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Celebrity Zoo:
A Review of The Surreal Life

Starring: MC Hammer, Emmanuel Lewis, Brande Roderick,
Corey Feldman, Gabrielle Carteris, Vince Neil, & Jerri Manthey

Because the show The Surreal Life (airing Thursdays on the WB) sparked such a animated dialogue between the editors, Ape Culture has decided to do a weekly commentary.

Week Seven: Corey's Wedding (2/20/03)
Week Six: Celebrity Balls (2/13/03)
Week Five: Whose Date Is It Anyway? (2/7/03)
Week Four: Debauchery/Repentance (1/30/03)
Week Three: The Celebrity Gong Show (1/23/03)
Week Two: Celebrities in the Wild (1/16/03)
Week One: Celebrity Zoo Debut (1/9/03)

The day after the first episode (1/9/02), Julie Wiskirchen (Coolia) and Mary Ladd (Nerdia) discussed their responses in this preliminary chat.

Week One: Celebrity Zoo Debut (1/9/03)

Nerdia: yo Nerdia
Coolia: yo, Coolia
Nerdia: did you watch the surreal life last night?
Coolia: yes. i love it -its my new favorite show
Nerdia: i wrote many notes of commentary on last night's episode
Coolia: it made me want to take vince home and take care of him
Nerdia: he came off very good, I agree
Coolia: Emmanuel Lewis - possibly insane? a virgin like Gary Coleman?
Nerdia: he may murder them all in their sleep
Coolia: and Corey really sucks at arguing. how can he be an animal rights vegetarian and not be prepared for the leather shoes comment?
Nerdia: I was ashamed to have him representin' vegetarians
Coolia: corey: "please don't take my special food out of the basket. otherwise i might starve!” and who is this Brande Roderick person to judge Jerri? i'm sorry, but being a playmate and a baywatch girl does not make you famous. and if you had mc hammer poll his "normal working people in retail stores", way more would know jerri than brande
Nerdia: vince and brande have both been on Rendez View, too...they must have the same agent
Coolia: i didn't like the naked sushi boycott
Nerdia: Survivor girl, Jerri Manthey, is pretty bitchy but I haven't made up my mind about her...although she really rubbed me wrong when she told hammer "please don't make us be wrong" when they were eating sushi off tits
Coolia: vince was like “what's the big deal, eating sushi off a naked girl is like everyday stuff to me”
Nerdia: I had a lot of respect for Hammer there
Coolia: they were too self righteous about it
Nerdia: if it made Hammer and Lewis feel uncomfortable...they had every right not to partake...they tried not to even comment about it
Coolia: i wouldn't have partaken either, but i would have just declined and gone in the house
Nerdia: I thought hammer tried to be gracious and non-judgmental
Coolia: no, they specifically came back out to talk about it
Nerdia: corey dragged him back out. the rest were paranoid about being judged.
Coolia: emmanuel just follows hammer around. he was probably afraid of the naked lady
Coolia: this is just great television

Ape Culture Weekly Ranking (from least to most annoying)


Nerdia Coolia
  1. MC Hammer
  2. Vince Neil
  3. Robin Givens (gets points for not showing up)
  4. Emmanuel Lewis
  5. Brande Roderick
  6. Jerri Manthey
  7. Gabrielle Carteris and Corey Feldman (tie for last)
  1. Vince Neil
  2. Gabrielle Carteris
  3. Jerri Manthey
  4. MC Hammer
  5. Brande Roderick
  6. Emmanuel Lewis
  7. Corey Feldman

Nerdia’s Notes

These are the two people I predict will come off this show smelling like a rose: Vince Neil and MC Hammer. Who would have thunk the music industry could produce the two most level-headed, least annoying persons on the show?

It was very calculated the way the mysterious overlords of this show got Vince to discuss his daughter’s death. They asked each celebrity a question for the specific purpose of manipulating their responses. This was disconcerting. But Vince handled it well. He didn’t milk the small crowd for sympathy, yet treated the subject with the appropriate gravity. This life event appears to be what separates Vince mentally from the idiocy of the rest of the cast: what is the point of arguing over petty things when you live in a reality where your kid dies? Someone said Vince acts as if he’s been there/done that…he probably has. So why argue about groceries?

After a while, I began to think it was pretty smart to add Jerri Manthey from Survivor into the mix as the only non-artist celebrity, the one who the others are all mildly uncomfortable with (ironically because her reputation precedes her) and because she is someone who is in no way intimidated by their celebrity. She’s the perfect instigator to pluck away at their insecure pretenses.

Corey’s suggestion to include his upcoming wedding on the show was pathetic. Please don’t make us watch that. This has to be the worst, most desperate attempt to garner attention I’ve ever seen. Even the other attention sponges seemed stunned by it.

I became an instant MC Hammer fan after seeing him taking a stand against the exploitation of the naked female as a dinner platter the first night. He took a stand and yet tried not to provoke a fight over it. But it’s just some innocent fun, the three girls said (Vince kept quiet…he’s smarter than he looks). Well ladies, taking a stand often involves resisting fun….that’s what adults sometimes have to do. Emmanuel’s boycott seemed a feeble shadow of Hammer's, and Corey’s boycott came off as downright confusing considering his strange ping-pong behaviors and exclamations about his current relationship. Brande can’t boycott for professional reasons. Understandable. But Gabrielle’s partaking was incompatible with her Mrs. Mom routine (she doesn’t have time to work because she’s raising her kids, she said, but she found time to do THIS show which completely secludes her from her family for ten days…and then is such a stellar mom that the idea of her kids someday seeing her eat sushi off naked girl doesn’t occur to her). She annoyed me, coming across as a self-righteous simpleton (very overbearing for someone who insisted she “wasn’t there to mother anybody”). Vince Neil not boycotting didn’t surprise me – again, probably part of his job requirement…or at least the image he must maintain. And Jerri just comes across as someone hell bent on doing whatever she wants...what’s to think about? My only remaining question: Was the food tray properly sanitized? And did the sushi come with special sauces?

If Emmanuel Lewis laughs maniacally one more time, I’ll lose it. I’m not sure he’s not planning to secretly poison all the giants.

Brande – I liked Brande okay the few times I saw her on Rendez View (in another subset of reality shows - dating shows - this one being my favorite as it combines the best elements of replay sports commentary and explication with snide jokes from the host and a celebrity panel akin to Politically Incorrect). But unless Surreal Life footage editors were mischievously replaying her complaints about Robin Givens not showing up and her having to room with someone, god forbid, she didn’t even know (as if she really knew these other people)…she was whining too much. Whine Check. Someone call Whine One One.

I’ve always insisted I don’t like reality shows. I’ve only seen a handful of Survivor episodes, no American Idol or The Bachelor episodes, and one Real World episode. Unlike Coolia, something about them really turns me off…I think it depresses me to see people act so horribly self-centered and, despite public humiliation, be powerless to either recognize their stupidity or change themselves in even the slightest way. This is a very repetitive pattern crossing all reality shows and it may be an accurate representation of real life, but why waddle around in it. If I try to avoid my neighbor’s soap opera life, why wouldn’t I try to avoid everybody else’s? On the other hand, I’ve always loved the celebrity surreality of The Osbournes and Anna Nicole, although one season seems to be enough. (It’s a disturbing trend to see a sudden hoard of celebrities popping up on reality shows, out-of-work actors and singers who figure it’s time to get America’s attention back from everyday Joes. These attention wars are draining.)

But I’m beginning to rethink what I found palatable about The Osbournes and Anna Nicole. Maybe I don’t prefer them for the reason I thought, because I love to make fun of celebrities and their inane attention-getting attempts. Maybe I like them because they simply lack the kind of meaningless confrontations that I find hard to sit through in other reality shows. The Surreal Life provides me with plenty of celebrity mocking fodder as did Celebrity Bootcamp (but at least Coolio had a transformation on that show). But The Surreal Life proves that celebrities, just like everyday yokels, cannot avoid petty disputes when crammed together in Glen Campbell's little celebrity hostel.

These are the meaningless confrontational aspects I hate to watch:

  1. When some insecure but aggressive instigator starts oversized, melodramatic fights about petty things, like someone’s uninformed opinion about the political situation in Mexico or weather it’s okay to leave the toilet seat up. The subject is always interchangeably irrelevant…it’s just an exercise in seeing dogs fight. Some love to watch it. I don’t. Petty moments of this weeks show: the fight over whether Corey should eat steak and Corey’s response to the ribbing about his not eating steak.
  2. What usually ensues from stupid action #1: having to watch stupid people argue about subjects they clearly know nothing about - but because they are desperately trying to save face, they will not back down from whatever pointless position they’ve initially taken. You see this all the time, not only in reality shows, but between pundits and activists on news and talk shows. Nothing ever gets resolved. No one ever learns anything and the event is followed up by disgruntled ad nauseum complaining about the pointless argument for the rest of the season. Corey: “Remember when Gabrielle tried to take all of my specialty food items out of the grocery cart?!”

In Yokel reality shows…you expect this. Why expect better from celebrities? Maybe because these people should know better – should know how everything they say and do will be fodder for our criticism the next day, and coming off like an asshole might negatively impair their floundering careers. You’d think this kind of pressure would influence them to hold their tongues more often, more often than you or I would if we were in the zoo. But then if these stars were really that savvy, we wouldn’t be seeing them on this show in the first place.

This Week’s Funniest Twist: when everyday yokel refuses to open the door and accept brownies from a hoard of traveling celebrities. Only on TV.

Coolia’s Notes

I attended the Chiller Theatre convention at a hotel in New Jersey last Spring which I later referred to as a celebrity zoo. The main attraction of this convention was a large tent full of celebrities sitting behind tables selling autographs for $10-$25 a pop. These celebrities were all somehow affiliated with the world or horror and sci-fi and ranged from recognizable personalities like Linda Blair and Butch Patrick to a guy named Lenny A. Lies, aka “Machete Zombie” from Dawn of the Dead. The celebrities sat behind their tables looking bored. Some read books. We walked around and gawked at them all. It was a Celebrity Zoo. So is this TV show. Come, stare at the celebrities in their unnatural habitats. Will they mate? fight? groom each other?

I am a reality show and pop culture junkie, so the concept of this show excited me. When I heard Vince Neil would be in the house, I was ecstatic. I have a weakness for bloated, faded heavy metal stars (cf, Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons). So I was especially pleased to see that Vince came off well in this first episode, being very laid back (possibly depressed?) and, when forced by the invisible hand of the reality show producers, willing to share his pain over the loss of his daughter to cancer. He also provided the second biggest comedy moment of the night when he revealed that he had banged Corey’s ex-wife. The only funnier moment for me was Emmanuel Lewis putting his People's Choice award on the shelf. When packing for a 10-day trip, don't forget to bring your awards!

It was interesting to see the anxiety the other celebrities felt over the last-minute addition of Jerri Manthey to the cast. They felt she was unworthy as she wasn’t an actor or musician. Corey mentioned that she wasn’t part of their scene, as if they have a secret society where they all live together and don’t frequent grocery stores with regular people (well, maybe Brande doesn’t, since she didn’t realize there was tax on food). But Jerri is arguably a bigger star at the moment than any of them, even if she is only a star for being a real person who allowed her life to be taped in an effort to win a million bucks. Now she comes in to the house with a special advantage, as the only one who has navigated a reality show before. Maybe that’s what makes them nervous?

I assume the cast members are participating in the hopes the show will do for their careers what it did for Ozzy and Anna Nicole. Will Spencers Gifts soon be stocking Emmanuel Lewis bobblehead dolls that laugh maniacally and Corey Feldman keepsake wedding albums? It’s a surreal world, after all, so anything is possible.

Which cast member is aggravating your soul? Who would you like to see kicked off and who would you replace them with? Please share.


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