys vow to go all out for competition #2 - a rescue mission. They’re to retrieve a submerged 80 lb. dummy from the water and return it to shore. Brian W. is nervous about this event, as he’s haunted by the memories of having to be rescued during the water portion of the mini-triathlon a few weeks ago. He sucks it up and gets the job done, though. As he stumbles, huffing and puffing, onto the beach, Brooke congratulates him by throwing herself on top of him, hugging and cheering. Larissa feels pangs of jealousy, as does Todd. Different reasons, though. Larissa doesn’t like the idea of another woman hanging all over “her” guys, and Todd doesn’t like the idea of a hot blonde hanging all over an Average Joe. He could have started singing “Good Vibrations” to get her attention, but alas, he missed his chance. Despite the best efforts of the Joes, the new guys easily win this contest.
The final, deciding contest is a tug-of-war. Wow, what a coincidence. It’s sure shaping up a lot like last time, isn’t it? Three contests, two of which emphasize strength, the final one needed to break the tie? It might have been nice if NBC would at least pretend to switch it up a little. I’m just sayin’. Although the AJ’s actually give the new guys a run for their money, the new guys win the event, taking 2 out of 3 contests. Afterwards, Brooke and Michael pick a member of each of their respective teams to share a date with Larissa that evening. Brooke picks Thom because of his great effort during the paddleboard race, and Michael picks Jim for having the fastest speed in the rescue mission.
A Little Tag-Team Action
That evening, the three have drinks at Larissa’s house. Afterwards, they hang out in the Jacuzzi. Prior to the date, Thom and Jim decided to let each other have some alone time with Larissa. Kind of sweet, really. After an awkward exit (“I have to go to the bathroom.”) by Jim, Thom and Larissa get their first chance to spend any extended amount of time together. Reading everyone in America’s mind, Thom asks Larissa “Why am I still here?” Don’t get me wrong. Thom seems like a nice guy. The breakdancing rapper thing is a little weird, but I bet he’s a fun person to be around. Unfortunately, he’s been overshadowed all season by the likes of Fredo and David Daskal, so it’s hard to understand why he’s outlasted some of the other guys. In response to his question, Larissa answers that he opens up around her, he’s warm and real, and he just has a light inside of him that shines. Eh. As true as it may be, I think I’d feel very embarrassed for someone if they were to ever say that to me. Thom, however, loves it, and the two share a couple quick pecks on the lips.
As Jim rejoins them in the Jacuzzi, Thom pours him a glass of champagne (A classy touch, I thought. I liked that the two guys weren’t acting adversarial.) and takes off, leaving the two pretty people to their devices. As soon as he’s gone, Jim suggests they go hang out in the pool. Larissa enthusiastically agrees. While they’re getting in the water, the show cuts to Larissa talking about how tall and built Jim is, and how that really makes her feel like a woman. It was the first time in a while that I disliked Larissa, because it was such a typically girly-girl, helpless sounding thing to say. Also, it got that heinous Shania Twain song in my head, and that’s never a good thing. As soon as they get in the pool, Larissa is ALL over Jim. I hope Thom was off somewhere beatboxing, because he would have felt like crap if he’d seen the difference in Larissa’s physical behavior between the two guys. They finally stop making out, and start wrestling. Larissa shouts “You’re going down now!” to Jim. Whoa. Hold up there, sister. This is a family show. You’re going to get the FCC all over you. You know they’re already all riled up over the Super Bowl incident. Oh, that’s not what she meant? Oops. My mistake.
The Splat Heard ‘Round The World
The next day, the whole group goes cliff diving. They’re roughly four stories up, and she wants the guys to jump off into the rough current below. Over jagged rocks. I’ll tell you what, this would have been the point at which I said “Good luck fellas, and nice meeting you Larissa. See ya!” I would have been out of there like Speedy Gonzalez. Luckily the guys are more courageous about open heights than I am, and after a little bit of hemming and hawing, Fredo decides to go first. Not content to just jump, Fredo adds a little flip move in there too. You know when you’re watching diving on t.v. and part of you is sure that each diver is going to make that awful “Splat!” landing? Yeah, Fredo did that. From four stories in the air, the man jumped off a cliff and landed on his stomach. He obviously knocked the wind out of himself, as when Larissa yelled down to see if he was okay, he could only give her the thumbs up. Though she cringes, Larissa goes on to say “Well, it’s just water.” I don’t want to get all technical here, but water is a lot like concrete if you hit it fast enough from high enough. Don’t make me break out my college physics text, Larissa. I’ll do it, I swear. Even though Fredo’s stunt must have given them pause, the rest of the guys also complete the jump. Once they finish, Larissa chooses Gil to continue the day with. She then promptly jumped off the cliff herself. I wonder how many women have jumped off cliffs after committing to an afternoon with Gil? Possibly dozens.
The Golden Ticket
Because the show probably only rented the yacht for a few days, Larissa and Gil have their date at a chocolate factory. Sadly there were no oompa-loompas present, and the factory owner didn’t offer the two a ride in his magical elevator. I know, I know, I was disappointed too. They did, however, learn the entire chocolate-making process, and even went to collect cocoa bean pods, giving them a chance to talk. Gil comes off as far less arrogant than the other new guys, and Larissa enjoys that about him. He says he just wants to be himself, and wants to get to know the real her. In turn, she feels more comfortable with him than she has with any of the other hunks, and they share a nice conversation. They get a little playful back at the factory, having a mock fight with the chocolate. I apologize ahead of time for what I’m about to say, because it’s pretty gross. Did any of you notice that the chocolate fight took place in a bathroom? I’m sorry, but any room with a toilet is a room where I don’t want runny chocolate smeared on my face. Maybe it’s just me. Probably not, though.
As the date winds down, Larissa is introspective. She realizes that every other date she’s been on with the hunks has been about “shock value”. She admits that if she were at home, being herself, she wouldn’t be on yachts or in Jacuzzis, and she recognizes that she’s been so caught up in the game that she hasn’t been herself. The date with Gil has brought her back down to reality a little bit, and she bemoans the fact that she was intimate so quickly with the other guys. Although he doesn’t yet realize it, it was a sad day for Chachi. He’s the only hunk who hasn’t had a private date with Larissa, and she’s renouncing her slutty ways before he gets a shot at her.
Please Be Kidding. No, Really. Be Kidding.
The next morning, the men awake to find a Vespa in the driveway. On it is a note for Tony, asking him to join Larissa for some private time. This pleases him, because he’s finished the portrait he began on the date they shared previously, and he wants to present it to her. He and Larissa ride their glorified scooters to what appears to be public gardens. After talking for a while amongst the flowers (“I’m really developing feelings for you, Larissa.”), they walk to a small lake where a rowboat carrying wine and the painting awaits them.
Cut back to the mens’ house. The siren call of a beeping detonator attracts the guys to the living room. On it is an envelope reading “Open Me.” Where are they, Wonderland? In it is a note that simply states “All’s fair in love and war.” The men are intrigued. In an interview with the camera, Fredo states “I work in construction, and anytime there’s a detonator around, it’s usually to destroy something.” Usually? I’d like to know the exceptions to that rule. Mike K. asks Fredo if they should depress the lever, and Fredo says that he wouldn’t do it. Make a note of that, because it becomes an issue later. Chachi and Mike decide to push it anyway.
On the boat, Tony is presenting his painting to Larissa. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a great artist. My knowledge of fine art is limited, to say the least. The painting was better than what I could have done, granted. But I’m sorry, it was terrible. A friend who I roped into watching the show this week pointed out that the way he painted to show shades of shadow and light made it look like Larissa was wearing the world’s largest monocle. I didn’t catch that the first time I watched, but upon further review, damned if it really didn’t look like that. All she needed was to put her pinky in the air while holding a champagne flute, and the image would have been complete. Because she knows how much the painting means to Tony, though, she accepts it and thanks him graciously. That is, until...
I’m going to interject something here. Most of us aren’t reality t.v. virgins. We’ve all come to accept the fact that when the scenes for next week are shown at the end of each episode, they make it seem more exciting than it ends up actually being. Last week, I saw them try to make us think they were going to blow up the boat. I figured that what would really happen would be far less contrived and melodramatic. I thought that when they showed Larissa saying “What was that?!”, it would have just been a fish jumping out of the water, maybe. I thought the detonator...well, I don’t know what I thought about the detonator. Point is, I didn’t think they’d actually put a hole in the freaking boat. When that’s exactly what happened, I was shocked. Why the hell did they do that? Who are the people sitting in the NBC offices saying “You know what this dating show needs? Explosions!”? In what universe was that a sane idea? I’m not even talking about the potential safety risks here, because I’m sure every precaution was taken. But have we left the idea of “reality” so far behind that we’re randomly blowing stuff up now? When did this become a Bruce Willis movie? It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen, and I’m saying that as someone who actually ordered “Daredevil” on pay-per-view.
So back to the boat. When they’re jostled by the explosion, neither of them knows exactly what’s going on. At first, Tony tries rowing back to shore, but the boat is filling so quickly that they aren’t going to make it. They both abandon ship, Larissa making a Fredoesque belly flop into the lake. They were never very far from shore, so it isn’t like danger was exactly imminent. Tony rescues the portrait, unfortunately. Back on dry land, Larissa is furious. She apologizes to Tony, and vows to eliminate whoever was responsible for the stunt.
At the house, the guys are arguing about engaging the detonator. It splits the house down the middle, with the new guys yelling that the AJ’s are just as responsible for any consequences as they are. To his credit, hunk Jim told Chachi that he shouldn’t have pushed it, but Todd and Mike K. keep shouting that none of the AJ’s told them not to do it. Uh, hello? Fredo was specifically asked if they should, and specifically answered no. They continue arguing about it until Tony returns. As he walks in, he requests that everyone gather around the table. He wants to if any of the guys have anything to tell him. Chachi steps up to the plate and relates what happened. Tony is surprised that he played a role in it, although he doesn’t seemed shocked about Mike K.’s participation. Mike K. later tells the camera how when everyone was arguing about it, he felt like he was living “with a bunch of women.” Hey, awesome! Twice in one night. It’s a shame the show’s almost over, or I could have hoped for the chauvinism trifecta. Maybe next time. Tony ends the discussion by telling Mike that he just took himself out of the game.
The next day, Larissa makes a surprise visit to the guys house. She comes bearing pizza, and is looking for answers. She asks Mike K. what happened, and then asks if he’d do it again, knowing what he knows now. He pauses for quite some time before attempting to answer, and she replies that his pause is answer enough. For the second time in two shows, Chachi has to admit his wrongdoing, and he apologizes for acting so hastily. I still haven’t completely warmed up to him, but I like that he will at least apologize without provocation when he’s done something wrong. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.
Just Turn Around Now, ‘Cause You’re Not Welcome Anymore
At the elimination ceremony, Larissa has to send four men packing; two AJ’s and two new guys. First to go is Brian G. He’s sweet about it, and has nothing but nice things to say about her after the fact. Next out the door is Todd. As he leaves, he comments that he’s been successful in everything he’s done his whole life. Yeah. Except this. Get to steppin’. I was running out of Marky Mark jokes anyway. Larissa struggles a bit before finally announcing that the third guy she’s sending home that night is Thom. From what little we’ve seen of him on this show, Thom acts as you’d expect - cheerful and classy. He wishes her luck, and leaves with a big smile on his face. The only disappointing part for me personally was that he didn’t moonwalk out the door. That would have been the icing on the cake. He did leave with a “Holla back, y’all.”, which I guess will have to suffice. The last guy to go is Mike K. Thank God. Man I didn’t like that kid. He smirks his way out the door, saying a whole bunch of stuff I refused to listen to. I’m looking forward to going back to my ignorant bliss, in a world where that jackass doesn’t exist. After he leaves, Larissa explains to the camera that she felt that Chachi was really sorry for what he’d done, and she wants to give him a chance. Part of me wishes that she’d kept her word on eliminating the people responsible for the boat fiasco, but another bigger part of me is glad Todd is gone instead.
So there it is. The all-time stupidest twist in reality television history. Until next week, that is, when Larissa dons a fat suit and pretends to be her own mother. Happy happy joy joy.
I can’t be expected to watch this show sober. If you want to know where to send the alcohol, write to firstname.lastname@example.org