A Dose of Reality: The Surreal Life 6 - Episode 01
by Caroline Roberts
Published: March 20, 2006
One of the major problems with The Surreal Life, a series that debuted on the WB and shifted over to VH1, is that there is a limit to the number of celebrities (and semi-celebrities) the producers can talk into joining the show.
They've had just about everyone who has fallen out of favor with the general public. The few that they probably would have died to get, such as Mr. T, "Original Survivor" Richard Hatch, or Molly Ringwald, either still have their pride or issues with parole officers. (Then again, Flavor Flav is a VH1 staple.) Some flat out won't do it or opt for less-demeaning options, like Celebrity Fit Club. Not everyone wants to get naked and hop in the Surreal Life swimming pool, which has happened so much that it must be a contractual requirement.
This season's list of celebrities (we're using the term loosely here) isn't that impressive on the first read-through. One witty TV writer, David Bianculli, said that the combined cast had "all the star wattage of a night light." The biggest name, easily, is Florence Henderson, and she refused to sleep over in the house. As always, Mrs. Brady retains her eternal good sense.
The other cast members include Poison guitarist CC DeVille, Smashmouth frontman Steve Harwell, Sherman "George Jefferson" Hemsley, Whitesnake video babe Tawny Kitaen, Andrea Lowell (who? Oh, the obligatory centerfold), and Alexis Arquette, who is hard to describe. VH1 tactfully calls Alexis "transgender Hollywood royalty." We at The Trades don't know whether or not to say "he" or "she" because Alexis is undergoing sex-reassignment surgery. Luckily, Alexis says from the get-go that "she" is the preferred pronoun. Alexis is famous because Alexis is the sibling of Rosanna, Patricia, and David Arquette. Last but not least is a piece of mystery man-meat who will be culled from a batch of reality TV heartthrobs during the Fifteen More Minutes of Fame Reality Hunk Pageant. (Please don't let one of the contestants be Billy Jon Joe Bob from Survivor: Panama.)
This doesn't sound exciting, but it has the potential to be a great season because not a single member of this cast has anything to lose! (Accept maybe Alexis Arquette and her penis.) They're at the very bottom of the celebrity food chain, and there's nowhere to go but up (insert "Moving on up!" Jeffersons joke here, kids). A substantial chunk of them have also had brushes with the law, which means there's sure to be brawling in the Surreal house.
Speaking of the house, last season's theme was a circus tent, and the décor matched Omarosa and Janice Dickinson's three-ring-circus catfights beautifully. This time, the show has a 1950s motel theme, right down to the fonts, diamond prints and candy-colored rooms. The motel also comes complete with an annoying bellhop, played by Jimmy Pardo, whose jokes are as tired and stale as his costume. Since this is the first week for each celeb, and some of them will soon start to dominate the summaries, let's give each one the equal attention they crave.
The Buddha: Sherman Hemsley
Sherman Hemsley is the first to arrive, and the bellman starts cracking some truly awful, racist jokes, such as, "Love the fact that you've got a white driver, eh?" Later on, he tells Hemsley to carry CC DeVille's bags. Hemsley would have been within his rights to crack some racist bellhop skull, but Hemsley is the cuddliest, quietest guy. He just sits around and starts snacking. Where the food goes, no one knows, but a strange peace emanates from his Buddha-like body. He's even Zen when Playboy gal Andrea Lowell puts her chest on top of his head. Either he will be the conscience of the house, or he's going to lose his mind. Regarding Sherman, major boos to VH1. When they interview Sherman, they give him subtitles for no good reason. It's not like he's speaking Spanish, and it's not like he's too quiet. (For the record, I'm as deaf as a post, and he was as clear as crystal sans subtitles.) They let Flavor Flav speak jive, and I can understand him, so I don’t get it. VH1, lose Sherman's subtitles. Now.
Why Tawny Kant Read: Tawny Kitaen
Julie is her real name - no, it is not Tawny. No parent is that crazy to name a child "Tawny." VH1 immediately paints her as a wild woman because she wound up in the cooler after beating up on her husband, baseball player Chuck Finley. The Smoking Gun has her mug shot, and, in the interest of fairness, excerpts of her countercomplaint against Finley. These days, she looks mostly harmless, more like one of those Harley chicks who usually ride on the back of their husband's bikes when they take pilgrimages through Milwaukee.
Tawny plays the role of ex-model to the hilt. VH1 strings together a hilarious scene in which she tries to calculate the number of beds in the house and struggles deeply before coming up with six. Sherman, whose reaction shots are worth their weight in gold, sits back and watches the rusty gears turning inside her head. She's even slower when she tries to read the Surreal Life daily paper. For a video babe, she's also super-uptight. She immediately latches on to Florence Henderson and talks way too much about how she would never, ever do Playboy, like Andrea Lowell has. She also refuses to do the dishes. She sits there and says that she did them a lot when she was a kid, and she's not gonna do them now. Try that excuse your roommates sometime, and see what they do to you.
The Science of Substitution: CC DeVille
CC DeVille shows up looking like a tooth-whitening victim. The man also has the world's most annoying voice. Cats leave the room whenever he opens his mouth. But he's looking better these days. Steve Harwell of Smashmouth notes, "I couldn't believe how good he looked. When I saw him last, he looked like pavement." (Somewhere, Bob Nastanovich takes great offense - props to anyone who gets that joke.) But CC DeVille does look better … largely because he left rehab THE PREVIOUS MORNING. That is the definition of fortitude - roll out of bed in the morning and immediately start shooting your next television show.
Since CC can't booze anymore, he occupies himself in creative ways. On the plus side, he runs five miles a day, and he is the first housemate to use the treadmill. He is also down with Alexis Arquette. He is courteous to her and tries to find out if Alexis prefers "he" or "she." On the minus side, he sits around fantasizing about the girls of the house making out.
The Enforcer: Steve Harwell
Mr. Smashmouth Steve Harwell bears a strong resemblance to the bouncer who is a little too eager to kick people out of the bar. He is always looking for trouble, and then he wants to squelch it, just like the neat freak he is. Yes, he's a neat freak. He is often seen mopping the floors, and he tussles with Tawny because she doesn't want to do the dishes. One would think he'd clash with his roommate, CC, but, since both of them have been in rehab, they get along like gangbusters. They even giggle together before going to bed, those clean-cut crazy kids!
Resident Centerfold: Andrea Lowell
Andrea Lowell is an all-natural hostess for Playboy TV, and she's had her share of centerfolds. She says she was pre-med at the University of California, Irvine (full disclosure: I used to teach there, and I never saw her, although she may have been taught by friends of mine). And she is ready to par-tay with anyone in the house. However, she's with two guys who are fresh out of rehab … and Alexis Arquette. Alexis offers Andrea one last chance at his penis before he - ahem - reassigns it, but she declines. Needless to say, she is thrilled at the chance to choose a little extra man-meat during the Reality Hunk Pageant.
More Than a Woman: Alexis Arquette
Alexis Arquette is not a drag queen, although she could hold her own in San Francisco's Castro. Alexis is "transgender." What's the diff? Well, Alexis is a woman who happens to have an inconvenient penis. Alexis will officially be "reassigned" on another reality show, which is already taping for A&E. Alexis is so serious about being a woman that she wears her falsies everywhere, even in the hot tub. (It's not clear if they float.) She gets an "A" for effort. Among her many skills is her ability to catch a flying banana with her mouth.
Since she's about to change her physical gender, Alexis is downright obsessed with sex. She even pins sexual desire on the seemingly chaste Florence Henderson. Alexis says, "She's not Carol Brady. She's a woman with needs." Soon, she's going to be talking about Sherman Hemsley and his cravings. By the end, everyone has no trouble thinking of Alexis as pure woman. At one point, Andrea even asks her for advice about Florence's nudity-bashing, saying, "I need to talk to you, like girl talk."
Den Mother: Florence Henderson
A Brady always makes for good reality television, so the show is okay with the fact that Florence Henderson only stops by during the day and doesn't have to sleep there. She probably heard about CC DeVille from her agent and proceeded to negotiate. At first, the cast doesn't know it's Florence, and they think they'll get an honest-to-goodness therapist. If they can't get a therapist, Florence is the next best thing. She makes everyone cook together, and she spouts out mom-isms, such as telling CC not to talk about sex addiction issues at suppertime.
Florence also gives Andrea some trouble for taking off her clothes, which young Andrea doesn't like in the slightest. Florence asks, "Now, Andrea, why are you taking your clothes off in front of people?" Did they film that scene before Adrianne Curry, Peter Brady's finacee, took it all off for Playboy? What did she think of that? Why is the next season of My Fair Brady taking so long?
Maven, Mystery Man-Meat
During the Reality Hunk Pageant, the housemates aren't given much of a choice. They can pick from four reality-show studs, and they don't even get Evan Marriott from Joe Millionaire. Apparently, Evan Marriott has standards. The "reality hunks" include Scott Long, Big Brother; Ace Amerson, Real World Paris; John Paylok, Survivor Vanatu; Maven Huffman, Tough Enough; and Corey Clark, American Idol. Yes, that Corey Clark, or, as Steve Harwell puts it, "I see these knuckleheads … the kid who was banging Paula Abdul." Clark is definitely a knucklehead. He was charged with beating up his sister, and not in a fun-and-games sort of way, and an investigation basically said Clark was a liar. The cast doesn’t keep Clark in the pageant very long, just long enough to arouse disgust. The rest of the "knuckleheads" aren't much, either. Paylok wears a wig, and Long pulls his pants down during a sexy dance to reveal … SKIDMARKS.
The housemates had to choose between Skid-Mark Guy, Wig Guy, Geeky Guy, Corey Clark, and Maven Huffman, wrestler from WWE's Tough Enough. Poor Sherman looks disgusted the entire time. Florence also says that only the women can vote in the final round, so the producers pave the way to victory for Maven. Both Andrea and Alexis want to get their hands on Maven's muscles, so he's absolutely perfect. Oh, and he likes to drink, which sets up a battle between the Rehab Club and the Party Animals.
In the Next Few Weeks: Alexis Arquette teaches creepy dudes not to mess with the transgendered, and Tawny Kitaen talks trash about Mrs. Brady.