Adventures in Reality

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

Adventures in Reality

August 5, 2003

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This was written two years ago but hasn't been published anywhere until now.

It is 10:30 on a Saturday morning, and I am waiting for a bar to open with about fifty others. We are not alcoholics. We are something far more desperate. We are applicants for reality television. A casting call is being held here for The Runner, an ABC show in which contestants will be chased across the country by teams of agents. The show is produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, though Ben and Matt are conspicuously absent this morning.

Unlike the others here, I don't want to be on television. I'm here mainly out of curiosity. I have never understood reality television, never understood why anyone would be so willing to sacrifice privacy just to get on TV. Who are these people? Are they really as shallow as they seem? And can an introvert like me possibly match up with them? Here at last is a chance to find out.

It's soon obvious that the answer to that last question is a definitive no. It's an especially bad omen when I can't even reveal anything about myself on the written application. "What's your most embarrassing moment?" I'm asked, and my first thought is: "That's nobody's business. I'm not telling." My mind goes blank. God knows I've had my share of them, but I can't actually remember any.

"Hey, what's my most embarrassing moment?" I ask my friend Mark who I have coerced into joining me. He suggests the time I was forced to give a work presentation for twenty people but wasn't prepared. I write that down, although it is no doubt the lamest embarrassing moment ever, so lame that I'm embarrassed to turn in my application. I have failed my first test. Anyone who can't reveal his or her most embarrassing moment doesn't belong on reality television. Embarrassing moments, after all, provide the very backbone of the genre.

After a long wait, we enter in groups of eight. Except for one woman in her forties, everyone in our group is under thirty-five. Half have been sent over by a company called Boston Casting. So much for reality. As a talent scout sits us around a table, some even have headshots to hand her.

She starts by asking us about our jobs. I tell her that I work with computers, and she couldn't possibly be more bored. I stammer through an ill-advised description of my job, and I can sense her perky enthusiasm draining away. It's the last question she'll bother asking me. She seems similarly bored with the others, until she talks to an insurance salesman.

"So, have you ever sold someone a policy that they didn't need?" she asks.

"No, never."

"Oh, come on!"

Then, in a second, he caves: "Well, maybe a few times."

"So, what kind of lies have you told on your job?" she asks. You can tell she's excited now.

"Well, I don't really lie."

"Oh, come on!"

"Well, maybe a few times, but..."

And then he's off, revealing all sorts of lies. If only I could understand them! It's all insurance gibberish, yet I can sense he feels relieved to get it off his chest.

The talent scout now asks the married people if they would ever cheat on their spouse. Lying? Infidelity? There seems to be a theme in her questions. Everyone says no, but, with a little prodding, some reveal more than they should. Apparently, indiscretion is the key trait that sets these people apart. One announces that he would never cheat on his wife. "Although I did cheat on every woman I ever dated," he adds, "including my wife, but that was before we were married."

And then she asks Insurance Guy. He too wouldn't cheat. "No, never!" he repeats for emphasis.

"Come on! What if you were tempted?"

Somehow, that changes everything. "Well, okay, maybe. I mean, I'm only telling you guys all this because I don't know any of you, but yeah, if I was tempted, I probably would. But only if it was in a different state."

One person asks him whether a state of drunkenness would qualify, and we all share a laugh. For his wife's sake, I just hope he doesn't have to travel for work.

Moments later, we are done. After just ten minutes of questioning, she tells us that she'll be "in touch." That doesn't sound good. That's not how our big break is supposed to start. "Let me just check that I can read your handwriting," she says while examining our applications.

"You have excellent handwriting. You're free to go," she tells me. Mark has excellent handwriting too. So do the others. Halfway through this ruse, she tires of it. "In fact, all your handwriting is good. You can all go," she says without even looking at the remaining applications.

Afterwards, Mark and I stay for a beer to reward ourselves for our excellent handwriting. While there, we notice that Insurance Guy is still talking to the talent scout. Could his handwriting be that bad that he has to stay behind? As we leave, another talent scout takes his photograph. He has apparently made the cut.

Damn, why has he made it and not me? I think. It's one thing to be voted off the island. It's quite another to be voted out of the audition. I don't even want to be selected, yet somehow the rejection stings. But then I realize that he was only chosen because we laughed at him. It was that moment when we mocked him for his loose standards of fidelity ("Hey, baby, wanna go to New Hampshire?") that he was separated from us reality posers. The talent scout found what she wanted -- somebody for viewers to laugh at.

It turns out that The Runner will probably never be shown. ABC dropped it shortly after this audition. Looking back, that's a shame, because Insurance Guy could have been a real star. Fear not for him, though. He can always audition for the next Temptation Island.

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