I see my friends on teevee

So it’s a singularly strange experience, seeing a person you know well, have known for years, a person you’ve seen go though a lot of life’s peaks and troughs, seen drunk and sober, single and married, with and without kids, a person you know very well, suddenly on TV.

There’s this show. It’s about people on an island, and they’re playing a game. And we’ll just call it Survivor And there’s a guy; and if you’ve seen my picture, and you’ve watched the show, you’ll be guessing already which guy it is, but we’re just call him Lex because it’s a pretty good name, and in fact, it’s his name.

So you’re used to watching a guy you know. Eating, drinking, talking, laughing, angry, upset, sick, happy. All the normal things we see our friends do.

And then one day, there he is on the tv screen.

Ok, so that’s a little weird. A little. But you get used to it.

And then suddenly, there he is talking to Regis fucking Philbin.

That, my friends, is where the line is crossed, from odd to completely surreal.

If you don’t watch survivor, I may lose you here. That’s fine. I love you anyway. Click on over to Orkut and see what’s up on your favorite groups, or fire up a blunt, crack a 40 and listen to eminem. Getcha next time.

Ok, now they’re gone. Who needs ’em anyway?

So I’ve been a big fan of this show since it started. I was down on the idea, and still am, of reality TV. It’s lame. And as a general rule I don’t watch it. There are exceptions, sure. But this Survivor thing looked cool from the previews. And I was hooked from the very first for one reason – it looked fucking great. Great camera work, great editing, all the technical stuff. That’s really what got me. The game – I wasn’t sure. The people all seemed a little annoying. But the look and the idea were cool. So I went with it. I got hooked. Became a fan of the game, and the show, and some of the players.

But it’s all so different when you watch a friend.

I don’t just mean the novelty. That, you can imagine. And it wears off for the most part, Regis aside. I mean – the game changes and the show changes.

Suddenly, you feel it. The misery, the hunger, the stress. When you care so much about who wins. When you care about the person, his kids, his wife. When you know you’re some of the people he’s thinking about out there in the wild places. When you know the expressions and body language and can read misery with a vividness impossible for the casual viewer.

I watched Lex go through starvation, dehydration, stress and terror in Africa. Watched it knowing how sick he was when he came home. Knowing he’d nearly died, knowing, just from seeing him (For he could say nothing that might reveal the game’s outcome) how much of a toll it had taken.

It hurt. It took the fun away, and made it hurt to watch. And watching him fail at the end – not him failing, but his illness and weakness causing his body to fail – it was like a body blow to watch it.

And then I could barely watch the show after. Because for all that it hurt, it was also as compelling as anything I’d ever seen on TV tat wasn’t real reality. So the next season or two; who cared? No one mattered to me. Once you’ve seen a person you love play the game, who wins and who loses seem unimportant. Yet you know they are feeling the pains and stresses, they have loved ones who feel as we do about our friend. So I watched. It’s still damned good TV

And then Lex went back again, for the All-Star show. And now it’s worse.

It’s worse because of all the reasons before; but now it’s personal. Personal because I know some of those people now. I’ve met a few. Know a lot more as friends of friends. But more, personal because they’re all friends with each other in real life. So it’s almost like watching old friends break up on TV for our entertainment.

Deeply surreal. Weird and painful and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But I don’t dare look away.

And this time, even more, there’s the surrealism. Because last time, no one knew in advance. This time, though Lex could never say, we all knew that this show might happen, and we’d talked it over, ad nauseum, with each other, with Lex, what would happen, how he might play, who he’d like to be with. All well hashed over. And we’re not watching him with strangers; it felt like watching a party I might have in my back yard, but on TV. Oh, but the food would be better at my house and we’d all be cleaner.

And then Lex was voted off. And we won’t talk about the whys here, whatever happened, he’s my friend, I love the man, and I stand behind how he played.
But again, I had to watch the face of abject horror as he realized what was happening, and I felt that pain, could feel him watching it with his family, and – almost couldn’t watch. It was reality TV made too real. It hurt.

And then he’s on Regis. Lex. Showing tattoos I saw him get, and talking to Kelly Rippa about how the tattoos where done.

It’s just – truly, truly odd. Too real. Regis Philbin is a tiny annoying man about six inches high in the TV. He’s not real. So how’s he standing next to all-too-real Lex?

It still doesn’t make much sense to me. But in a silly, giggling, stoned sort of way. Different than watching your friend suffer for a game and for america’s entertainment. Very different.

But it’s all still strange.

I can only imagine how strange it must be for Lex himself.

“Andy Warhol must be laughing in his grave”
–Crowden House, ‘Chocolate Cake’

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