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Get Real
Ever since Susan Hawk's rat and snake speech on the first season of “Survivor,” I've been hooked on reality game shows. I'm fascinated by the excessive candor that comes after unfathomably quick intimacy with a camera crew. I am on the edge of my seat when contestants exhibit the raw emotion that results from stress, greed or the desire for ever more camera time.

Whether it's grace and integrity or anger and arrogance, I am there for the contestants, following their progress and tracking their moods. That is until they're booted off -- then they're dead to me.

Over nearly 10 years, I've slowly amassed six shows to my collection. In my defense, we record the shows to fast forward when necessary. Without commercials and constant recaps, the time this hobby takes up is the same as going to the gym or cleaning out the garage ... I assume. I can do those things during off-season, if it weren't for my treasured and convenient family time.

The last few weeks have marked the sweet spot of reality game show season. I'm familiar with the contestants, who I've neatly divided into two camps: hate 'em and love 'em. Like a good mother (one who doesn't watch six reality game shows a week), I know their strengths and weaknesses and can predict how they will react -- which, on occasion, has led to friendly betting. Note to self: Sister still owes two bucks.

Although I'm not fanatical enough to memorize speeches, blog opinions or phone in a vote, I do have favorite moments.

· “America's Next Top Model”: A contestant told Tyra Banks she didn’t find modeling all that interesting.

· “Survivor”: Rupert stole opposing tribe members' shoes.

· “Biggest Loser”: Usually calm fitness trainer Bob Harper lost it when a contestant wouldn't stay on a treadmill past 20 seconds.

· “Amazing Race”: The wife of a married team boldly, and baldly, shaved her head.

· “Project Runway”: A designer made a dress out of Twizzlers.

· “Top Chef”: I ran into last season's winner at the Reston Town Center. Although I didn't ask for an autograph, I pointed, waved and may have giggled. He waved back.

Every now and then I imagine what it would be like to be a contestant. Of course there are many shows I'd dismiss out of hand.

“Top Chef,” for example. Any unfortunate soul who's tasted my cooking would agree I'm better suited for “Stop Chef.” I'm not heavy or pretty enough for “Biggest Loser” or “America's Next Top Model,” but if NBC picks up “America's Next Loser,” I'll apply. And although fashion design interests me, Heidi Klum would declare me "out" because of my preference for elastic waist pants and flannel fabrics.

That leaves “Amazing Race” and “Survivor.” For the unfamiliar, on “Amazing Race,” couples race around the world, finding clues and completing tasks along the way. The incredibly stressful and exhausting experience makes and breaks relationships, both personal and international. Although I love traveling, I've got an obsession with not being late -- I panic if I'm not at the gate three hours early.

Plus I get lost using a GPS. Unless it was changed to “Unremarkable Mosey to the Nearest Target,” that show won't work.

“Survivor,” on the other hand, leaves contestants in one place, but they are denied proper food, shelter and trustworthy companions. No doubt I would be quickly branded the old, bossy one, who are always the first to go. I might as well be the old bossy one in the comfort of my own home where I haven't been voted off yet, although there are times I suspect my husband and kids are in a secret alliance.

Maybe I should look for an immunity idol when I clean out the garage.

[November 25, 2009]

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