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Sawadee Kha! Welcome to this week’s recap of AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL, which transports us to this cycle’s fashion destination: Thailand! I am personally quite excited to see this beautiful Southeast Asian country host our girls. After all, it is where your very own recapper developed her “signature walk”: I took my first steps there at the tender age of 1! But aside from being part Thai and visiting there as a child, since I was born and raised in America, Thailand is as far-off and exotic a place for me as it must be for our models, who are thrown headfirst (literally) into this new culture with a photo shoot for the seafood lover in you. Also this episode: more dentistry (oh goody!) and a shocking elimination you might not have seen coming (at least I didn’t).

To Gap or Not to Gap, That Is the Question

Light glints off the mirrored disco ball in the Janice Dickinson room, where Jade, Nnenna, and Furonda are engaged in a bit of playacting that will later prove horribly portentous: Nnenna and Furonda are pretending to be the Bottom Two, as Jade plays Tyra, dramatically announcing that she only has “one picture left for America’s Next Top Model.” Jade hands the picture to Furonda, who accepts it by saying, “Thank you for believing in me,” while Nnenna collapses in laughter on the bed. Because who would ever believe that Tyra would choose Furonda over the winningest Nnenna?!! I mean really, what Bizarro world would that be?

Nnenna declares Jade her “favorite person in the house.” What a coincidence! Jade is also Jade’s favorite person in the house. But she clearly seems fond of Nnenna too, as we see footage of the two of them goofing around with each other in a way that indicates they have become quick friends. Sara observes that while they may at first seem like “opposite” personalities, time has revealed more and more similarities. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it is clear that they have developed a close bond.

Furonda, seen practicing her walk around the house until her muscles start to burn, is more focused on the competition than on building friendships. She is aware that the judges have noticed her progress, her pictures are improving, and she is becoming the dark horse “forerunner” in the house. “It’s setting me on the path to win, win, win, win,” Furonda says, apparently stuck in some weird audio loop that makes me wonder when Fonzie will come over to knock her back into talking normally.

Meanwhile, Danielle is still wrestling with the decision over whether or not to close the gap in her front teeth after Tyra harshly excoriated her for defying orders last week. That’s weird, ”Tyra Show” Tyra says to love yourself the way you are, but ANTM Tyra says you can only love yourself the way La Tyrant wants you to be. Mixed…messages. Cannot…compute! [head explodes] Danielle says she doesn’t want to go home for this, but on the other hand she is understandably nervous about getting so significant a change. Sara tries to calm her fears by suggesting, “You might completely love it.” Danielle, however, doubts that.

Vanity, Thy Name is Model

TyraMail asks “How pressed are you to win?” then the very next day we learn that Rachel McCallister, co-president of mPRm Public Relations will teach them how to deal with the press. Get it? Press? Oh you slay me with you clever puns, TyraMail author! Rachel gives them tips on how to comport themselves during interviews and how to deal the press (didn’t we already do this once this season?), like how to dodge sticky questions. For example, if asked about your dad disapproving of you taking your clothes off for a shoot, say that “That’s an area that’s of concern to him, but he’s really supportive,” even if he’s still going to whup your ass when you get home over it. It’s basically how to lie in a savvy way, or Tom Cruise-o-logy 101.

In the middle of training, Rachel picks as another example, a situation that hits close to home for someone in our group: a jealous boyfriend catching wind of involvement with another man. Nnenna doubles over in embarrassed laughter, and Rachel later says, “I inadvertently hit the jackpot having no clue that apparently this must have happened.”

This is not even the real challenge; Rachel has arranged for Vanity Fair columnist George Wayne to interview them. They will be judged on how well they answer his questions and how well they present themselves. George enters the room with an intimidating presence and warns that if they haven’t heard of his name before, they won’t forget it by the end of the evening.

They set up the interviews Barbara Walter style, one-on-one, although George promises that he goes for the “jugular…in a good way.” He begins with Jade. After a couple of softballs on what got her into the business, he tells her she needs to sit back and relax more, then asks brusquely, “What’s with the head wrap?” When she says “It’s just the Jade style” he fires back with, “You look like an arrogant bitch to me.” Jade reels back in disbelief. “Do you think you’re Nina Simone?” George goes on. Oh snap! Jade recovers by saying she has been trying to dispel the myth of her arrogance by showing how “down-to-earth” she really is. She then breaks out her “exotic biracial butterfly” line (it’s like a Greatest Hits of Jade’s delusions of grandeur), at which George just laughs then witheringly says, “Interesting.”

George professes that he is “not afraid to ask the tough questions.” Next he asks Danielle what her worst attribute is. She says that she’s “stubborn” and “cantankerous” then he asks her spell it. What is this, an interview or a spelling bee? Instead of making some embarrassing attempt, poor Danielle (who has visible sweat stains emerging from her underarms) simply admits she’s not really sure how to spell it.

When George asks Sara (in a conspicuous “I Jogged with Chip and Pepper” t-shirt that Joanie is later seen wearing in the same episode) if she’d give up her boyfriend for her career, she answers that she doesn’t feel it’s “all or nothing” as she gets “a real strength from that relationship.” He has Joanie take down her ponytail and shake out her hair, to see if she has “any sexiness” in her. “I’m not sexy?” Joanie asks in a high pitched plea. George responds, “Not really,” in a mocking tone (to be fair, would George really find anything female sexy?). He does admit, however, that she has “pretty hair.” Wow, scintillating. “Do you think you’re the Queen of Sheba?” George asks Furonda. “I’ve never been to Sheba,” Furonda answers, which might be because it’s an ancient biblical kingdom that doesn’t really exist anymore. George likens her to a lioness and Furonda meow/roars at him in a very goofy, Anna Faris-y way.

When it’s Nnenna’s turn, she says that she feels her best attribute is her smile. George, whose mind seems not in the room but in a zoo, then calls Nnenna a “gazelle.” When Nnenna appears confused, he clarifies: “You’re a snob.” She just laughs and denies being snobbish. When she talks about her family in Africa and helping them, George cuts her off by interjecting, “You sound like a Miss World contestant,” before telling her this isn’t a beauty pageant. However, he does admit that she comes off as a smart and complex person.

After considering “the grace, the charm, and the character of each girl” (sounds like a beauty pageant to me), George is ready to announce who he thinks did the best. First, gives everyone some notes: Furonda “did well” handling a “tough session”; Joanie was “the truest and most special”; Danielle had “great presence” but needs to “improve her speech”; Sara is obviously “smart” but even George says he’s not sure if this is what she really wants to be doing; Nnenna, though “a bit snobby” handles herself well under pressure; and to Jade cautions “a little humility goes a long way.”

In the end, George selects Nnenna, saying she gave a great interview and has “the potential to be the best Top Model ever.” Does he mean in the world, or in Tyra’s little fish bowl, because in comparison with current CoverGirl Nicole, a baked potato would prove a more charismatic personality. Furonda marvels how Nnenna could win so consistently, but vows to try harder to beat Nnenna at the next one. Not surprisingly, Nnenna picks Jade to join her for an all-expenses paid spa treatment. Even Joanie confesses that she’s sick of Nnenna and Jade winning, but Nnenna’s response is that the other have a “right to be mad” that they keep losing, but “this is a competition, someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose.”

Closing the Gap

Danielle is still torn with conflict over what to do about her teeth. Joanie suggests that maybe Danielle not do it since she feels that is what is makes her unique…but Danielle herself knows that if she doesn’t, “Then I’m going home, sucka.” Joanie, who only recently got her new chompers in, tells Danielle that although she doesn’t want her to go home, maybe she’ll have “more peace of mind” if she sticks to her guns. Genuinely caring advice? Or subconscious attempt to eradicate one of her toughest competitors? YOU BE THE JUDGE!

When it comes to the right thing to do, I always say to listen to your Mama. Back at home, Danielle does the right thing and calls her mother. Danielle expresses her frustration over the fact that it took her so long to become comfortable with her gap, and now she’s “pissed off” that she must either lose the one thing she worked so hard to accept or go home. Her mother then reminds her of “the girl from Texas,” beauty queen Cassandra, who refused to cut her hair and got sent home. Hey Moms remembers the series better than most of the people actually on the show! “In this industry, sweetheart, that’s going to happen. Now you step up to the plate…and that’s going to make the difference.” But being a wise, supportive lady, her mother adds that it is Danielle who ultimately calls the shot on this, and it is her decision alone to make. Danielle’s mom rocks!

Danielle bites the bullet (not literally, because if she tried, that thing would shoot right between the goal post of her teeth), and returns to Dr. Falcon’s. He tells her that in the end, it actually might not be possible to close the gap completely anyway, but he wants to work with her to attain a “happy medium.” After Danielle says she doesn’t want to be “ashamed to smile,” Dr. Falcon assures her that he will leave her looking “fierce.” Okaaay? [snaps in circle]

Danielle says that in the end, she respects Tyra’s opinion and “had to suck it up, bite my lip, and get my gap closed as much as I don’t want to.” Dr. Falcon gets to work, and after a few extreme close-ups and some shudder-inducing drill sounds, Dr. Falcon shows Danielle (and us) via the big screen monitor, her amazing Before and After. I think it really is a happy medium, as the gap is significantly narrower, but a slight space in the incisors still retains Danielle’s unique personality. Danielle says she likes it “kinda,” but admits it will take some getting used to. “I’m gonna be in the mirror all night tonight,” she mumbles, still in disbelief at the before and after. As weird as it feels to have a lifelong trait be no more, Danielle insists, “I’m gonna keep a smile on my face and keep going.”

On the phone at home that night, Sara is grumbling to her boyfriend that during the challenge today, she gave George “the impression that this really isn’t what I want to be doing.” She feels that being “found in a mall” has almost worked against her. “My desire’s been questioned numerous times…and I hate hearing that,” she complains. Her boyfriend says she needs to go the distance now, and she agrees, “I need to show how much I do want it.”

Pack Your Bags, Y’All, We’re Going to Ty-Land

Later that evening the girls are brought to an exotically decorated room that Nnenna describes as looking “cultural” but to me looks like someone went ape at a Pier 1 Imports. In saunters Tyra, looking not quite herself. Well, maybe because it’s not Tyra Tyra, but “Ty-Ra,” an amazingly faithful (albeit tattooed, and slightly husky voiced) reproduction of our beloved Miss Banks. Ty-Ra is actually their makeup artist, Sutan, in drag (although when I first saw the subtitle, I read it as the “Sultan of Drag”). Then Tyra Tyra bursts into the room and says she’s tired of Ty-Ra impersonating her, and Ty-Ra claims he’s Tyra and she claims she’s Tyra and then I take my eye away from the screen and I can’t tell which Tyra is the real Tyra. Oh no [training sights on one Tyra, then the other] which one do I shoot?!!

Two Tyras in one room, well it’s all too much! I guess there was just too much ambition and ego for one show, it was probably too much for one person as well. But in the midst of the argument, as they each claim to be “Ty Ty Baby” and “Ty,” Tyra screams that the only way to settle this argument “IS TO GO TO THAILAND!!!” YAY!!! Clunkiest segue ever constructed, but YAY! And how much do you want to bet Tyra’s decision to go Thai was based on the fact that she is “Ty.” I bet she thinks it’s a whole country devoted to her!

The girls literally jump and scream at the news as a GINORMOUS caption of the word “Thailand” scrolls across the screen slowly like we are all morons who have never heard of this strange foreign place. Danielle says, “A couple of minutes ago, I was depressed about the gap; [now] I’m like, forget about the gap, sucka, I’m going to Thailand!” Tyra explains that Thailand is an emerging fashion capitol with “a whole bunch of fashion that you would not believe” and even their own fashion week called “Elle Bangkok fashion week.” She waves them goodbye and says the next time she sees them, it will be in Ty-Land!

The girls head home to pack up for their trip. It is “bittersweet” to leave the house, Furonda says, as they made so many memories there, but everyone is psyched to go abroad, not the least is Joanie, who’s only been to Canada. Jade purloins nearly an entire jar of gumballs, or jawbreakers—who knew she had such a bad sweet tooth? Pity those aren’t “gobstoppers.” They quickly head to the airport, and one fancy new computer graphic later, they touch down in Bangkok, Thailand.

A crazy bright fuschia van, that looks like it drove right out of some crazy anime cartoon (with its shiny lights and wings), picks them up from the airport and flies them away to their new home. On the way, they practice handy Thai phrases from a guidebook (“Sawadee” is hello, you add “kha” if you are a woman, or “khrab” if you are male). Joanie says that it is important to learn the culture if you want to make a good impression and work there in the future. Furonda is most concerned with phrases you use when shopping, as she has 3000 baht burning a hole in her pocket (too bad she doesn’t know that only amounts to about $77 US dollars).

They arrive at their posh new digs, the spectacular Plaza Athenee Bangkok, which rises in the night like a veritable beacon of luxury. They are greeted with puffy beaded bracelets by the hotel staff (sort of like they do with leis in Hawaii) and learn the fine art of the “wai,” the Thai bow people give in greeting—that’s Thai bow, a little bow with the hands pressed together in front as if in prayer, and not Tae Bo, the ass-kicking Billy Blanks workout.

After a toast, the girls walk into their beautiful suite, which is luxurious but also very warm and welcoming with lots of rich wood, jewel tones, and tasteful Asian artwork. “It is fit for a king, but we are queens, and it definitely suits us to a tee,” Jade says. The girls practice more Thai in their rooms, and Jade says that since top models must travel the world, this trip is a good test to see who will handle the culture shock best.

Massage with a Unhappy Ending

The next day, all the girls go with Nnenna and Jade to the spa for the day of luxurious spa treatments they won from the Vanity Fair challenge. What no one knows is that the losers must help assist the spa staff in pampering Nnenna and Jade. Furonda and Joanie must help do the massages, Danielle and Sara must help with the baths—is this how Tyra keeps the costs low, get the other girls to work in the spa?

Sara and Daniel chunk flower petals into the water violently, and Furonda gives the single most begrudging massage I’ve ever seen in my life—using one finger and plenty of attitude. Nnenna complains that it feels like Furonda’s “scratching” her, and Furonda, who says she doesn’t do well with “touching on people” dismisses all complaints by stating, “I’m a model, not a masseuse.” I’m guessing Nnenna will not be getting the happy finish.

Joanie is the only one to take the whole thing seriously, in the interest of being respectful to the Thai culture. Joanie tries to get Furonda to do it properly, but Furonda waves her away tartly with a “Mind your own business.” After giving the worst massage in the history of the business, Furonda then has the nerve to ask for a tip. I know who I won’t be booking my hot stone full body with!

From Fairy Tales to Mermaid Tails

TyraMail says, “I know it’s tough being around so many girls, so get some tail.” Since everyone knows by now that TyraMail never means what it says exactly, they are all guessing what kind of tail they’ll be getting. They are then brought on location to Bangkok’s famous Floating Market, where local women on boats sell vibrantly colored, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Jay greets them and says that not only can you get fresh produce at the floating market, you can also get fresh fish. Well, guess what the “catch of the day” is? Why, our girls, of course! Today they will be hoisted up on a giant rigging and hung upside down as if they are mermaids caught in a fishing net—kind of Lluvy’s fish pic meets Harry Houdini. Since the shoot is for Banana Boat products, Jay reminds them that since they will be out in the hot sun all day, they must put their Banana Boat on! [hypnotic spiral eyes]MUST BUY BANANA BOAT![/hypnotic spiral eyes]

Their photographer is the very Thai-named Jaturong Hirankarn. Not bad, only seven syllables. Some Thai names would take you three days to pronounce. The girls get into hair, makeup, and harness (a fun belt that goes over your pelvis like a chastity belt from hell). There is one final surprise; in the net they will also be adding some seaweed and some fish. Real fish, not some nice, plastic, sanitary prop fish. Do they ever tire of torturing these poor girls?

“Fish juice did I just feel?” Danielle exclaims, channeling Yoda. She is the first up, and she says if a piranha starts biting her, she is going to be a “mad sister.” As they get her hoisted up, you can see how uncomfortable she is; the smell of the dead fish makes her “throw up in [her] mouth a bit” and apparently the harness is no walk in the park either. “My uterus is probably flat as a pancake right now,” Danielle surmises. Despite the pain and the fish juice and the heat, Danielle does a marvelous job, needing little direction. Danielle knows her angles, and makes Jay a “Proud Papa because she knows what she’s doing.”

Nnenna has trouble with this shoot, having a hard time getting her arm movements to look feminine and flowing, only giving one facial expression, and having extreme difficulty positioning her body. Even Jay sounds a little frustrated with her performance. Sara’s opinion is that Nnenna started “at the top and just kind of coasted from there” but this competition is about improving, she doesn’t think Nnenna has shown any. Furonda thinks that they all put Nnenna on a “high pedestal” but she didn’t come through with this shoot.

Jade is next, and Jay repeatedly tells her she is giving him much “pretty.” “Where did you learn how to model?” Jay asks, surprised at her new ability to project softness, and Jade says that she has been “listening, watching, and learning.” Jade doesn’t understand how she keeps falling into the Bottom Two, but she says she’s going to come back like a Bruce Willis action film from the 80s, that is to say, “with a vengeance.”

Jay, unfortunately,is not as impressed with Sara, who looks like a “scared guppy” but then at the end starts to get better shots. Furonda gets a bit Diva-ish as she just wants to get done as soon as possible so she can back in the air-conditioned trailer. Sara remarks that she’s had it with Furonda’s attitude, and she needs to suck it up if she’s going to be in this business. Jay complains that pain keeps registering on Furonda’s face and she needs to “erase it.” Jay says that Furonda looked like “fish bait.”

When Joanie gets up, she says right away that she feels like she is going to throw up. As someone who got stuck upside down on a roller coaster for ten minutes, there are few prospects nastier than throwing up upside down. She admits she drank a lot of coffee right before her turn. Jay mildly chastises her, then says she needs to either go for it or don’t. Joanie forges ahead, and looks so lovely you could barely tell how puke-a-riffic she might have felt. Her only problem is that her boobs keeps wanting to fall out of the bodice she is wearing—which, hey, is no problem for some folks in our audience. Joanie is worried about offending any of the people in the market, for whom she says, her outfit would already be considered “overexposure for most Thai women.” Jay compliments her for turning it out, and not once showing pain or discomfort in her face.

Back at the Plaza Athenee, Jade overacts the TyraMail, which contains the usual blah blah blah about how someone will get eliminated, and everyone does their usual blah blah blah about how they’re nervous. Except for Nnenna; she thinks she did pretty well, and says she’s not worried. And why would she be? She’s the most consistent challenge winner, she’s not going home.

Nno, Nno, Nnot Nnenna!

For their first elimination in Thailand, we see the girls enter a beautiful new room, elaborately decorated like a Wat (Thai Buddhist temple). Tyra’s mermaid pic looks good but, to be fair it doesn’t look like she was dangling by her feminine parts and snuggling with seafood. But on the judging dais, she looks lovely in a casual yellow frock and her hair in a cute pastry twist. She welcomes them (in Thai), and then describes the prizes (in English—but imagine Tyra going on and on in Thai then saying stopping to say “Gilles Bensimon”). The judges are all there, joined by their photographer, Jaturong; the girls respectfully bow to him.

The judging test today is how to “sell yourself on the spot.” Tyra says you can be anything you want, as long as it’s “memorable.” Joanie is first, and rattles a list of clichés about how “Life is a track meet, not a marathon” and is “over quicker than you can think so you’d better do it right the first time,” basically the kind of platitudes you read in those emails your mom forwards to you (sorry, but it’s true!). She also says, “A smile is the sword to beauty,” without actually smiling. C’mon Joanie, show off those new chompers!

Jade gives her old “versatility” speech and also constantly contradicts herself—like saying she can fit in molds that she wants to break. She also describes her body as “proportionable.” Sara tries to sell her “intelligence.” Furonda has trouble thinking of anything to say. Danielle sticks it to the judges by mentioning her “outlasting gap” which is her “signature trademark, you won’t forget it.”

Nnenna rambles on about how she’s going to parlay her win to good use, with “the most important thing I want to achieve is use my publicity to walk into the Nigerian embassy and they’ll recognize me [as] the girl from AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL.” Yes, Nnenna, that’s very important; it the kind of thing that can save the world!

Evaluations start with Joanie, whose self-promotional speech is not regarded well. Miss J. finds her “bland”; Nigel thinks she’s just saying the lines without actually delivering them; Tyra is “upset” that “nothing is original” and Nigel agrees, remarking that she would be at risk of earning the reputation of “the bumper sticker model.” They do love her mermaid picture, and Tyra commends her relaxed face and says that Joanie was one of the only girls to flip truly vertical on the harness, yet she stayed soft and lovely throughout.

Twiggy calls Jade out for being contradictory; Nigel laughs at how Jade “doesn’t really make sense” and then challenges her whether “proportionable” is really a word. I hate to contradict Nigel, but yes it is; it’s just a little awkward in Jade’s usage, and she might have been better off saying “well proportioned.” They don’t like her eye makeup, earrings, head scarf—still Tyra likes that Jade at least “stood out” during her presentation. They like the “body angle” in her mermaid photo and Twiggy commends it for being “sensual.” Jaturong has the highest praise for Jade, saying she posed well in the shoot and if she came to Thailand “I think she could be the Top Model here.” Jade bows politely, and thanks him in Thai. She hasn’t found success in New York all these years, maybe she consider going to Thailand!

Miss J. thinks Nnenna’s answers sounded a little “Miss America’s Next Top Model” (has he been trading notes with George Wayne?); Nigel and the rest of the panel remark on how long and boring her schpiel was. Her photo doesn’t get much love either; they don’t think she looks like a mermaid, and is just hanging there. Nigel says that she needs to give something more than the “same Old Nnenna.” They do applaud her for winning the challenge, but seem put off by Wayne’s comment on her snobbiness. Miss J. then does an impersonation of Nnenna as the “Africa Queen” and then says, “You’re misunderstood like Jade is sometimes.”

Nigel thinks Danielle was the best presenter tonight, enjoying her “spunk, personality” and ability to be herself; Twiggy thinks she “sold it.” Tyra likes that she brought up the gap, and Nigel likes that she rubbed it in their faces. Everyone admires her new smile though. They also admire her photo. Miss J. likes that there’s “no strain” on her face, which Tyra points out is hard to do upside down. Jaturong finds her “elegant” and Nigel declares it an “endearing, powerful shot.”

Twiggy likes Sara’s voice but warns her that actually saying “I’m intelligent” is like “waving a red flag to a bull.” Picture is a little meh. Nigel and J. agree that they like the face but not the arms. Tyra says that when Sara’s face is “on, it’s so on, but it’s not on often enough in your film.”

They tag Furonda as “unsure” and “confused” tonight. Also, they give her a hard time about her glittery disco dress. Tyra says it’s too dressy for the ceremony tonight, and Nigel says she must have not gotten the “jean memo.” They love her photo though; Tyra says it’s the only one that is striking in the wide shot, however, Tyra says that you could really the pain in many of the other shots in her film.

Deliberations are heated before the girls return, with few revelations other than Miss J. being prepared enough to produce a box of toy crickets that chirp to illustrate his boredom with Nnenna and Twiggy admitting that she’s frightened of Jade. Tyra hands back four photos to: Danielle, Jade, Sara, and Joanie.

Incredibly, that leaves Nnenna and Furonda in the bottom two. Nnenna looks relaxed, almost as if she’s suppressing a smile, like she knows that she’s not taking that long trip back to Thailand. I myself am ready to wave goodbye to Furonda; hell, even Furonda has look on her face like, “Oh crap.” Tyra lays it out for them like this: Nnenna started at the top of the pack, but her appeal is fading and the judges are getting bored of her; for Furonda, it’s the opposite, at first some of the judges wondered why she was here, but as her pictures steadily improved, their opinions changed—still they’re not all entirely convinced she’s a model.

Tyra then says, “You have to work on your appearance, Furonda,” as she whips her photo out, giving everyone a BIG SHOCK!!! I mean, I don’t even know what else to say, I think I still don’t believe this huge upset. It’s hard to say who is more shocked: me, the rest of the viewing public, or Nnenna herself.

“I’m surprised I’m the one going home tonight, but coming into this competition there are no certainties,” Nnenna admits, adding that she understands what the judges are saying , that the ability to transform oneself from picture to picture is “crucial” and maybe she was not cutting it. This doesn’t mean she’ll give up. Nnenna says being a part of the show only makes her want to succeed in modeling [i[more[/i]. She hopes this experience can help her to achieve her goals. Her poised exit interview shows that Nnenna remained the same proud African Queen to the very end, and for most of us, that’s a positive, not a negative.

Khawb Khun Kha (Thank You)! For more rudimentary lessons in Thai, email me at snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com