Monday, January 26, 2009

13: The Fear May Not Be Real, But the Laughter Certainly Is


Cinerati may not be the biggest proponent of reality television shows. We only watch "American Idol" during the auditions -- you know, when the show is entertaining. We only watch "So You Think You Can Dance" after the auditions when the real competition begins.

That may seem inconsistent, but the reality is that the finalists on Idol are all talented and Cinerati WILL have plenty of chances to hear the artist sing in the future. This is only half true for "So You Think You Can Dance." The dancers are all extremely talented after the audition stage, but one doesn't get many opportunities to watch elegant dancers -- so we take our dancing pleasures when we can get them.

Cinerati is also a big fan of "The Real Housewives" series of shows. We don't care if it's Orange County, New York, or Atlanta. Those mean women, not you Jeana -- you are a sweetheart --, but most of the other women are amazingly petty caricatures that Cinerati cannot resist watching.

We can now add one more show to our strange list of preferred reality TV, "13: The Fear is Real." Let me assure you, that if the fear is real, it is only real for the contestants. There is nothing scary about watching the show, except for how scary ridiculous the contestants are. The show currently airs on Friday nights at 9pm, which puts in in competition with "Monk" and means that it goes straight to DVR while Cinerati watches more thoughtful fare. But once that more thoughtful fare is over, we run straight for the DVR menu to see what shenanigans the producers of 13 have in store for the contestants.

What is "13: The Fear is Real" you ask? It is a high concept reality show that asks the essential question, "what if we made a reality show that simulates a horror movie." Instead of contestants getting voted off every week, one contestant is killed off by the "mastermind of terror." Like "Top Chef," there are two stages of each episode. First there is a small group activity that sets the stage for which contestants will have to attempt to survive that episodes "death ritual," a contest that simulates some murder from the horror films we all know and love. Anything from being buried alive to being burned at the stake can be the "death" highlighted in the final ritual. Of the two contestants who participate in this ritual, only one returns to the group. At the end of the show, one contestant goes home with $66,666.00. Not a lot, we know, but it is the CW.

Added to the natural selective process of the show's contests is a twist. Early in the show, one of the contestants acquired a "murder box" when the others weren't looking and became the mastermind's accomplice in crime. This "wolf among the sheep" will have the opportunity to use the box to kill, one at a time, up to three other competitors. So not only do the contestants have to worry about the mastermind, they have to worry about each other.

And worry they do. They are constantly talking about how "afraid" they are. If one were to design a drinking game where you had to drink every time a contestant said they were afraid, you would die by the end of the first 10 minutes. These people are crazy scared -- of some pretty mundane stuff. The casting directors did a great job of picking some of the most paranoid, phobic, and superstitious competitors possible.

Cinerati's favorite episode was when the murder box was first acquired by the -- yet to be revealed -- killer. One of the contestants was certain he knew who the killer was and wanted to "out" the killer. By the structure of the episode, the tension this contestant was causing threw them for a bit of a loop. But instead of letting the contestant sidetrack the show, they decided to seize the opportunity and make accusations a part of the game. The contestant was informed that if he wanted to publicly accuse someone he could, but two things would be required. First, he'd have to get everyone to agree that the person was the killer. Second, if he was incorrect he would have to participate in the death ritual that night. He was wrong and had to participate. What leads one to believe that this was an on the spot decision by the crew was that it is the only time that 3 people have taken part in the ritual. I thought it was a brilliant adaptation to the changing circumstances that the players can create and it has been great fun watching the paranoia build on the show since that episode.

So far, the killer has eliminated only one of the other contestants, but the choice could not have been better. You see, in the first episode one of the contestants acquired the box, but was too stressed out by the responsibility and returned the box to the location it was originally placed. She was the first victim of the killer. That's what Cinerati calls good TV.

The show isn't scary. The production values are laughable at times. But the contestants are an absolute riot, and the contests are often very creative -- especially the final rituals. Cinerati recommends this show to anyone who doesn't take their reality TV too seriously and would like to thank Ghost House productions, that's you Sam Raimi, for this excellent diversion. Once you realize the show isn't about the viewing audience being afraid, rather about watching how the contestants deal with fear, then you can sit back and enjoy the show.
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