Thursday, November 11, 2004 Updated: May 31, 2:26 PM ET
Fighting off the real world
By Bill Simmons Page 2
Editor's Note: This article appears in the November 22 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
"I slept in my uniform last night because I wanted to win! And nobody stepped up today!"
Ayanna cries after realizing the only thing waiting for her at home is Monster.com.
A Ray Lewis quote? Nope. Those words were hollered by Ayanna on the Real World /Road Rules Battle of the Sexes 2, MTV's masterful blend of contrived dissension and unintentional comedy. Tears streaming down her face, Ayanna was so distraught about being voted off, she stormed away like a little kid. Can you blame her? For the self-absorbed degenerates who compete on this show, staying alive isn't about prize money as much as it is about sticking around. None of them wants to go home, probably because none of them has a job. It's a battle for survival. Literally.
Needless to say, no other TV show leaves me as consistently delighted. Former Real World and Road Rules cast members -- all of them desperately clinging to their 15th minute of fame -- compete in humiliating events like Catch a Pig in a Mudpen and Eat Gross Food and Try Not to Puke. After each event two teammates are sent packing. It's the bastard child of Fear Factor and Survivor. What a brilliant concept -- maybe the only idea that could save the WNBA.
The producers outdid themselves this season by separating teams by gender. While the males act like college kids on spring break, the females backstab each other, overreact to tiny slights and act generally insane. It's just like real life! For years, the queen bee has been a buxom Alicia Keys look-alike named Coral, a subpar competitor who intimidates the others into keeping her around. She's mellowing, though. When Tina shouted down Tonya in episode four, Coral embraced the significance: "I thought I would be the first bitch to cuss somebody out." Maybe next season. MTV even created an online fantasy game where fans pick six cast members, then accrue points in categories like Crying, Tantrums, Hooking Up and Bodily Function. Sadly, Irrevocable Loss of Dignity didn't make the cut.
The MTVers will do anything to win. I mean anything. One challenge featured two giant blocks of ice, with victory awarded to whomever melted theirs first. Did I mention both teams were wearing bathing suits? The men piled three guys atop the ice and pulled them back and forth, the most homoerotic TV moment this year not involving Ryan and Seth from The OC. Not to be outdone, the women rubbed their booties against the block like extras in a Nelly video. Tonya shoved rocks in her mouth, waited for her heat to make the rocks warmer then sprinted over to breathe on the ice. "She doesn't care what goes in her mouth," teammate Angela observed. Yikes.
Because MTV keeps recycling this idea -- and thank God -- some repeat competitors have become "veterans," for lack of a better word. The sense of entitlement is alarming. Take The Miz, a four-season old-timer who recently joined WWE's Tough Enough, making him the Bo Jackson of trash TV. He carries himself like Patrick Swayze in the first 20 minutes of Road House. Can you really take pride in something this inane?
Tonya, if you can get this rock in your mouth, then God bless you.
The Miz has advice for the newcomers about the dangers of hooking up, the threat of alliances ... everything but how to fill out a W-2 form, since he'd have no idea how to do that. Now that the Sox have won the Series, "Will The Miz ever get a real job?" is the number one unanswerable question in life. And he's not even close to being the oldest member of this year's cast -- Eric has MTV connections dating back to 1992. 1992! Shouldn't there be laws against this?
What does any of this have to do with sports? Everything. Let's face it: sports fans love strife more than they want to admit, stuff like T.O. dogging Ray Lewis or Reggie Wayne going toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning. Well, here's a competition that takes dysfunction to the next level. When Cynthia tells new girls, "Stop allowing yourself to be bullied; don't let nobody punk you," she may as well be in a Blazers huddle. When Veronica dismisses a long feud with Katie by saying, "We don't actively hate each other anymore," she's Shaq talking about Kobe. Or is it the other way around? When Coral hisses about playing "the game the way I play the game, and everybody can kiss my ass," all she needs is a No. 25 San Francisco Giants jersey. And when the immortal Tonya hooks up in a partially filled van, flashes an entire pool of people then breaks the unofficial speed record for gulping a wad of wasabi -- I mean as far as breakout seasons go, she's Ben Roethlisberger. With implants.
This is definitely sport. An ugly train wreck ... but sport. That online fantasy game? Tell me you couldn't incorporate any of its categories into an NBA Roto league without missing a beat. And the competitors give their all, trying mightily not to lose.
Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to go back to the real real world, either.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.