There was no "how-to" manual, no scarred veteran willing to tell her tale and help prepare me for the psychological price the mission would exact. I was on my own.
Desperate, I plied two pals -- Susan, a jewelry artist, and Jan, a design director -- with promises of barbecue potato chips, pizza and other "Biggest Loser" no-nos, hoping they'd accompany me into the yawning, soul-murdering breach that is the fall reality-television lineup. Amazingly, they agreed.
University of Cambridge psychologist Peter Rentfrow and author Richard Florida argue that reality TV isn't one of the more obvious signs of the decline of Western civilization -- it's about people who are becoming increasingly isolated in the suburbs wanting to find a sense of community and make social connections.
Reality-TV junkies are "people who . . . used to rely on gossip, or on the little mini-dramas in their community, and when you're isolated in the suburbs, you don't have that," Florida explained recently in New York magazine. So they follow the drinks-in-the-face showdowns on "Mob Wives" instead.
Maybe the eggheads are right, as I had to travel miles from the blighted city center to Jan's house in Bay Village for my true-TV fix.
Our approach lacked rigor, science and logic, much like the addiction treatment of Dr. Drew Pinsky. We would pop in a DVD and watch it until one of us kicked and screamed, approximating the tantrums of the 5- and 6-year-old pageant queens high on Red Bull in "Toddlers & Tiaras."
We would consume as many shows as possible in one, maybe two evenings. I warned my comrades of the risks: We could become mentally unhinged, like Wendi Andriano -- the femme con featured on the improbable 10th season of Oxygen's "Snapped" -- who bludgeoned her husband to death, then slashed his throat for good measure, after she grew tired of waiting for him to die of cancer.
War correspondents have it easier.
Another bundle of 'Sister' joy
Fortified with a light, laughing red; a sparkling prosecco; and a platter of Tater Tots; we begin with "Sister Wives," the popular TLC offering about a family of "pligs" (or polygamists) -- Kody Brown, his four brides and their 16 children with names like Aspyn, Mykelti, Ysabel and Paedon.
Last season -- their unconventional lifestyle outed thanks to their appearance on TV -- the Mormon clan fled Utah under threat of prosecution. In the premiere, the Browns are unpacking after high-tailing it to Las Vegas.
The camera moves in for a close-up on Robyn, Mrs. Brown No. 4 and the only wife familiar with the concept of deep-moisturizing conditioner, who announces she is carrying baby No. 17.
"Wait," says my friend Susan, squinting at the screen. "Does she have a herpe on her lip?" "Are there cat fights?" asks Jan, the host of our reality pigout. "Cuz that'd be really fun."
Kody and his ladies gather the family in one of their four kitchens to make the blessed announcement, and there are so many kids, the scene looks like high noon in a school lunchroom.
As the camera moves in for a close-up, Robyn tearfully recounts the moment in a candid interview, a favorite reality trope. "I noticed a couple of the girls, Aspyn and Matty, didn't smile. They didn't even look at me."
"They're thinking, 'That's one more baby to get our inheritance,' " says Susan.
We worry that things will get tighter for Kody and his brood with one more mouth to feed. Jan has an idea: "Maybe that's why he moved them out to Vegas," she says. "It's going to be a little chicken ranch! 'Girls! Girls! Girls! -- No Liquor!' "
Who would want this 'Trophy'?
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