Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I'm not much of a reality TV sort of guy. My wife and I watched the first Joe Millionaire because we were attracted to the Stanley Millgram-esque cruelty of the whole thing, but other than that the entire phenomenon has just sort of passed us by. Never seen Survivor, don't know a Big Brother from a Bachelorette.

But we did watch the first episode of The Joe Schmo Show on The Nashville Network, I mean, TNN, I mean, yeah, Spike TV, that's the ticket...and we were hooked. The premise, of course, was that all of the participants in the show were actors except for one guy, Matt Kennedy Gould, the titular Joe Schmo. Who, as it turned out, may be the nicest damn schlub ever to walk the planet in the last few years or so.

We finally saw the last episode, in which the whole thing was revealed to Matt, last night. Here's what his hometown paper had to say about it:

    Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show," which seemed at the outset to be the cruelest reality show yet, turned into one of the most entertaining and ultimately uplifting series as it introduced viewers to the nicest, most down-to-earth reality show contestant ever.

    On last night's finale, the show's star, Mt. Lebanon resident Matt Kennedy Gould, was let in on the big secret of "Joe Schmo": It was all about him.

    Gould thought he'd signed on for "Lap of Luxury," another run-of-the-mill reality series. But on last night's finale, taped in June, he learned that all the other "contestants" in this rigged reality show were actors working from a script outline. He was Joe Schmo, winner of a spa vacation, a trip to Tahiti, a flat-screen TV and $100,000.

    He took it well, smiling and shaking with emotions that ran an upbeat gamut from laughs to tears of joy. This good guy was in shock, but he still had the wherewithal to continue his role as Pittsburgh's unofficial ambassador, talking up the town with genuine enthusiasm.

    "Ask me now that I've won where I'm gonna go," he said to his co-stars in the finale. "I'm going to Pittsburgh!"

    "Did that come off as good as I felt?" Gould asked yesterday in a phone interview from New York. "Did you get the 'Yeah!' feeling? It's really the way I felt. That's the one place I wanted to be at that moment."

The Big Reveal was one of the most stunning, oddly moving things I've ever seen on television. It was like something David Mamet might have written in a universe where he's been properly medicated for all these years -- slowly, all of the actors fessed up while Matt slowly realized that the whole thing was not what it had seemed for the last ten days.

And, jeez, it couldn't have happened to a better guy. The reason the scene was so moving was because Matt, the show had made clear, was not in a good place when he started -- he was in the kind of amiable-but-maddening directionless that hits a lot of people in their mid-late twenties. Seeing him see these actors who had been so damn impressed with what a plain old good guy he turned out to be was just plain wonderful.

Funny how the fakest reality show of them all turned out to have so much genuine emotion in it.

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