Poor Nicole Redmond. On Jan. 12, more than 4 million viewers watched this Tall Girl get dissed by her longtime crush, the Player, a.k.a. Dan Barbato, on The WB’s ”High School Reunion,” in which 17 alums from Illinois’ Oak Park-River Forest High School shack up in Hawaii for a six-week trip down memory lane. ”It’s weird,” Redmond laments to the camera after Barbato rebuffs her advances. ”This was not how it was supposed to go at all.”
Funny, the same could be said about the actual series. The sunbathed school shown in the first episode isn’t Oak Park (The WB won’t say what building they shot). And four of the schoolmates bunking in Maui for their televised 10-year reunion — including Redmond — didn’t even graduate in ’92. ”Nicole was a year younger than us,” reveals class of ’92 alum Artie Smith, who bowed out of ”Reunion” after producers asked him to play something he wasn’t in high school: a bespectacled nerd who had a crush on Natasha Desai, a.k.a. the Popular Girl. (His ”role” went to Ben Reb instead.) ”I was just so struck during the interview process over how simplistic the clichés were they were looking for,” says Smith, now a Cornell University track coach. ”But I guess that’s what sells.”
Sounds like we need a reality check. With nonscripted shows continuing to draw huge ratings (the Jan. 5 bow of ”Reunion” marked The WB’s best-ever Sunday debut), networks seem increasingly fond of blurring the lines on — how can we put this gently? — the truth. ”There’s a reason that TV’s reality seems too good to be true. It is,” says Matthew Felling of Washington, D.C.’s Center for Media and Public Affairs. ”Reality TV is like actual reality much in the same way that pro wrestlers are wrestlers and exotic dancers are dancers — not quite the real thing, but they draw a crowd.”
Consider Fox’s ”Joe Millionaire,” whose Jan. 6 debut was the highest-rated premiere among 18- to 49-year-olds of any show this season, reality or nonreality. The network bills ”Joe”’s Evan Marriott as a construction worker making $19,000 a year — without mentioning that he also earned coin as an actor (he had a bit part on NBC’s ”Days of Our Lives” in 2000) and a model (he donned tight togs for the underwear catalog California Muscle). He even dabbled in professional wrestling. Argues a Fox spokesman, ”He earned a nominal fee for his participation in those projects” (though he apparently never got paid to grapple with the guys). As for how Marriott afforded rent on a $1.7 million home in Venice, Calif., where public records state he lived as recently as December 2002, the spokesman says only that he no longer lives there.
Hmm, we’ll have to take his word for it. After all, Fox promised better background checks for reality-show players after disclosures that the original ”Temptation Island”’s Ytossie and Taheed had a child and that Rick Rockwell of ”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” wasn’t such a perfect dreamboat (network inquiries didn’t turn up a restraining order filed by a previous girlfriend).