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They Deserve Each Other

5/22/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Suppose they gave a TV wedding and nobody came?

Let us hope that is the case May 24 when, on the penultimate evening of the official TV season, CBS cheapens two hours of prime time real estate by broadcasting the nuptials of Rob and Amber, the current low-rent royal couple of reality TV.

Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich became America's loving and scheming sweethearts on the all-star version of CBS' Survivor. More recently, they used their cunning and charisma to come awfully close to winning the latest running of what heretofore had been TV's best and least compromised reality game, CBS' The Amazing Race.

Rob and Amber are the beaming, burnished, tele­genic poster kids for what has become an insidious new twist on the fame game. It is the wacky world of celebreality, a ghoulish catch-all for those people who become famous for being on a reality show.

Andy Warhol died too soon. He would have relished this spectacle of instant TV exposure, which transforms everyday folk into disposable water-cooler chum. We're on a first-name basis with these folks—for as long as we remember them.

But Warhol would have had to adjust his famous “15 minutes of fame” theory upwards. Nowadays, the fame can last 15 weeks, depending on the show. For those who act out on camera so they can break out—think of the villainess Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth from The Apprentice—the impulse is to keep trying to milk it, even if it means showing up in bottom-feeding all-star editions of Fear Factor.

These days, the serious reality buffs are still obsessing over Survivor: Palau contestant Stephenie, the spunky last-person standing from the hapless Ulong tribe, who eked out a few extra rounds with the victorious Koror castaways until she was finally voted out. Spending a final dark night fending for herself at Ulong, tearfully pleading her case at Koror tribal councils, Stephenie made for great TV, which the best of the reality shows often can be. But did I watch her obligatory CBS Early Show appearance the morning after her expulsion? No, thank you. Ditto for the traditional reunion show that followed last Sunday's Survivor finale.

Enough is enough, and I don't want to hear that Stephenie has somehow landed a cameo on Lost for next season. I doubt that will happen, though I wouldn't put it past an industry that has elevated another Survivor also-ran (Elizabeth Filarski Hasselbeck) into a co-host of ABC daytime's happy henfest The View.

Celebreality works another, possibly even scarier way, when it applies to creepy has-beens from the world of entertainment who find their way back in front of the camera by going on a reality show.

This permutation is exemplified by The Surreal Life, a Real World for D-list fossils that started on The WB (which has yet, God bless them, to land a true reality hit) and migrated to VH1, where it quickly became more smarmily sensational and notoriously degrading and, naturally, was then embraced by pop-culture vultures who relished the beyond-guilty pleasure of watching Brigitte Nielsen hook up with Flavor Flav and, most indelibly, the sight of Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer drunkenly urinating on camera.

Even the formerly high-minded TV Land, one of VH1's corporate cable cousins, got into the shameless act recently with the squirm-inducing Chasing Farrah, which was about as subtle as its title as cameras pursued the desperately insecure former Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett in apparent hope of catching her in full mental free fall.

Makes me think Norma “I'm ready for my close-up” Desmond of Sunset Boulevard had it right by entirely losing her mind before descending that staircase. There is more dignity in insanity.

HBO will attempt to satirize this puerile phenom in next month's The Comeback, a comedic collaboration between Sex and the City executive producer Michael Patrick King and versatile Lisa Kudrow, late of Friends. She plays a clueless hack actress (hacktress?), the long-ago “It Girl” of a thankfully forgotten cheeseball sitcom from the Facts of Life era, whose non-awaited return to TV in a pandering youth sitcom is chronicled by intrusive reality cameras. They capture every humiliation she endures, and there are many. But could there be any easier targets than reality TV and crappy sitcoms?

Nothing in The Comeback is especially revelatory The show can't tell us anything we don't already suspect about the methods and motives of reality TV—and we're all too aware of how sorry the state of the current sitcom is. So why exactly should we care?

Meanwhile, this summer is promising, or threatening, to be a bonanza for the denizens of celebreality. ABC is resurrecting former Bachelorette (and, at least for now, still happily married) Trista Sutton as one of the celebrity contestants in a dance competition somewhat generously titled Dancing With the Stars. And Bravo continues its descent into the bowels of reality with Battle of the Network Reality Stars, which updates the corny old '70s formula with the new millennium's tired idea of stardom. Formerly ubiquitous Richard Hatch (Survivor, remember?) and the seemingly unstoppable Omarosa have been mentioned.

I'll know this trend will have gone too far the day MTV's heinous I Want a Famous Face features some pathetic teen who goes under the knife to look like her favorite celebrity. No, not Britney, not Cameron, and not Mary-Kate or Ashley.

But Amber.

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