Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Hero's Journey

Longtime readers of Nettertainment, and by that I mean since around the beginning a year ago March, may recall the love affair I began back then with Season 2 of the reality series, Beauty and the Geek. While I could never imagine that Season 3 could hope to top the personal-growth-through-triumph of winning couple Josh and Cheryl, tonight's Season Finale hit a new high in reality television resolution nirvana.

The main plot of any reality t.v. contest is to find out who wins "the money," in this case $250,000 to split, presumably before taxes. The journey of this year's winning team, Scooter (Harvard grad) and Megan (Playboy model), was lovely and satisfying in it's own right, but it had been overshadowed by the budding romance of Nate (lead singer of a Star Wars Band and current Harvard student) and Jennylee (U.F.C. Ring Girl).

That subplot got sidelined when Jennylee and her teammate, Niels (1600 on his SATs), lost last week's Elimination Room face-off to Nate and his much disliked, highly competitive partner, Cecille (bikini model). Nate busted into Jennylee's farewell interview to kiss her goodbye one last time, shattering precedent and making their embrace the end shot rather than the usual losing couple's last hug. Not so great a capper for Niels' to get cut out of the last of his fifteen minutes, but it was more candidly romantic than any Bachelor finale in memory.

What the whole dynamic set up was the emergence of two key subplots for the finale. The first, the emergence of Cecille (often referred to as Cece) as a true villain. The second, and ultimately most powerful plot of all, was the coalescence of "The Hero's Journey" in the final choices made by Nate.

From the early episodes, when Cece cliqued-up the blond Beauties to oust (in the first three episodes) all the brunettes, through her brazen public humiliations of competing team members (like making fun of Niels' tears in sending his dear buddy, Nate, to an Elimination Room showdown), and finally her wildly inappropriate and barely comprehensible boast right in the Room just after beating Jennylee and Niels, she's grown more and more hateful.

Watching her tonight, I considered that she might be right about something somewhere in her cynical, self-centered world. Maybe the emotion the show attempts to produce (so often successfully), an upsurge of idealism realized through unlikely friendships, isn't as life-changing as each week's departing couple usually asserts, tearfully. Once the mansion and the cameras and the comrades are gone, do they sink back into their previous habits and ruts like nothing ever happened?

The genius of the format and what proves Cece tragically wrong is that you really do see personal transformations and milestone friendships, both between many of the couples and with certain gender buds as well. The Geeks this time were completely together -- maybe a spazz or two, but not a bad apple in the bunch.

For all her emotional shortcomings, Cece was a winner. She may be shallow but she isn't stupid, and was undefeated answering questions in the Elimination Room. Nate started off hiding behind a huge bushy red beard, all dancing gnome-like, but when the week with the physical makeovers came, and he shaved his beard and got a great haircut, he turned into a catch. And Jennylee was already getting into him from when he did the best stand-up comedy act.

Then came the humongous twist.

The past two deciders revolved around how much you'd come to know your partner. Season One had regular questions to answer about your partner's life, history, self. Season Two played more like The Newlywed Game, where the two Beauties were asked questions about themselves and their Geeks came back in to figure out how their mate had answered.

Tonight they brought back all the season's eliminated cast members, and had them vote, individually, on which team changed the most, hence putting the power to award the money in that team's hands.

Everyone but Cece were happy to see each other again. Nate was especially to get to see Jennylee again so soon, but Cece just looked at it as twenty-four hours of forced politicking and ass-kissing. And on a lot of reality shows, she'd be right. But with this move the show's producers proven that what they advertise as their central thesis was true, a balls-out shot at proving that the value of the experience would, as every good reality show aspires, be more valuable than the cash award.

Cece basically went through the first hours, the eve of the decision, failing to make a connection with the majority of her castmates, failing to even try in most cases, her contempt like a locket around her neck. Then came her bedside review of the situation to Nate, with her hateful take on human relationships as nothing more than power trips, denying the possibility of change, most blindly and most suicidally when Nate put himself out there to her and finally said, "Well, I've been saying I'm changed."

"Oh, Nate," she stabbed back, her eyes revealing their true silver, and denied him, her teammate, her champion, even this.

It clearly took Nate over the edge. Cece's inappropriate comment at the end of the previous episode had been a carelessly flopped slight to Nate's sweetheart, Jennylee, and now Nate had a chance to garner satisfaction for the affront without being accused of betraying his teammate. In an unmistakable fashion, she had betrayed him.

So the next morning Nate went to all the Geeks to whom he was their unassuming and beloved leader, and the losing blonds (he knew how the brunettes would vote) and basically made the case for each and every one of them voting against Cece and him. He felt so strongly, so morally, that Cece winning would send the wrong message, that even though he appreciated the personal support, he didn't think "it will make the world a better place" if he and Cece won.

Reality TV winners are often gracious to their vanquished, having formed what appear to be heartfelt camaraderies, but never in the history of any reality television I've ever heard about has a favorite turned down the final prize. Here Nate was releasing his friends from their obligations, and when the final vote came at the base of the grand staircase; Cece and Nate on the left, Megan and Scooter on the right; each judging couple entered pair-by-pair (in reverse order of defeat so the ones you knew best went earliest) and after verbalizing their reasoning and decision, took a place up the staircase behind the couple they supported.

Jennylee and Niels were first, and she had no hesitation in voting for Nate. He shot her a practically Gary Cooper smile, and she took her place firmly, one step up standing behind her man. That two shot of her arriving in place sealed the in-show chapter of their romance, denouement.

Starting with Niels, who himself seems a completely different man, for the next six votes Scooter and Megan were running the table. Then the paralyzingly dweeby Matt (M.I.T. graduate) voted for Cece since she was the only woman in the house to really talk to him, way back when (although in the clips she's on a bed with him calling Matt "my little gerbil") and maybe he got a little coached to keep things interesting. He takes his place next to Jennylee, behind Cece, and then another of the brunettes comes in (Sheree, former Hooters waitress) and deliriously pours the last bucket of water on the wicked witch.

Nate just happy to be with Jennylee, thinks justice was done and all good karma will flow from this, maybe even Cece eventually taking to heart what everyone had been trying to get through to her about kindness all series long, and in the preview for next week's recap there's a glimpse of Jennylee and Nate joyously reuniting. All good things will come to the now movie-star charismatic Nate, and to Jennylee who's not as dumb as her job title and has a fun little devil, a cute little fire in her eyes and her smile.

Quite properly, the show closed with the winning couple, at first polar opposite but now a loving pair, with those genuine glances and gazes at each other, like the camera is nice but it's not as important as their free and mutual support, Megan revealed as a pretty girl with a great attitude and hidden grit, and Scooter gone from bearded nerd repulsar (Megan: "I was scared of him, I was terrified to look at him.") to resort boyfriend and husband/dad material.

They had been under the radar for so long, but she flowered by handily (two weeks ago) building the best doghouse and then (last week) took down a sheep with her bare hands (in a skimpy black cowgirl hotpants outfit). Much more than just a Playboy model, and like genius analyzer Scooter she was always humble, through the final interviews, never expecting to win but with a flowering of healthy confidence along the way.

The success of the season and the finale was that while the main plot was gently compelling, Nate's journey was just spectacular. So many of our most beloved movies are about losers who find redemption without winning the obvious prize, but earning something deeper, dearer; in those last few moments realizing what will be our eternal respect. Think of the original Rocky, the one where you cared the most about him. Or the journey of the fractured family in Little Miss Sunshine. So Nate earned the bigger prize; his name will be remembered long after the winning couple. By, uh, those of us who remember anything about the reality shows we get into.

Nate's heroic journey is made all the more epic as it is the fulfillment of the animating ethos of his band's inspiration. George Lucas based the entire story architecture of his first Star Wars film on the writings of Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Having grown up on Lucas' landmark dramatization of Campbell's teachings, Nate has reached the final step of the hero's journey:
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

Zen enough for you?

Nate, the hero of Beauty and the Geek's third season in existence winds up proving himself more than just any old geek; through a unique and determined personal sacrifice, he made himself a real-life Luke Skywalker.

A reality t.v. hero for the ages.


Anonymous said...

"Reality TV winners are often gracious to their vanquished, having formed what appear to be heartfelt camaraderies, but never in the history of any reality television I've ever heard about has a favorite turned down the final prize."

FYI: When i was living in Italy, they had their 1st season of Big Brother" (yes: "Grande Fratello"). The grand prize was $1 million which to a 20-yr old in Italy (since there are no jobs) is the US equivalent of, say, a zillion dollars.

Anyway, when they got down to the final 4 contestants, the 4 rigged the elimination voting in such a way that no one would be eliminated. There were a few re-votes before the producers realized what was happening, and they hit the roof, threatening to throw everybody out, not give a prize, etc, etc. It caused a national uproar.

When confronted, each of the final 4 said basically: "The other 3 are my friends now and I'm not gonna vote them off and I don't give a sh*t if you disqualify me for it. YOU figure out who to throw off."

Now, I'm not going to try to create some huge narrative re the many differences between US & Italian culture based on this tiny anecdotal sample, but one could...


Mark Netter said...

I'm at the age when one realizes one really isn't in their 20's anymore and never will be again, so it is particularly heartening to see some firm idealistic principles turned into legitimate action by those who are in that formative decade of life...

Anonymous said...

On an unrelated note: one of these days I'll fill you in on some of the other daily offerings on Italian TV. For now, however, just one.

There's a show once a week on some serious national topic, usually something somewhat wonky, like "What should we do about pensions" or "Should we leave NATO". Serious questions but not by *any* means mass market fare -- stuff that here wouldn't even make it on local access cable.

The show consists of an ancient geezer (who's been doing this for decades) sitting in a chair and just himself talking for a 1/2 hr. No guests, just him. He's some sort of respected professor at one of the universities.

This guy is, seriously, like 145 years old and looks lke a prune.

*Standing* behind him is a beautiful 20ish babe in a fairly racy outfit (short skirt, low cut top kinda thing) who just stands there looking beautiful for the entire half hour, gazing admiringly at Methuselah.

She doesn't say a word.

At the end of the 1/2 hr the geezer says goodnight, the babe smiles, and the show's over. Every week there's a new babe, selected from a pool of weekly applicants,

It was my 2nd favorite show on Italian TV, after the weekly one hour of US baseball highlights overdubbed by someone who didn't have any idea about the rules of baseball.


Mark Netter said...

US Version: Noam Chomsky backed by, say, Paris Hilton?

Anonymous said...

Bwaaaahahahaha!!!! Yeah, exactly!

(although of course if we had that show here in the US, it would be paris hilton doing the talking & Chomsky just standing there silent.)