I. Can’t. Take. It. There's. Too. Much. Reality. TV. Tremendousness.
Seriously, I don’t even know where to start.
OK, that’s a lie. I totally know where to start: When MTV drops its “Real World will never be the same ever forever, forever ever, forever ever ever” official season trailer, that's where to start. Saying “I don’t even know where to start” is just something people say. The truth is, so much good stuff surfaced this week that I have to save some for next week. The Bachelorcast bios are now on ABC.com, and next week’s GRTFL will include a full breakdown of all the fitness models, former NBA dancers, opera singers, and — wait for it! — “free spirits.” Yes, some poor lass actually listed "free spirit" as her occupation.
We also got a top-10 Tribal Council on this week's Survivor, which I'll discuss in a bit. But before we get to that, how about a waaaaaaaaay too detailed breakdown of that Real World trailer? Way, way too detailed.
Real World has stopped being polite and stopped being real. When news first broke via a super press release–y post on EW.com that the MTV show had adopted a new format for its upcoming season, it felt like hearing that Bruce Springsteen had become a dubstep DJ. Learning that the new title was Real World: Ex-Plosion didn’t help.
Apparently, a little while into filming the show, producers decided to have the castmates' exes join the house. It's not a bad idea, but there was something nice about Real World always being the same ol’ Real World, even as Bunim/Murray employees right down the hall pumped out The Simple Life, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Bad Girls Club. The “seven strangers in a house” format was the Adam and Eve of the reality TV species; strands of its DNA can be found in all current reality iterations. So at first this change felt wrong. It felt like MTV and Bunim/Murray were selling out.
The Internet is the best. Being old and dumb, I rarely discover the fun little corners of this vast web wasteland, but that changed last week when Juliet sent me a link about The Challenge cast leaking. The leak was posted on Vevmo, a forum site that always manages to figure out next season's cast before anyone else.
I'd been on the site before, but I'd never taken a deep dive into the various threads. Well, this time I did, and I couldn't be happier. There's page upon page of discussion ONLY ABOUT THE CHALLENGE! It's a community for people who are obsessed with Real World's mutant child, people who really approach The Challenge with the level of care and analysis it deserves as America’s Fifth Major Sport.
It’s easy to get bummed out by the Internet. It's a place where mean comments, creepy porn, identity theft, and idiocy run rampant. But finding something like The Challenge section on Vevmo can restore faith. At its best, the Internet connects people with similar interests and helps build communities. Well, The Challenge section of Vevmo is the lunch table GRTFL would choose in the digital cafeteria. It's full of people who say things like this:
“Lex, size doesn't really matter — see Derrick. Jonna's not the ultimate puzzle person but I'd trust her with a puzzle over Cara. Jonna does have the "Endurance" crap as well” —KVM1977
Full disclosure: I'm just vamping until the return of Grandma's favorite arranged marriage/divorce vehicle, The Bachelor, returns, but I need some lowbrow programming to highlight in the meantime. With that in mind, I popped in an advanced screener of MTV's Big Tips Texas. Well, not only is this Coyote Uglier, Canal Street barmaid bullshit not worth writing about every week it's not even worth writing about this week only.
Juliet and I address the undressed ladies of Big Tips Texas on the podcast this week, in case you want that in your earballs. Right now, however, there's still one GRTFL staple of starvation left in the rotation: Survivor. And this week's episode was loaded: Colton bolted, Jeffy P did his best Teej from The Challenge, and Tyson was almost amputated in a pillow fight. Yep.
Zero shots to Miley Cyrus, but I'm not entirely sure what else there is to say about her at this point. These are the perils of a purposeful and successful campaign (or, in Miley's words, "a movement") to be talked about all day every day by everyone everywhere. She did it. She won. Everything that has transpired in the Mileyverse since the Great Haircut of 2012 has been part of a calculated effort to ensure that, and it's hard to imagine anyone else being the pop cultural MVP of 2013 (mayyybe Pharrell, who gets a lot of screen time in the doc, and reveals that he personally approved the aforementioned haircut). I think all of us, Miley included, can feel secure in that victory for a second and now start to think about some other things for these next few post-Bangerz months.
If I learned anything from Miley: The Movement, the documentary/infomercial that premiered on MTV last night (an extended cut will be airing this weekend, and there's also something you can do on Twitter to unlock extra scenes; I don't know, I'm feeling woozy even typing these words), it is that this girl needs to take a damn nap. Someone once told me, in an effort to get me to CTFD (and, come to think of it, when I was about Miley's age), that I "wore my shoulders like earrings," and that's all I could think of while watching Miley's bounce from "On Air With Ryan Seacrest" to Jimmy Kimmel Live! to GMA to the VMAs, in a rotating assortment of white midriff-baring tops hanging on her thin frame, every muscle tensed like a wound-up terrier. Miley has said in interviews that she doesn't know how to take a break from work; I guess that's what the pot's for.
Survivor is back, which means we finally get to introduce some new blood into the GRTFL waters this week. (Don't worry, you'll get your Challenge scoring update, too.)
Survivor: Blood vs. Water immediately gave us a hot doctor couple probably headed for divorce, the threat of assault with a deadly oar, a near drowning, a homophobe, a lady-robbing junkie, and, worst of all, wet socks. Tons and tons of wet socks. There's little in life worse than wet socks.
As we always do when we add a new show to the GRTFL universe, we made up a bunch of dumb rules.
Diem. Dee-um. Diem! This week's Challenge brought us a lot of Diem Brown drama, and we did not shy away from it. We covered everything from Diem's deliberation dress to Johnny's breaking of the fourth wall for the viewer's benefit. After that, we returned to the Bravo well. What makes Eat, Drink, Love so incredibly watchable? As we tried to figured this out, Juliet revealed her three favorite foods and Jacoby admitted to his new reality TV crush. And as always, we cover our weird watches (Bad Girls Club, The Great Australian Bake Off), the news (with requisite Lamar Odom update), and our non-reality-TV news of the week (have you heard of 2 Chainz?). Enjoy!
As summer stumbles out of the bar and fall saddles up, it brings with it chilly air, back-to-school bullshit, and some good ol’ lowbrow television programming that may or may not merit GRTFL tracking. GRTFL stalwart Survivor washes ashore Wednesday and will get the full treatment. I’m considering adding MTV’s new Coyote Ugly–meets–Honey Boo Boo–meets–depression day-drinking vehicle Big Tips Texas, but know I’ll regret it by Week 2. I may rekindle my relationship with Top Chef, but mainly for Padma reasons. I even looked at The Amazing Race cast because of a familiar face. And yet, I’m still not sure which shows to make dick jokes and puns about when the leaves turn. If you have any suggestions for shows I should add, please leave them in the comments.
In the meantime, thank God we have The Challenge. This week’s episode was all Diem, all the time. Let’s get right to it by turning our attention to this resilient, beautiful, inspirational, super-sweet cancer survivor and then making fun of her.
I’m going to hell.
Diem (Challenge, Simmons), 15 points
The Diem-CT pairing is the closest thing America has to Will and Kate. We watched Diem and CT fall in love; we watched Diem beat cancer; we watched CT try to eat a man’s face; we watched them break up; we watched her beat cancer again; and this week, we watched as their relationship went weird.
After a few weeks of partying with the Amish and going deep into cable's offerings, we went back to our roots. The Challenge’s Wes delivered the kind of soliloquy that can't be ignored, and thus we spent 25 minutes discussing this week's episode. Keep this video about Wes's start-up incubator open. After that, we dived into a new guilty pleasure from an old friend, Eat, Drink, Love on Bravo. Did you know that certain snacks could be categorized as "white trash"? About 44 minutes in, we moved on to our weird watches, news (including a Lamar Odom update), and non-reality news of the week.
Don't be alarmed when you hear the sweet sounds of Ol' Dirty Bastard welcoming you to the Right Reasons podcast. You're in the right place.
We’ve officially reached the point in the season when The Challenge morphs into Bodies in Motion. With only a few episodes left, America’s fifth major sport has taken on a more serious tone: It’s way less “Let’s all get inslopsicated and try to have coitus/drown each other all night,” and way more “Woah, we have a chance at winning some serious money, let’s work out all day and talk strategy all night.” As always, Bananas summed it up best: “With the final guys' challenge coming up, I think everyone is pretty much in the same mind-set right now. The finish line is so close, that ticket to the final is right there, and the anxiety levels are through the roof right now.”
Although Katy Perry had a prestigious show-closing spot at the VMAs, her much-hyped outdoor performance of Prism’s first single, "Roar," ended up being pretty anticlimactic. The apricot vinyl twerkery of one Miley Destiny Hope Cyrus monopolized the entire VMA news cycle, with a couple of spare words sprinkled in for the 'N Sync reunion. Barely a word of post-show watercooler chatter ended up being devoted to Perry, which is pretty amazing considering she jumped rope in a leopard-print sports bra. But there were no memes or GIFs of Perry jiggling on things, no arguments that her notorious performance was taking attention away from more serious issues. Perry played it relatively safe, and "Roar" is a huge hit worldwide, so there's clearly not much reason for her to tamper with the sugar-sparkle-sunshine formula she perfected on Teenage Dream.
MTV has been running promos for its fall slate of reality fare, and it doesn’t look too promising. Big Tips Texas is basically Buckwild in a bar, Teen Mom 3 is the latest iteration of a show so depressing and wrong that even I won't watch it, and Snooki and JWOWW only serves to further the Jersey Shore crew's descent into oblivion.
While none of these programs feel worthy of GRTFL consideration, they will be tracked and broken down on The Right Reasons podcast, because detailed analysis of programming for tween girls is important here at Grantland. But the bleak future for televised idiocy on MTV can’t take the spotlight away from what was a pretty solid episode of The Challenge this week. We had a near-drowning, some solid TJ, and the return of Crazy Camila. Camila had been behaving relatively sanely this season, leading one to think that perhaps years of watching her make a fool of herself on national television had led to her toning down her temperament … and one would be wrong. This week she was glorious and went straight insane.
Well, VMAs, I have to hand it to you. You've hijacked all of the feeds. You're drunk, you're driving, you're being tailed by police, you're hitting telephone poles and you're still going. I guess you've won. I guess we've been dwarfed by your enormity, your force. The fact that the Internet's reactions to the performances — Miley's most of all — spawned so many aftershocks, even though not all of them were real (see: Will Smith and family) reactions to begin with, makes this post-VMA redux seem like the show was actually a peek into a meme-breeding facility. The ceremony seemed pre-GIFed. Talking points were offered to the Internet like appetizers on trays, like the VMAs were saying, "Sir? Ma'am? You asked for content? Here it is."
Let's get this out of the way: There's no particular reason to go see the VMAs live. This thing is not a live show that happens to be televised: It's a performance-first, production-heavy event, rendered in MTV's signature jump-cut OCD style for TV consumption. And so the plebes in attendance can sometimes feel like second-class citizens, caught trying to stare around the epic giant inflated Moon Man's left leg, where Daft Punk and Pharrell and Nile Rodgers are apparently palling around up on camera. This doesn’t apply to the famous people, of course. The famous people get the proper vantage points they, by rights of their fame, totally deserve.
Speaking of the beautiful people: MTV had them all huddled in one well-lit section to the right of the stage, where waiters with drink trays were omnipresent. You got to see every last ounce of Taylor Swift's carefully cultivated reaction shots, in crisp HD. I and the rest of the norms in section 112 craned our necks to figure out which of the Taylor Swift–like shapes was actually Taylor Swift. Until, like, 30 minutes in, I didn't know that the crazy big-haired lady in the bikini was Lady Gaga. Honestly, if you wanna know what it is you "didn’t see on TV," it’s a whole bunch of dudes in cargo shorts and head sets. Also: When Macklemore thanked "all the homies nominated," it seemed uncouth to, as you certainly would in the comforts of your own living room, scream out "this fucking guy."
If you dared go near Twitter, or the darker corners of MySpace, or, heaven forfend, accidentally tuned your television to MTV, the 2013 Video Music Awards is a thing that happened to you last night. But we're here to let you know it's OK; it also happened to us. It's a losing game to question whatever motives got us to this place — a desire to see if Lady Gaga would wear a blank pizza box on her face, an overwhelming curiosity about which members of 'N Sync are still alive, or the hope that you might be able to ensnare YouTube pixie Austin Mahone in your dream catcher should he escape your plasma TV, per the love-spell you cast — when we're all on the other side of it now. We're safe.
A little later today, Grantland's own Amos Barshad will be reporting on his experience from deep inside the belly of the VMA beast. (Live from Brooklyn, which now is a smoldering ruin.) But for the moment, let's all relive the VMAs through the faces. The glorious, glorious faces. Faces of Triumph. Faces of Defeat. (There were no Faces of Defeat; these are not real awards.) Faces of Just So Very Happy to Be Back Onstage With Justin Timberlake. Every face tells a story, one that ends in, "None of you people have any respect for your free time. Enjoy your bowl of microwave soup. By the time this image reaches you, I will be splashing around in a koi pond full of Ciroc with a Chechen warlord's second-favorite offspring."