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Reality TV vs. Reality

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 11, 2006 6:14PM

A new season of “The Apprentice” begins on NBC January 7, and the opening lineup of contestants includes two women from the Chicago area. Aimee, who is 32, was raised in Elmhurst and most recently managed sales for a top medical company. She thinks she ought to be the next Apprentice because “I am wicked smart, tenacious and have insightful interpersonal skills, as well as a high level of integrity.” Nicole, 25, was born and raised in Naperville. She worked 2-3 jobs simultaneously while attending college and now owns a real estate acquisition corporation. She says, “I have the education, real estate experience and an undying will to succeed at everything I do.”

The new round includes a twist: each week the winning team gets to live in a luxurious mansion, while the losing team has to sleep in tents in the back yard, complete with outdoor showers and Port-a-potties.

We don’t begrudge the contestants, the show’s producers or even Trump himself the right to create and broadcast such a spectacle, just as we don’t begrudge anyone the right to actually watch it. But don’t expect us to give two figs about it either.

2006_12spoil.jpgThe short history of “reality TV” is as repetitive as it is shallow. It begins with a ramp-up to anticipation, followed by a frenzy of interest, concluding with a benign forgetfulness by the general public which is so swift and complete that we had to wrack our brains to even remember that previously we wrote about “The Bachelor.” What lingers after the show’s over is invariably the stench of tawdry gossip and minor misery: “champagne nights and caviar dreams” morph into “Mad Dog insomnia and saltine nightmares.” Nick and Jessica. Richard Hatch. Anna Nicole Smith.

It reminds us somehow of the psychological study which shows that lottery winners often suffer from uncontrollable impulse buying and social isolation. In fact, "The relationship between money and happiness is pretty darned small," says Peter Ubel, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. All this reality TV makes us wonder about the relationship between celebrity and happiness. Perhaps those fifteen minutes of fame can sometimes be as toxic as polonium-210.