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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Getting dirty with MTV's Gauntlet III

I don't often admit weakness, so it's with a tremendous amount of personal shame that I roll naked in my love of MTV's "Real World/Road Rules" challenge spin-offs. According to Wikipedia, tonight's premiere of "The Gauntlet III" will be the 15th gratuitous installment of the "RW/RR" series that assembles quasi-celebrities from past shows for further lessons in extreme humiliation and debauchery. And yes, like a soap opera obsessed housewife, I've watched all 15.

Is it wrong that I can recite stats and key moments from the show's past better than I can recall milestones in, you know, actual sports history? (Wait, don’t answer that.) So yeah, while I can barely remember who scored a touchdown in the Packers' 1997 NFC championship game against Carolina, I know all too well that pint-sized Derrick took down Ace and Syrus like a rabid pitbull in consecutive "Beach Brawl" appearances. Shameful. I know.

Perhaps my obsession can best be explained this way. Obviously I don't watch solely for the ramped-up spirit of reality competition. If that were the case, I'd be enjoying the lethal combination of steroids and spandex on NBC's "American Gladiators" re-incarnation. But if you mix that same sense of competition with say, oh I don't know, the fact that Mormon Julie from Delafield, Wis. once tried to unsnap Veronica's safety harness while suspended from a wire in mid-air so she could win a challenge, yes, I will admit that it's pretty compelling TV. I also watch for pure horror, or more accurately, the show's spot-on reflection of out-of-whack societal values and sense of phony celebrity "cray-zay" when cameras are turned on. As author Chuck Klosterman memorably wrote, being on the "Real World" means you're famous enough to be recognized by a few fans at Burger King. But in the ultimate slap of ignominy, it also means that you're not famous enough to avoid eating at Burger King.

While watching, I also like to ponder deeper philosophical issues. For instance, "Is it acceptable to cite your 'Real World' experience on a job resume?" When a potential employer asks you to describe your handling of a difficult situation, do you score points for saying, "I once pulled a machete away from Puck as he was about to turn loose on some cameramen after finding out his wife and child had been detained in Jamaica?" Better yet, do any of these people have real jobs? Do they only hang out with and date each other? Does having 10,000 friends on MySpace, but actually being lame enough to manage your own MySpace site still mean you qualify as a celebrity?

In the end, I've concluded that I watch because the rotating cast reminds me of people I went to high school with. And instead of reliving moments with perpetual adolescents who still wear their football jerseys or talk about the time they outran the cops while fleeing from an underage drinking party, I'm more content watching from a safe distance as folks like Old Man Mark, Crazy Tonya, Testosterone Tina, Loose Cannon CT, Beastly Beth and Roid Rage Danny make asses of themselves on Satan's favorite channel, MTV. Plus, watching the ridiculous intros they put together for each new installment is still less embarrassing than wearing a stupid name tag at a godforsaken reunion.

The "Gauntlet III" airs tonight at 9 p.m. on MTV. Look for me to keep tabs on the show, and give a few history lessons in list form, as the drama progresses each week.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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