After waiting in a long traffic jam caused more by people looking at the accident than by those who caused it, you still feel that guilty urge to look. What exactly compels us toward this action isn't always clear, but it must be related to the urge we have to watch "reality TV."
Television has always been involved with showing real events, beginning with the news. Ever so slowly, though, the specimen has mutated, most recently into CBS's Survivor. I've already heard several cute and clever descriptions, so indulge me, won't you, while I give you mine. Ahem ... think of it as Swiss Family Robinson stumbles onto the Bundys. OK, well, all the Gilligan's Island, Real World and Lord of the Flies analogies were taken.
Certainly I've watched my fair share of Cops, wall-to-wall breaking news, a bit of The Real World and O.J.'s Bronco. Yet, the only reason I had for watching Survivor was that it might yield a good column during rerun season.
It's the tale of 16 real folks, tossed together on an island in a survival-of-the-fittest of sorts. Each week contestants vote someone off of the Island. Last one standing wins a million bucks. With the 16 initially divided into two tribes, everything is filmed, including the collusion and back-stabbing that soon ensues.
Every so often host Jeff Probst show up, in Mr. Rourke fashion, to issue a challenge to the two factions. Winners can gain prizes like waterproof matches, food and so on. Sadly one of the prizes isn't being allowed to smack the smug little look off of Probst's face.
The first to go was Sonja, age 62. She stumbled during a race which cost her team ... er, uh, tribe ... a victory. Man, I'd be lobbying hard to be voted off if I had to spend even a half-hour with these bastards.
This will trudge on for 12 more weeks until a "winner" is determined. Already another edition is planned for January, meaning it will peak during (ding!) sweeps. But just how did this idea get to CBS? That would be thanks to our friends in Europe, where the show is a huge hit. This isn't surprising where collaboration with oppressors was once quite fashionable.
Everyone likes to see someone win a million dollars with minimal effort. But getting it by being a diabolical dirt bag might not play that well here. It works on soap operas, but only because that's understandably made up.
So our Old World cousins (mostly the Brits) have let us knick Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Teletubbies. What could be next? Cut this out and save it.
The Germans have a program that shows people doing all sorts of nutty and dangerous things: bungee jumping off buildings, being launched off of a catapult and so on. Gerry has cleverly duped a group of Brits into engaging in this hilarity.
Obviously by next fall we'll be watching Canadians being catapulted into snow banks and parachuting off the CN Tower in Toronto. With the added wrinkle of a huge cash pay-off, of course. And people will do it.
Ironically, almost none of these people comes close to being a star. The ones who do are reduced to embarrassing caricatures, like Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell. There is, however, a simple way to cure this: Make TV production a required course in our nation's schools. It's amazing how quickly the novelty of being on TV wears off. Not only would this eliminate dreadful ideas like Survivor, but it would also keep kids from jumping up and down and waving at the camera in the background during breaking news events.
Let's hope Survivor will pass on after spending its run in the Nielsen basement. A top 20 finish should be feared. That kind of performance guarantees not only its return, but a gaggle of mutated clones.
If I had the money, I'd give all of the contestants $1,000 to just go away.