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Fall '01: "Elimidate Deluxe"

To hear the pundits tell it, the reality TV genre which has been an inescapable fixture on our collective TV set the past couple of years is finally showing signs of calling it a night. After September 11 came and altered our very perception of reality, it seems we can't change the channel fast enough whenever Temptation Island 2 and The Amazing Race appear on the screen. The problems of a boatload of sexy singles trying to hook up and win valuable cash prizes don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world any more. And who really cares about the trials and tribulations of the Samburu and Boran tribes when the once harmless act of opening your mail constitutes an Immunity Challenge of an entirely different nature?

So the reality genre is down for the count. ABC has already pulled The Mole 2 from its schedule, promising that the show will return later this season, but sounding none too enthused about the prospect. Lost and Love Cruise have both completed their initial runs -- neither would be a safe bet to return for round two. And Survivor -- once the swiftest vessel in the reality TV fleet -- now gets routinely lapped in the ratings by the wheezing geriatrics on Friends.

For the optimists out there, this is grand news: All those reality shows will soon disappear, like yesterday's Seinfeld knock-offs, never to be heard from again. For the pessimists, the news is equally dim: As quickly as reality programs are disappearing from the airwaves, they can't disappear fast enough.

If you're wondering whether TeeVee falls into the optimist or pessimist camp, then hello! My name is Phil. You must be new 'round these parts.

While I'm certainly happy that network TV is finally beginning to separate the reality wheat from the chaff, the sudden distaste for the genre didn't spare me from having to watch Elimidate Deluxe, the WB's foray into the tedious realm of dating programs. (Today The WB saved the rest of you the trouble, cancelling Elimidate.) As with its forbearers -- Love Connection, Blind Date, the deliriously awful Studs -- Elimidate Deluxe takes a lucky guy or girl and forces them to choose a soul mate from among a passel of simpering morons (presumably from the opposite sex, unless the WB becomes incredibly broad-minded). Elimidate Deluxe's twist is that all four chuckleheads are invited along on the date and whittled away as the half-hour progresses until just one dunce is left. Presumably, as the credits roll, love blooms.

The participants on Elimidate Deluxe are attractive people, far more attractive than you and I could ever hope to be. Actually, they are almost unnaturally attractive, sculptured and coiffed and pre-packaged much in the same way as porn stars. The difference? Porn stars eventually stop spouting idiocies and leaden innuendos and have the good sense to get naked. Sadly, Elimidate Deluxe offers no such payoff. The participants' clothes remain on while their mouths remain in motion and full of marbles.

The episode of Elimidate Deluxe I watched featured Leslie, an associate producer for a New York-based TV production company. Remember the outcry a few years back when Keri Russell ditched her curly tresses? After watching Elimidate Deluxe, I'm convinced that the Felicity star didn't cut her hair at all -- Leslie apparently scalped her and made off with the hairstyle.

"My dream guy has to be driven, smart, funny," says Leslie, having apparently read the "What Women Want in a Man" chapter of The Great Big Book of Clichés. "I want the whole package." You will be as interested as I was to learn that the discriminating woman of the aughties is so intent on seeking out the whole package she does not have time to put on a bra.

Leslie's would-be beaus include Mark, a tennis-playing college student; Blake, a real-estate consultant; David, who works in advertising; and Jaret, an attorney and, by the looks of him, Satan's familiar. Then again, that may be unfair to Jaret -- all of Leslie's suitors are simply repellant, the sort of folks you'd spot in a bar and hang a U-turn without breaking stride. In that sense, Elimidate Deluxe may be one of the first reality competitions where nobody -- certainly not the audience -- wins.

The date consists of a series of wacky, photogenic misadventures, the kind of dating itinerary that only camp counselors and cruise directors would consider anything but a forced death march. Leslie puts her potential paramours through the following paces: a paragliding session followed by a quick bite to eat, then dress-up time down at the local costume consignment store, capped off by an evening of karaoke. Which would have been a perfect end to the date had any of the contestants been drunken businessmen from Kobe. Presumably, dates featuring lanyard-making, shuffleboard and other fun things to do on a rainy day will be featured in future installments of Elimidate Deluxe.

After each activity, one lucky contestant gets the ol' heave-ho, so it's implied that Leslie has selected these activities with an eye toward the traits that make up her driven, smart, funny dream guy. "I think you guys think I'm looking for bravery," Leslie tells the bleating jackasses vying for her hand before the paragliding adventure. "Really, I'm looking for sensitivity."

Sensitive guys must achieve terminal velocity quicker, I guess.

"Karaoke's great," Leslie explains to us later in the show after everyone unfortunately escapes unharmed from the paragliding. "Because you have to perform, and you have to give it your all, even if you make a total fool of yourself."

Interestingly enough, the same effect can be achieved by appearing on Elimidate Deluxe.

All of this -- the contrived set-up, the forced camaraderie, the karaoke -- would be bad enough. But Elimidate Deluxe goes that extra mile of suck down the ol' Jon Seda Memorial Highway by having -- nay, encouraging -- the possible swains to fire off witticisms and bons mots about their competition. Think the Algonquian Roundtable, only with Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and Robert Benchley replaced by a bunch of drunken fratboys. Indeed, you can't go 30 seconds on Elimidate Deluxe without someone enjoying a supposed laugh at the expense of his or her rivals.

"It looks like my grandmother's rug from the 1960s or something," says David, tapping into the biting wit one would expect from someone employed by the advertising industry to describe the sartorial choice of a fellow suitor during the costume consignment store adventure. Because rugs from the 1960s are ugly, you see.

"He picks Boy George," Jaret sneers as David sings along to Karma Chameleon at the karaoke bar. "There's a subliminal thing going on there." Because Boy George is gay, you understand, so by singing along to a song made famous by a gay man, he must also be gay.

Get it? Get it?

Oh God, neither do I.

You can't necessarily blame Elimidate Deluxe's contestants for coming up with these punchless zingers. After watching them for a half-hour, I have serious doubts they can muster the brain power to use simple tools.

No, the fault likely lies not in the stars, but in the creative team -- the wormy little production assistants and weasely writers cowering off-camera and encouraging the on-air talent to be as petty and back-biting as possible. Make fun of the other guy's hair! Laugh when he falls down! Use his choice of 1980s British pop to question his sexual predilections! The sniping takes what would have been a patently lame but otherwise inoffensive half-hour of television and gives it a surface sum of nastiness, an unpleasant tone that snuffs out whatever enjoyment -- guilty or otherwise -- that could have been wrung out of this slop.

In the end, Leslie picked off her supplicants one by one, until all she was left with were David, the Boy George-crooning ad man, and Jaret, the associate from the law offices of Death, Pestilence and Famine LLC. Leslie picked Jaret, presumably because she has no soul. Then again, the bumper crop of idiocy that Leslie had to select from made Sophie's Choice look like picking between paper and plastic.

"You guys are all quality," Leslie explained to her four beaus, apparently having mastered the Letting Them Down Easy chapter of The Big Book of Clichés. "But you know the name of the game."

Yes. The name of the game is Joyless Half-Hour of Humiliation. Though Elimidate Deluxe does make for a snappier title.


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