Josh Wolk explains what a Survivor, two dotcom washouts, and numerous TV and film stars have in common -- and it ain't good

By Josh Wolk
Updated May 16, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

All about pop culture’s losers

”Survivor” departee No. 1 Debb Eaton snuffled all the way through her ”You Media Bastards!” 2001 tour, weeping about how the press mocked and dissected her love affair with her stepson. But there was more to her public pain than that: Undoubtedly, some of it came from her ignominious reputation as the first Survivor to get the unanimous boot from the outback. With only one episode’s worth of exposure, nobody remembers anything about her except that she was a looooooser!

As Debb now knows, if your first major exposure to the world is as a reject, it’s insurmountably difficult to pry loose your King Loser crown. Take the new documentary, ”startup.com,” which earned raves at Sundance (and opened in New York this week). The movie follows two longtime friends who raise millions for a website, revel in their success… and then watch as it all falls apart.

Critics praise the film for being the perfect microcosm for the entire dotcom bust. If ”startup.com” does become the success it deserves to be, then the names of its entrepreneurial stars — Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman — will become forever more synonymous with high tech failure. As in: ”What? You want to sell spice racks on the Web? Well, there’s one Kaleil of an idea, idiot!”

It’s not only people in documentaries who face this problem. Look at Mike O’Malley, whose self titled 1999 NBC sitcom was yanked after one episode. The network had promoted the show so relentlessly that when it crashed near instantly, entertainment journalists had a great new synonym for TV failure: ”pulling a Mike O’Malley.” Even though he now stars in the relatively successful ”Yes, Dear,” O’Malley’s name still needs to be boiled for another six years before the stench of failure will burn off it. (If he wants proof, tell him to call Joe Piscopo.)

And the pop culture loser list goes on: If you played for the XFL, you better take that stint off your résumé, pronto, if you don’t want to be met with snickers at your next interview. And then there’s Tom Green: While he had success with his MTV show, the fact that he stressed so forcefully that ”Freddy Got Fingered” was purely his vision — and then saw it gross only $13 million — makes him a Loser in the film phylum.

The unfair thing about loserdom is that if you begin with one success, no matter how many failures you have after that, people still assume you’re not a Loser, you’re just a winner on a bad streak.

Exhibit A: Ed Burns. His 1995 writing / directing / acting debut ”The Brothers McMullen” acquired a cult following and got favorable reviews, and still airs incessantly on the Independent Film Channel. But after ”The Brothers McMullen,” he proceeded to make ”She’s the One” and ”No Looking Back,” and those were — what’s the phrase I’m looking for here? — not good. Yet Burns keeps making movies, and nobody seems to step in and stop him, even though there’s no indication that his next stab at auteurism will be any better. Loser? No. But I sure wish he’d get lost.

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