What a strange, odd trip that was on Monday — and it’s only two hours and one night into “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” NBC has bet much of its summer campaign on this nonscripted pseudo-celebrity train wreck by stripping it throughout the week in June, paving the way for this fall’s Jay Leno experiment. That’s certainly a lot of faith in a concept that first saw light on ABC in 2003 — triggering a lawsuit by CBS, which claimed that it infringed on “Survivor,” back when the quaint notion of reality ripoffs seemed out of the ordinary.
Still, NBC has attacked the show with genuine zeal, clearly seeing it as a potential franchise for the struggling network. The attention-getting stunts included pursuing impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who, alas, was unable to participate. Undaunted, the network settled for his wife, Patti, instead.
During the premiere, though, most of the action centered on “The Hills” couple Heidi and Spencer Pratt, who both exhibit the odd, soul-destroying effects of lives staged entirely for the reality-TV cameras. Spencer openly plotted his role as a “villain” within the show, almost immediately threatened to quit and threw multiple tantrums. He’s a prick, to be sure, but the opening two hours were so Spencer-centric, one can only imagine what would be left without him.
Although billed as airing “live,” that’s mostly just hype. While hosts Damien Fahey and Myleene Klass commented live from Costa Rica about the action, virtually everything else was taped and edited, the better to maximize the drama. And in terms of drama, most of that involved bugs, whether that meant forcing the celebrities to eat them or, in a final challenge, letting roaches and tarantulas crawl around their heads.
The “ick” factor notwithstanding, the show certainly works as a travel brochure for the lush Costa Rican jungle, while reminding the 99% of the population that never watches “The Hills” how much richer their lives are thanks to that choice. Then again, when Heidi compared her ordeal to torturing Al-Qaeda and Spencer phoned NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman to complain about the has-been status of his fellow celebrity participants, you got a pretty good taste of what you haven’t been missing.
“I actually feel like I’m hallucinating right now,” Spencer confessed at one point, in between prayer sessions and petulantly hiding wrestler Torrie Wilson’s gear, which, from the look of her enviable biceps, seemed like a really, really bad idea.
Alas, this particular hallucination is going to persist for the next several weeks. And hey, at least sitting through the nonsense in the safety of one’s living room sounds infinitely preferable to wolfing down scorpions in a slightly pathetic bid for another 15 minutes of fame.