To quote myself, as I've been known to do: "Reality television creates celebrities out of almost anyone." That line, spoken during the judging panel, pretty much sums up the theme of this episode.
It also applies to this week's guest judge, Chris Moore, who became famous as the no-holds-barred taskmaster of HBO's pioneering docu-reality series
. Chris is a larger-than-life personality, as anyone knows who's watched
. He's funny and bawdy, yet as I get to know him during the long course of a shoot on a balmy Sunday night, he still seems genuinely surprised that he became a recognizable TV personality by being on a reality show.
He's the perfect choice to guide us through this challenge, which took on an unexpectedly wacky dimension when one of the guest celebs "backed out" - as in threw out his back. As we arrive at the stage, we're told of the unusual circumstances: Lorenzo Lamas had dropped out at the last second, stranding Sharon's team (which included her nemesis from the last episode, Gwen, as well as Jessica) without a subject. They were given the choice to either join the other preexisting teams, who were assigned to create a "pitch reel" for a reality show built around an actual celebrity, or to start from scratch and come up with a different reality pitch of their own. To their credit, and the judges' trepidation, they chose the latter course.
We are told not to grade on the curve, to judge Sharon's group as toughly and fairly as the others, so before we go in, it's unclear whether this twist will prove a blessing or a curse for her team. Given that Sharon once again put herself in the middle of it, driving everyone (including we judges from time to time) nuts, we figure she'll find a way to take an advantage and make it a liability. (In screening this episode, I had to laugh when I saw Jessica scribbling in her pad: "KILL ME NOW!")
Moments to remember during this night's taping:
As one of the sound guys is attaching my mic, he tells me he's never seen a cast jump down each other's throats so quickly. And he assures me he's worked on a lot of these shows. (After last week's fight, which we couldn't help hearing during deliberations, I'm not surprised. But it's interesting to get unsolicited confirmation, and it makes me wonder what all transpired during this challenge.)
While we wait for the taping to start, I find it ironic if not amusing to watch Chris Moore working the phone to the studio bankrolling his movie directorial debut
, wheedling them for more money and more production days. (A reversal of
fortune to be sure, given how hard he rode those fledgling directors when they didn't stay on schedule or budget.)
As we start to roll, floor director Paul Hogan shouts, "I smell Emmy!" which I later learn is a familiar, funny refrain. (And not all that far from reality, given that the Magical Elves producers would earn nominations this year for their Bravo series
. Which also explains why some of the crew occasionally call for the "chefs" to come to the stage, correcting themselves to say "producers" when they realize which show they're now working on.)
Before all the alpha-type contestants walk out, one of the producers mutters to us that he can't remember the last time they've heard this many excuses in the execution of a challenge. I figure we'll get an earful, and we do.
This proves to be a tricky challenge to judge. One team (Lindsay's, with Schliz and Adam) clearly gets along, but their piece is uninspired and doesn't truly seem to capture either Santino's personality or to make us care about his design collection. Another team clearly does not get along (Daniel's, with Zo and Evie in constant conflict, making us wonder if they have the temperaments to be producers), and while they do their best to showcase soap star Michelle Stafford, there isn't much to the pitch. Frankly, it's hard to pay attention, given the seething hostility that exists between Zo and Evie.
Then there's Sharon's team. Whoa. Talk about a surprise. "I am a celebrity in my own mind," Sharon says to our astonishment as she defends using her life as the inspiration for this startling, unusually personal reality pitch about looking for love and hoping to beat the biological clock, symbolized by (what else) a ticking clock and a close-up on a bowl of eggs. It's strange. It's funny. It gets our attention.
But Chris Moore seems especially puzzled by the rules of this round. He wishes they'd all been made to drop the celebs they'd been assigned and told to create a reality pitch from scratch. He is especially unnerved by Sharon's insistence that she's the real star of this pitch, instead of broadening out the pitch to be about the desperation of all women when they reach a certain age. He agrees that Lindsay failed, but he maintains he'd rather work with an inexperienced person who can be guided than with a loose cannon he says he'd never trust to produce anything.
I'm beginning to get a better picture of what we should be looking for in a producer, and it isn't always going to show up in the final product. But this time around, we decide Lindsay dropped the ball, and much as I hated to see her go, not feeling we'd ever seen her true potential, we arrive at this imperfect solution to an odd situation. Just as the contestants must follow the rules they're given in each challenge, so must the judges make the best rulings we can given the sometimes bizarre circumstances.
It's in this round, as the judges once again spend long awkward minutes staring across at the contestants as cameras and lights are arranged and rearranged, that I find myself trying to figure out what's going on in their heads. I don't know these people. Outside of the Q&A's, I haven't spoken to them. (Strictly forbidden.) Some smile. Some don't. And I begin to think that I'm seeing in their eyes a hunger, an ambition, a confidence, but also a feeling that they're trying to tell us without saying so that they're better than some of what they're about to show us.
During one especially pregnant pause, Ananda begins whistling TV themes (
The Addams Family
) and we all start playing along. Anything to pass the time.
But eventually, it's time to lower the boom on Lindsay. I feel awful for her, but as she approaches to shake our hands, she whispers, "Thank you for getting me away from the crazy people." I'm assuming she's referring to Sharon, Zo, Evie and maybe others I haven't got a handle on yet. I'm glad she seems to be taking it well.
Adding to the awkwardness: After we wrap, Sharon and Daniel have to come back and redo their exits, because they walked out the wrong way (not going behind the glass wall). Lindsay, significantly, does not return to exit.
Can't say I blame her.