Reality Bites

Reality Bites: Splash

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

With ABC's Splash, the endgame to a sinister plot is in sight. Hollywood has finally found a way to kill off unwanted celebrities.

For years, the movie and music and professional sports industries have been trying to figure out a way to deal with the embarrassing glut of formerly famous people. Frankly, they're everywhere, mounting futile comeback efforts or writing tell-all memoirs only the 14 remaining members of their fan club will read. It became apparent, even before the development of 17 separate fishing-related reality shows, that -- left unchecked -- the growing numbers of ex-celebrities would result in critical shortages of both Starbucks and Twitter bandwidth.

Now as you know, all meaningful changes take time to implement, so the goal was never going to be reached swiftly. It's taken many years and incremental advances to get where we are today: forcing C-list celebs into near cardiac arrest on Dancing with the Stars, goading past-their-prime actors into physical altercations on that Donald Trump show, and even going so far as to put overweight stars through a rigorous fat camp even though they've spent the last two decades on a diet of cocaine and botulinum toxin. Splash is merely the fruition of a sinister, long-percolating plan.

After re-reading that, it's possible I'm misreading ABC's intent here. Then again, I'm not sure what else to think about a show that involves pitching morbidly obese (Louie Anderson) and geriatric (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) individuals off a 10-meter platform.

The show opens with an intro that feels like a Busby Berkeley number scored by Pitbull (read: godawful). The contestants are introduced, and right away we can see there are potentially serious (in whatever context that word means here) contenders, such as "extreme" skier Rory Bushfield and maybe ex-Baywatcher Nicole Eggert. Others, not so much (Anderson, Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, something called a "Chuy Bravo"). Their trainer/mentor/Shame Master is Olympic diver Greg Louganis, still quite the silver fox at 53.

The evening's first tense moment comes when Katherine Webb -- unknown to all but Alabamans and swimsuit competitions before this year's BCS title game -- volunteers to be first off the high board. She isn't diving or anything, just jumping, putting her on the same intestinal fortitude level as every eight-year old in the western hemisphere.

In true prime-time reality TV tradition, only half the contestants go on premiere night. First up is Keshia Knight Pulliam, whom you may remember as "Rudy Huxtable" from The Cosby Show. She's definitely, er, grown up. Judges David Boudia (2012 Olympic gold medalist) and former Australian diver Steve Foley aren't very charitable. Racists.

And then there's Anderson. Kudos to the guy for deliberately throwing himself into a body of water without the strength to climb out (seriously, Louganis and Suh have to save his ass), but then he says his first dive is, "For the troops" and then adds, "My dad was a veteran." What the fuck does that even mean? Maybe we would've seen more than half the divers if we weren't subjected to Louie's "inspirational" story. Anyway, the fix is clearly in, as his awkward plummet like a man felled by a sniper gets a higher score than Pulliam, who did a freaking handstand. It's almost as offensive as host Joey Lawrence's rug.

Webb dedicates her dive to Brent Musberger, as well she should. Boyfriend A.J. McCarron isn't there, probably because Alabama coach Nick Saban wouldn't put up with such horseshit. Her backflip's "degree of difficulty" is enough to get her second place, which is still behind Louie Anderson. Okay.

Skier Bushfield's biggest problem is inverting his skiing mindset by purposely landing on his head. He goes in feet first anyway but his incorporation of "extreeeeme" moves still impresses the judges. And co-host Charissa Thompson looks like she can barely keep from licking water off Bushfield's neck.

Kareem is the last up. Apparently if you're over the age of 50 (and a dude) you get to wear a shirt. This seems patently unfair, as Eggert is still rocking the one-piece at 41 He makes a horrific five point landing (knees, hands, head), but still scores 7.25 from the judges. Higher than Webb or Pulliam, because lacking the good sense to avoid leaping to your potential death counts for something, I guess.

But I forgot! Because we haven't yet descended to the level of utter farce, the audience gets to vote, too. The bottom two contestants have a "dive-off." Webb and Pulliam go head to head (and both of their hairdos have been suspiciously re-coiffed). Boudia "doesn't want to see either of them go home" (no shit), but Pulliam gets the boot. How thrilled the execs at ABC must be that one of the attractive females was voted off instead of the 417-lb guy.

Once the novelty value of Splash wears off, and once the show loses its NASCAR-like appeal to those wishing to witness horrible injuries, it'll go the way of Secret Talents of the Stars and The Surreal Life. With any luck, it will live on only in 15-minute YouTube clips of nothing but painful belly flop footage, which was far and away the best part of the show.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar