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For reality show contestants, the price is right

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

We all have our own theories about the explosion of reality TV shows. Mine involves several factors on why they've become so popular: complete boredom with the inanity of regular TV, a collective sense of post-modern masochism - the urge to see regular people, substituting for ourselves, having pain and humiliation inflicted on them in public - and, of course, the old-school lure of fame, however fleeting, and money, however contrived.

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The Big Break on The Golf Channel: exploitation or entertainment? Or both?
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Sports has gotten involved, as you knew it would.

College basketball coach Bobby Knight has "Knight School" in which the one Texas Tech student who survives his bullying and berating will get the chance to play on his basketball team next year. There are young people actually competing for this honor, instead of following time-honored college guidelines, like binge drinking at the local frat house.

Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens are both trying to negotiate reality shows. Bonds' show, tentatively entitled "The Cream and the Clear" will feature contestants competing to see who can inject more steroids over a given period of time. The winner will be that lucky contestant whose testicles shrink the most. Owens' show will involve a scientifically-proven device that can measure which is bigger in a given competitor: ego or arrogance.

My favorite one is "Pros vs. Joes" in which regular Joes compete against over-the-hill pros. The hope here is that a regular Joe will experience both humiliation and have his skull crushed, hopefully at the same time. Interestingly enough, the pros get humiliated here, too: Did you see former NBA player Xavier McDaniel get beaten by an overweight white guy Monday night?

Golf has scored big with its "The Big Break" series on The Golf Channel. It offers weekly eliminations depending on how the contestants, hopefully those who look good in swimsuits and short golf skirts, do in various golf challenges. They dangle prizes in front of them like exemptions to select LPGA tournaments, paid expenses and new cars. I loathe myself even as I watch it.

The viewers get to see the gals either fold or thrive - mostly fold - under pressure. They're set up for failure. We sit in front of our TVs like vultures, waiting for Ashley or Katie or Nikki to break down before our eyes, as the camera, greedy for exploitation, moves in close to get the most out of their anguished expressions. We root for the demure, hate the catty. We're all back in high school. This, as opposed to watching genuine, uncontrived breakdowns, like Greg Owen at the Bay Hill Invitational.

Invariably, those who have been on the show, even those who were non-winners, describe the experience as life-affirming, life-changing and cataclysmically holy. Ashley Prange, a recent competitor on the Hawaii segment, won a Futures tournament in Tampa, crediting her "Big Break" experience. She showed up at the post-tournament press conference asking for her new car.

Then there is the "Daly Planet," where cameras follow around John Daly, showing viewers his down-to-earth escapades. I like this one the most, because it is almost like a documentary about one of the few genuine characters on the PGA Tour.

The success of the "Big Break" will certainly spawn more golf-based, reality shows. Even David Feherty, that voice of comic reason, is working on one. He's hosting the St. Joseph Pressure Challenge later this year on CBS, where regular Joes try to make pars for increasing financial gains. If they make nine in a row, they win $250,000. The trick here is that they can pocket the money after each par or risk losing it on the next hole, similar to the TV show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

"While the contestants will view this as their chance of a lifetime, I'm thinking of it as a useful outlet for all the pent-up vitriol I have up my kilt after 10 years of watching the pros," Feherty writes in the April edition of Golf magazine, which is producing the show. "The problem with covering the Tour is that I never get to see crappy golf. It's always right at the flag or the middle of the green. I'm bored."

I'm bored just thinking about it. With a few notable exceptions, I avoid reality TV like the plague; these are people I spend a great deal of time trying to avoid in real life. Why watch them on television, doing the things that make me want to avoid them in the first place?

It will all come full-circle. We'll eventually get sick of these silly people doing silly things for money and their 15 minutes of fame. We can't help but grow up at some point. Not to worry, you die-hard reality fans. You'll still have the original, which all other pretenders are based on: Bob Barker and "The Price is Right."

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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