Move over, JenniCam, you’ve got company. While many of the country’s prime-time eyes have been seduced by the new wave of reality TV — CBS shows like Survivor and Big Brother, as well as MTV’s ongoing Real World — many viewers are lifting off the couch and heading to the Web for an extra dose of docu-entertainment. What dirty secrets does the Internet reveal? Well, if you click onto CBS’ official Survivor site you’ll be shocked to know that Greg’s perfect day ”would entail stalking a wild animal slowly and quietly enough to surprise it by touching it.” A little creepy, sure, but not the dirt on his relationship with Colleen we were looking for.
Still, the very nature of such shows forces the networks to use the Web in new ways — or at least in ways pioneered by Netherlands-based Endemol Entertainment, which created the original European version of Big Brother. In addition, the community pig pile that is the Internet guarantees that these shows will get immediately mirrored or mocked in devoted and satiric fan sites. Here’s a scorecard to both the real and the surreal.
Unlike on the island of Pulau Tiga, navigation is the first priority at CBS’ official Survivor home page (www.cbs.com/survivor). Complete with canned wild sounds, and laid out like a newsletter, the site, updated weekly, provides extra footage of the booted cast members’ final words, as well as extensive character profiles and a few photos of each survivor thatching roofs or baking in the sun. You can take the rather obvious personality test measuring your survival ability (”You notice that you are a bit more skilled at hut-building than your island mates. Do you build a fabulous hut for yourself, thanking your lucky stars for your many talents, or suggest that you all work together to build a group shelter?” Hmmm) and even apply to be a participant in Survivor 2: The Australian Outback.
Despite the lack of chat rooms or other concessions to audience feedback, CBS has done something right: The week the Survivor page launched, CBS.com’s traffic went up 44 percent, according to Nielsen//Netratings. David Katz, vice president of strategic planning and interactive ventures at CBS Entertainment, says the site is appealing because ”while television is still for the most part a passive experience, reality-TV shows and game shows allow the viewer to get inside the characters a little more and share ideas among others. We’re trying to answer the questions we think the audience is asking.” As Survivor stretches through the summer, expect to see a Flash-animated, zoomable map of Pulau Tiga, as well as extra hours of exclusive footage of the tropical high jinks.
Big Brother, meanwhile, has a site (www.bigbrother2000.com) that allows viewers to delve into an even deeper model of interactivity. While the show airs in prime time five nights a week on CBS, unedited live footage is constantly streamed on the Web through four camera feeds, with AOL members getting an extra three feeds on top of this. Unlike Survivor, Big Brother lets the audience choose whom to boot out — two potential exiles are nominated each show — but, unfortunately, only viewers who call a 900 number get to wield the ax. Still, if you’re online and feeling curious, you can read bios of the dwellers or chat with the personae non gratae directly after the show.
If it’s history you’re looking for, head to the official homes of the original European shows to see where the fountain of guilty pleasure doth lie. At the site for the three-year-old Swedish hit and Survivor inspiration Expedition: Robinson (www.svt.se/noje/robinson), you’ll be met with a Flash-enhanced row of beautiful faces — contestants with names like Ulrika and Anders gabbing confessional-style against hyper-sunny backgrounds and a seductive trance soundtrack. But let’s hope your understanding of Swedish goes further than ”aquavit”; there’s an English version of the site, but it’s mostly text about the administrative sector of the production company.
The official Big Brother site for the original show in the Netherlands (www.big-brother.nl) is only a cover page linking to sites for versions airing in Germany and Spain. At the German version (www.big-brotherhaus.de), which is — surprise — available only in German, you can still view a map of the house, buy Big Brother T-shirts and baseball caps, and view popularity measurement graphs of the contestants. Better still, at the Spanish (and Spanish-language) site (www.granhermano.com), you can watch the show in progress on 24-hour live feeds until airing ends July 21.
Every burning-hot media phenom gets a little rat thrown in its face, and Survivor is no exception. Immediately after the show first aired, lovingly hateful fans scratched out sardonic commentary, summaries, and caricatured bios of the stars. Paul Sims, a webmaster who maintains Planet Sucks, a cluster of sarcastic sites including the two-year-old Real World Blows (www.realworldblows.com) and the two-month-old Survivor Sucks (www.survivorsucks.com), says people feel vehemently about reality-TV shows because ”even though they are not unmanipulated, they’re still unscripted. It’s honest and it intrigues people and fascinates [them].” At Survivor Sucks, you’ll find acerbically funny and often well-metered episode summaries (”Could someone explain the appeal of Gervase?/He loses the challenge, can’t pick up his pace”), as well as cleverly hidden spoilers. The Cannibalism section analyzes the weekly Tribal Council gang-up, while Etcetera provides such irreverence as Survivor haiku (”Pulau Tiga/Might I sample some vermin/From your sunny shores?”). Those crisp scorchers of prime-time cheese at Mighty Big TV also contribute long online commentaries on each episode (www.mightybigtv.com/survivor), though the fan forums tend to be a little more passionate (”I was so thrilled last night to see that Machiavellian bitch Stacey get her comeuppance”). Here’s where you’ll find the most in-depth criticism and successful comedy (”[Greg’s] actually conversing with a pretend person on the other end of the coco-phone. One of the 2-year-olds where I volunteer does exactly the same thing with a banana”).
REAL WORLD SITES
So the cast has never been an accurate representation of the ”real world” — seven slim strangers face perilous challenges by working at… a radio station! Still, as the first reality-TV phenom, the series is perennially popular, and the Web lets voyeurs keep peeping long after a given house has been disbanded via home pages for Real World alums and sites built by the faithful.
While we were hoping to catch Julie doing something — anything — naughty, all we found was info on the boys of that well-appointed loft. Shaggy guitarist Andre and his L.A.-based rock band Milkweed have posted MP3 files of their music, concert photos, and show dates at www.gotmilkweed.com. And at Eric ”From The Grind” Nies’ home page (www.ericnies.com), you’ll be taken straight to a demonstration of the erstwhile star showing off his grand invention: the tummy-tightening Abaratus. Click on a small icon to get to Nies’ very self-promotional home page, where among photos of Eric and his abs you’ll find candid shots of him partying. Woo-hoo.
Cartoonist Judd Winick opens the door to his Pedro and Me comic series at his home page (www.juddwinick.com), dedicated to AIDS victim and Real World cast member Pedro Zamora. The Pedro Zamora Foundation (www.pedrozamora.com) educates on safe sex and HIV prevention.
Now you can finally have that Rainbow Brite toothpaste you simply cannot live without: Skater chick Sarah is clearing out her belongings in an ongoing auction (www.sarahscrap.com).
Loopy Irene was the first cast member to leave the season-6 house, but she’s also the only one we could find who got a fan site. The Incredible Irene (www.angelfire.com/ga/irene) dishes excerpts from her RW application, memorable Irene quotes, and a manifesto on ”the attack” that led to her exile (and to the end of the season’s melodrama).
Though Amaya was largely portrayed on the show as a whiny sorority bubblehead, she won the hearts of a few fans who pay elaborate tribute in Amaya’s World (www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Makeup/7044), in which you’ll find such bons mots of incisive analysis as ”Amaya suffers from a poor self-image.”
It’s still early in the season, but Danny has the killer smile that launched a thousand fan sites. Okay, one: the original Danny’s Fan Site, at members.tripod.com/~dannysfanclub_rw9. Cast your vote for Danny’s ”most attractive quality” today!