Which roommates will live and which will die?
Dec. 3 episode’s little morality play of Arissa learning to trust was laid out so obviously and predictably that it made a kindergarten play about the story of Thanksgiving look obtuse by comparison. First we were handed an example of Arissa’s stand-alone behavior: She complained to Steven (index fingers pointing out as usual for maximum superiority) that no one but the two of them liked to work. And when he suggested that she try explaining this calmly to people rather than lecturing them, it devolved into a screaming match chockablock with Osbourne-style profanity.
That exposition out of the way, we then got the Deus Ex Marc-ina: They were all sent by their boss to a team-building seminar that would teach them how to trust each other. What are the odds? If only real life worked like a ”Real World” episode. Tonight when I found I had nothing in my apartment for dinner, instead of fashioning a meal of carrot sticks and Chips Ahoy, I would have suddenly received a surprise call from my boss, ordering me to cooking school. But alas, Bunim/Murray is not producing my life, and my mouth is still filled with the faint taste of chocolate carrot.
The seminar was led by Awesome Ann, who had given them their job orientation, and is way too energetic for the Vegas heat. (Isn’t it ironic that five minutes of listening to her peppily lecture you on the importance of teamwork would make you want to go lay down in a dark room by yourself?) She revealed that everyone would have to do trust falls, and it was met by a nervous hub-bub that you’d expect from telling people they had to jump out of a plane, not lean off the third rung of a stepladder.
This was such a literal-mindedly appropriate task for Arissa and her trust issues to confront that it felt like a parody of a ”Real World” episode. It built to such drama, with Ann warning that they would each have ”an adrenaline rush like you haven’t had in a very long time,” which led Arissa to stress that ”this bitch is crazy,” and weep when she was forced to attempt the dreaded trust fall, and FOR GOD’S SAKE, IT WAS THREE-AND-A-HALF FEET OFF THE GROUND!
The whole scene followed the same fear/blubbering/threaten-to-quit/final-achievement followed-by-group-hug schematic displayed in every ”Road Rules” season since its first cast member with a fear of heights had to bungee jump. And yet here the actual challenge was so low-tech it was like Ed Wood had directed it. Had MTV blown all its production budget on the hot tub, so they could only afford a stepladder for Arissa’s big climax? (Watch next week as Alton conquers his fear of flying… by making a paper airplane!)
Mercifully, we did not have to see most of the rest of the day’s events, because there’s really only so many New Games I can take. But for the final event, Ann led them into a candlelit room, and for a moment I thought they were about to play ”10 Minutes in Heaven,” which would really be this group’s chance to shine. Unfortunately, it was something called the ”Lifeboat Exercise,” where they pretended they were on the Titanic, and only one person could fit in the lifeboat. They each had to pick one person to live and tell everyone else ”You die.” I’m no professional cheerleader like Ann, but I didn’t quite grasp what this had to do with team building. In fact, killing everybody but one person is the very definition of team disassembling, isn’t it?
The game led to a lot of weeping, and lest you all think I’m hardhearted, I’ll admit I was moved by Trishelle’s admission that she never went to her mother’s grave because she didn’t feel worthy, and Alton’s confession that he feels guilty for his brother’s death. However, in this plainly artificial context, it was difficult to shuck off all cynicism, especially when Irulan proclaimed, ”I just want you to know that if I’m in this situation, I would never choose my life in place of any of yours.” Gee, that means a lot… when it happens in Ann’s living room which has decidedly NOT hit an iceberg.
Arissa emerged the winner, and let’s all let loose a collective squeal of surprise. I had a suspicion the ”Real World” producer whispered to everyone, ”Let Arissa live and I’ll buy you all shots later. We need it for the story arc.” So she got her life lesson, one which will likely fade by next week. That is, unless she needs something on a top shelf and gets a stepladder flashback. Thank you, Awesome Ann!