Trash Buffet: Reality TV Recaps for the Week of August 14

Naked and Afraid XXL
Nudity begins to feel commonplace in this week's episode of Discovery's 'Naked and Afraid XL.' Discovery Channel

Trash Buffet is a weekly column at Newsweek, a digest covering the world of reality television that spans the wonderful to the weird to the worst. We'll cover five series over the course of a single season, handpicking the highlights and the opposite-of-highlights.

When private university–educated, glasses-wearing, Ibsen-alluding types stoop from their (our?) ivory towers to indulge in the rabble's vice of reality TV, irony can't be far behind. The title of this column was originally intended to address that question with a peaceable resolution, tacitly acknowledging that there's sustenance in garbage and serious entertainment value in purportedly low-class art. There's a distinct point where mockery becomes investment, where snorts of derision give way to painfully sincere gasps of sympathy and shock.

Like a train hitting having a head-on collision with another train, I hit that point this week with Dating Naked. VH1's nude-romance competition began as this column's most patently silly inclusion, wedding the surreal absurdity of constant nakedness with the contrived artifice of The Bachelor. And yet, almost against my will, I've developed genuine feelings for Chris and Kerri, the two primary contestants in the program. Make no mistake, they're sort of the worst. She's got East Asian characters tatted down her spine, he's incapable of forming a coherent thought that doesn't concern the shape of a woman's body—they seem like the sort of people you might make an effort to steer clear of at an overly crowded dance club. And yet, I can't help but root for them to find happiness with one of the contestants. Perhaps it's because seeing them end up with the one, even in an environment as resolutely defined by fakery as this, inspires hope in my fellow homebodies that the flames of love in this world have not been entirely extinguished.

When Kerri sent Mason home, who's so clearly perfect for her, did a little voice in my head plead with her to rethink her decision? Did I try to mentally warn Chris of Fallon's evil ways? Am I proud of either of these things? Will I continue watching next week? In order: yes, yes, no, and yes.

Most Effective Date-Torpedoing of the Week: Newcomer Mark, a catch at an extremely bald 41-year-old (Kerri: "All I see is a cross between Joe Pesci and Pitbull.") with a career as a professional wrestler nearly behind him, decides that the most tactful topic of conversation upon meeting Kerri would be her body, specifically her pubic hair. Most people discuss that never, as opposed to immediately, but to each his own.

Speaking of nudity and passage through strange mental thresholds: An odd phenomenon takes place after consistently watching Naked and Afraid XL for enough weeks in a row. Nudity, once seen as a as a comic addition to the survival-show formula, now appears to be an integral component of the wilderness experience. When flicking over to Running Wild or Survivor, the clothes bedecking the contestants' bodies look bulky and unnatural. Stranger still, that sensation persists as the viewer leaves his or her living room and enters the flesh-and-blood world. Looking at the people lumbering down the sidewalk, their natural nakedness choking beneath stifling denim and suffocating cotton, it's hard not to feel like you've been transported to an alternate clothes-dimension. Like Colonel Kurtz reaching true enlightenment by casting off the shackles of polite society, the audience of Naked and Afraid XL eventually approaches the epiphany that, speaking empirically, clothes do nothing.

In fact, they'd only weigh down Jeff and EJ, the unquestionable kings of the hour. The climax of the episode comes with their fearless conquering over a massive electric eel (larger than a baguette, smaller than an air-conditioning duct) and critical acquisition of enough protein to last them the duration of their trek to the next phase of their hellish journey through Colombia. They impress even further by then sharing their bounty when they encounter their fellow survivalists. As Jeff and EJ explain, somewhat surprisingly, "It's the Christlike thing to do." And with that, suddenly, the whole "40 nights and 40 days in the jungle" angle takes on a decidedly Biblical bent.

Quote of the Week: "1500 VOLTS TO MY BODY!"—Jeff, surprising audiences everywhere by reacting to an attack from the electric eel with anything other than a long string of four-letter words.

Bizarre, discomfiting expressions of faith also dominated this week's closure-palooza on My Giant Life. Having completed the herculean labors of locating a dress that can fit her 6 feet 7 inches and sufficiently planning out the next seven years of her damn life, Haleigh prepares to tie the knot with her betrothed, Bryan. But even on the eve of their nuptials, her controlling father believes he reserves the right to veto their marriage at any point. All along, I had been somewhat surprised that nobody was willing to speak to Haleigh's father about how tremendously regressive and childish he's been acting, but the ceremony itself clarified matters considerably. In a voiceover like something out of a pedophile's fantasy, Haleigh explains that she's glad she was able to find in Bryan the comfort that she's received from her father for all her 23 years, and that she's eager for Bryan to take on the paternal role in her life and fill the space her father will leave when he hands her off to be married. Then, at the actual ceremony, Haleigh and Bryan engage in a symbolic foot-washing ceremony.

So, a few things are now abundantly clear:

Haleigh is not prepared for the responsibilities of matrimony. Her marriage is a bad idea.

Returning home to live under the auspices of her father is a worse idea.

While marriage ceremonies organized around religion are not necessarily crazy in and of themselves, the foot-washing business definitely is, and big time.

Elsewhere, the ladies of My Giant Life approach a new horizon. Lindsay locks down an audition (for a medication commercial in which she must play a viking, but still) and Nancy tears it up at her senior prom (her date talks like a medalist at the Douche Olympics, but still). Coco continues with her indefatigable journey to find the man of her dreams, and the world spins madly on.

Sweetest Gesture Amidst a Volley of Troubling Gestures of the Week: After the officiant has said all the requisite wife-possession things and declared them "man and wife," Bryan hops on a little step-stool to give Haleigh the kiss of a lifetime—neck craned upward and everything.

The populist appeal of Wahlburgers is pretty transparent. Marky Mark's a Hollywood type who's refreshingly free of Los Angeles nonsense, a dude-from-the-neighborhood who made it out and took his friends with him. Mark Wahlberg's success supports a comforting myth that reality TV dishes out by the ladleful and America audiences hungrily gobble up: that mere good fortune separates the famous from the anonymous. After all, if a guy as resolutely regular as that hooligan Mark could achieve riches and recognition, accordingly, there's nothing stopping the rest of us groundlings from making it as well. Entourage, Marky Mark's evil bastard brainchild spawned from his experiences with his true-life crew of childhood friends, plays into this very same notion.

In a stunning orgy of cross-promotional shamelessness, Marky Mark and his pals attend the red carpet premiere of the feature-length Entourage movie on this episode of Wahlburgers. The cameo appearances alone are enough to justify this half-hour's existence (in an early scene, none other than Justin Bieber shows up at Mark's house to sit for an advance screening and goof around with fixture Rob Gronkowski), but the true star of the show here is Mark's untethered ego. As his townie brother Paul humbly teaches his nephew, a character I privately refer to as Dickhead Brandon and publicly refer to simply as "Brandon," how to cook, Mark goes on a parade of shameless self-aggrandizement as he walks the red carpet. The most sublimely bizarre moment comes in the final seconds of the episode, as the various celebrities present at the Ted 2 premiere (not even the Entourage premiere! So many premieres!) wish Mark's mother Alma a happy birthday. Ted mastermind Seth Macfarlane goes last, looking directly into the camera and speaking with total and utter seriousness: "Happy birthday, Alma. Your son is a great man. I've been standing here bullsh*tting people all day, but I sincerely mean that. Your son's a great man." It's profoundly creepy, from the dreamy look in his eyes to the choice to use the words "great man," as if he's describing a war hero or recently-deceased family member. Altogether, an exceedingly strange sight.

Biggest Letdown of the Week: When Kevin Dillon, better known as Entourage's hapless D-lister Johnny Drama, meets the real-life Johnny Drama that inspired the character, they don't explode. They don't fight. They don't engage in a Highlander-style competition to behead one another. They just kinda awkwardly talk, laugh it off, and then desperately avoid one another's line of vision.

A massive gulf separates the reasons a viewer might give for routinely tuning in to Running Wild With Bear Grylls and the reasons a viewer actually watches the program. The show aggressively telegraphs its own virtues to the audience during the lull of the middle-scenes, where Bear and that week's celebrity take a moment to make camp, catch their breath and shoot the bull. The executives at NBC might have you believe that the appeal of Running Wild comes from the displays of humankind's perseverance and willpower, or the opportunity to get up close and personal with an A-lister outside of the sanitized interview environment and learn that, hey, they're people too. When the guests "open up" and deliver a well-rehearsed bit about teen-years troubles (in this instance, guest Michelle Rodriguez talks about difficulties of life as a tomboy), they're adding in what executives call "the human element"—that slippery thing that touches hearts and keeps viewers regularly watching.

The people who believe are kidding themselves. We are here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to watch professional actress Rodriguez consume a dead mouse that's been stewed in her own urine. Host Bear Grylls's liberal use of his own urine as a survival tool has made him into a full-blown meme around some Internet circles, and at long last, the series delivers on that potential. The most curious aspect of all, though, is not Rodriguez's reluctance to eat the mouse, but Bear's. As he explains, eating a mouse stewed in your own urine is all well and good, but eating a mouse stewed in someone else's urine is gross. It seems like an arbitrary place to draw a line in the sand, but a guy's gotta have a code.

Saddest Missed Opportunity of the Week: The millisecond that Bear mentions Rodriguez's involvement with the Fast & Furious franchise, he creates the unquenchable thirst for a Bear Grylls–led Fast & Furious movie. He should at least be available for a supporting role in whatever numbered sequel the next one might be. (16? 29?)