Monday, April 12, 2010

Reality check

There must be something in the water. Despite its diminutive size, the Ocean State is crawling with reality TV show contestants. If I had the resources or the inclination, I could probably prove that Rhody ranks first in the category of most reality TV show contestants per capita in the nation. Since I don't, I will instead take the lazy blogger's way out and declare it to be true anyway, citing anonymous sources and anecdotal and circumstantial evidence. (I get it now, Drudge. This is how you roll.) But here's a fact: Sixteen Rhode Islanders competed on reality TV shows this season – 18 if you count two Rhode Island School of Design graduates. And it’s not just that they show up. They last. And they leave an impression.

It all began with the first reality TV mega-hit, “Survivor: Borneo.” The First Survivor, Richard Hatch of Middletown, not only won – he established the blueprint for how every succeeding Survivor would be victorious after him. Hatch parlayed nude, crude, rude and cunning into a winning hand. Since then, he’s pieced together a reality TV resume that has not been as impressive, including an appearance on the Australian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in which he became the first person in Oz “Millionaire” history to go home with nothing. As in $0.00.

Hatch deserves some credit for attaining the highest achievement in the state, which we like to call the Rhody Triple Crown (mostly recently won by former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci):

Minor celebrity. Federal prisoner. Radio talk show host. (In no particular order.)

Since Hatch, more than 50 Rhode Islanders have appeared on reality TV. The most famous nationally is probably Elisabeth Hasselbeck (formerly Filarski) of Cranston. In her Filarski days, she became one of the most popular contestants on “Survivor,” appearing during the “Australian Outback” season, before marrying a professional football player and starring as the flashpoint conservative on “The View.”

This year, two teams of Rhode Islanders are still in the running in “The Amazing Race.” The Barrington brothers Dan and Jordan Pious and narcotics officers Louis D. Stravato of Bristol and Michael Naylor of Warwick, working as detectives for the police departments in Providence and Newport, respectively, are two of the 4 teams remaining in the competition. The detectives, who gave a shout out to “Rhode Island” on a recent episode, have been a standout hit with audiences but of course this wouldn’t be Rhody without a juicy scandal. Last month TMZ reported that Stravato was linked to a cop-operated cocaine ring and has been restricted to desk duty pending an internal investigation.

On Thursday, University of Rhode Island professor Robert Ballard, the Titanic discoverer, will appear on the National Geographic Channel program “Known Universe.” On the show, he says:

By far the most important discovery I’ve ever made was not the Titanic. It was when we discovered this whole new life system on this planet.

Yes, it’s called Rhode Island.

Actually, Ballard is referring to the discovery of life near hydrothermal vents 2.5 miles below the ocean’s surface. Strange, yes. Fascinating, surely. But not nearly as strange and fascinating as reality TV’s Rhode Island obsession. (The same series features Brown professor of geology Peter Schultz demonstrating how the dinosaur-asteroid collision might have occurred.)

Disc jockey “Pauly D,” a.k.a. Paul Delvecchio from Johnston, is a member of the incomprehensively popular “Jersey Shore” cast. Spoofed on “Saturday Night Live,” invited to late night talk shows, the cast is cashing in on what Rhode Islanders have seen and heard for free by going to Scarborough Beach for the last 50 years.

Why so many Rhode Islanders? Well, TV producers generally go for two things: sexy and quirky. With rare exception, Rhode Island doesn’t really do sexy. But we practically invented quirky. Especially when accompanied by a healthy sense of humor. (See “Family Guy.” Farrelly Brothers movies. Don Bousquet cartoons. May breakfasts. Political history. Rhode Island-ese as a Second Language. Quahogs, jonnycakes, littlenecks, cherrystones, soupys, strip pizza, stuffies, weiners and pretty much anything on the menu. Big Blue Bug. Mr. Potato Head. Oscar the Death Cat.)

What would be a good reality TV show based in Rhode Island?


Bilby's World of Trivial Nothingness said...

Due to the unusual number of Australian links for your most famous Rhode Island reality stars I would suspect a show where a true RIer ventures to the streets of Melbourne, Australia and attempts to get directions to Sydney speaking only Rhode Islandese.

Doug Norris said...

I tried that. Ended up in Canberra.

Anonymous said...


Bilby's World of Trivial Nothingness said...

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