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Filthy Lucre

I Love Money, VH1, Sundays, 9 p.m.

Just when VH1 couldn’t go any lower, more humiliating or shameless, behold the latest and hottest reality show I Love Money. Chock full of familiar faces from reality shows past, Money skips all that “getting to know you” nonsense and gets straight to the disease swapping, endless drinking, and blatantly obvious prescription drug abuse. The Money house is on some remote island in Mexico, as far from ‘reality’ as possible, and in it dwell the losers from Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, and even the lowest of ’em all: I Love New York. Money proves to be the reality show fetal alcohol redheaded stepchild.

Did someone say 'shrooms'? © 2008 VH1
Did someone say 'shrooms'? © 2008 VH1

It’s mid-season, and ten contestants remain. Several lovely, classy ladies from Rock of Love: Meghan, Heather and Brandi C, glistening in all of their radar-triggering orangeness. The trio rocks the precise palette of a creamsicle, with their airbrush tans and bleached white hair. Toastee, Hoopz and Pumpkin have descended a few levels further into reality show hell, plummeting from their personal summit of Flavor of Love.

It took me a while to figure out what in tarnation was going on. Here’s my best guess: there are two teams, green and yellow, competing for $250,000. Each show brings challenges (natch) and the captain of the winning team becomes the Paymaster. The losing team is banished to the “vault” and must choose three of their teammates to put up for elimination by placing gigantic checks with their names scrawled on them in a strong box. A ceremony follows: our contestants sit on couches featuring cushions adorned with tacky dollar signs, while light projections of dollar signs dance on the hedges, and the paymaster decides who goes home. When the loser gets voted out the paymaster stamps their check with a giant “void”. Seems pretty clear cut. Alas, no.

Instead of working together as teams, the contestants form alliances. Some alliances are out in the open, while the more two-faced contestants belong to multiple alliances and drift between them, gaining their teammate’s trust and stabbing them in the back. The most feared alliance was the “Stallionaires”, but the Stallionaire alliance was broken one fateful night by Pumpkin, and Chance-Stallionaire supreme-got shipped out. A hit was then put out on Pumpkin, which meant nothing really, just a lot of shit-talking later that night after too many mind erasers.

I Love Money bears several eerie similarities to the structured life of the Pentecostal overnight camp I attended during the majority of my summers in the 1990’s. The prize at camp, sadly, was not a quarter of a million dollars, but instead exemption from eternal damnation.

The first thing upon arriving at camp was the distribution of colored wristbands to distinguish teams. I have never seen people get crazier when competing than a bunch of Pentecostal teenagers. But that was before I Love Money’s chariot races/eating contests in the streets of Mexico, where the public watched in awe and horror. Though we did have some pretty mean hot dog/marshmallow eating contests at camp, we did not pull each other with wagons, stop to eat and vomit, and eat again. The skinny blondes were not adjusting well to the whole “eating” thing. Brandi C commented, to her disgust, that the food was “all mushy in her mouth.” Uh, yeah. Especially coming back up.

Blondes, blondes everywhere. Pentecostal girls are predominantly fair-haired, and also end up being pretty slutty. But the most obvious similarity between Money and camp are the funny names. Hoopz, Toastee and Pumpkin were all granted their titles by Flavor Flav. Are they as ridiculous as the three blonde sisters at camp named Hope, Faith, and Joy? Not sure… The prettiest girls at camp tended to be the most troubled, and usually, the most evil. Hence Meghan-suspiciously attractive to be on a reality show,-maintains a constant, evil little smirk that screams “Vicodin!”, refuses to wear clothing, manipulates the men in the house with her breasts, and when “Paymaster” makes sure to totally humiliate her teammates before handing them their voided checks. Meghan’s doppelganger was Crystal, the prettiest girl at camp, with a waterfall of blond hair cascading down her back that she flipped over and over, all day long. Crystal spent every waking moment on the tennis courts because she had a short tennis outfit that would’ve been banned by the camp if it weren’t athletic wear, so Crystal got to flaunt her shit. She tossed her golden hair around and flirted with every guy, giving them all boners in their swimsuits, and getting them to do whatever she wanted. Crystal was the most backstabbing girl in the cabins.

The I Love Money cast is perpetually drunk; they sit in every shot with a smorgasbord of giant drinks full of umbrellas and fruit pieces, fighting over something foolish. And in unbelievable parallel, there were a few ways to get lifted at my camp. One was to get up at dawn and pretend you were going for a hike to the horse stables. Instead you pick the mushrooms that sprouted in the neglected piles of horse crap on the trails. Later you would dry out the ’shrooms somewhere very secret (never tell Crystal!), wait till the weekend water park trip, and disco! Another way was to get drunk. Drunk on the Holy Spirit!

Picture this: a roaring campfire surrounded by kids 11-18. Uncle Cameron announces (Creepazoid Alert! We had to address all counselors and authority figures as “Uncle” or “Aunt”) that Ranger Rick has come from far away to talk about salvation. Fire rages, illuminating Ranger Rick’s pudgy, Christian face as he hisses vehemently about how you will either be saved right then or burn in hell forever. Kids would raise their hands to be saved; Rick would pull them up in front of the fire, cup their foreheads in his thick hands and commence to speaking in tongues. Instantly all the counselors would start speaking in tongues and getting increasingly “drunk” on the Holy Spirit. Inevitably, several would vomit propulsively. Regurgitation and speaking in an indecipherable language are common on I Love Money. The girls in particular are developing Anna Nicole Syndrome, mumbling incessantly in a drunken, sedated tongue all their own. At least the Money girls attend the ceremonies wearing glitter and crowns to cover the holes in their heads through which their poor souls have escaped. At camp, the girls still had a few years before they started experiencing such adult problems.


Mary Hanlon


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2008

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