Josh Wolk
March 01, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

”The Real World”: Sarah’s weighty mother issues

Usually, when a Real World cast member bitches about someone, the gripes should be taken with a margarita’s worth of grains of salt. There is, however, one exception: When roomies say they have trouble with their parents, odds are that there’s something very real to complain about. Like New Orleans Julie’s crazy-religious folks, or Trishelle’s crazy-strict dad. Although, to be fair, perhaps Mr. Trishelle had a point. If she had a lenient father, God only knows what jai alai team she’d be boffing.

This week we were treated to a longer dose of Sarah’s parents, who were not as unconditionally loving as they’d appeared earlier in the season. I’ve been warming to Sarah over the season; sure, her supersexual act gets wearisome (even Jenna Jameson would say, ”Can’t you talk about anything else?”), but she always proves to have a surprisingly levelheaded take when it comes to the usual roommate squabbles in this house. Then again, this is in comparison to who, Shavonda? You could put a rabid dingo next to Shavonda and find yourself saying, ”Now there’s a dingo with a good head on its shoulders.”

We learned previously that Sarah has had eating disorders for years, and she has said that it started when her mother got cancer. So I thought about everything I remembered from Psychology 101 in college, and I theorized that Sarah made herself throw up because her weight was the one thing she could control when her mother’s life was in danger. But this week we saw that I had forgotten the other important lesson from Psych 101: Everything is your mother’s fault.

The episode began with everyone out at Chili’s. I recognized the locale because the footage was indistinguishable from a Chili’s commercial: laughing people marveling at all the wonderfully cheese-drenched options! Signs for buffalo wings! The nervous and tingly anticipation of an evening spent in the john after a barely digested Chipotle Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger goes speeding out of your colon like it was being chased by Star Jones!

At the restaurant, everyone badgered Sarah to eat, as she spoke about her resurfacing eating issues. And that’s when the PR people at Chili’s realized their infomercial had gone horribly wrong: Suddenly their restaurant was being linked with anorexia. Oh, great — so now their slogan was ”Chili’s! Come to smell the onion Awesome Blossom, stay for the side salad!”

Speaking of blossoming, Sarah was convinced that her ass had done just that in Fiji. Perhaps it was her subtle flirtation technique of swallowing a bread stick whole while winking at a cute guy. Sure, that doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re doing it five times a night, those carbs add up.

Her parents arrived when she was at the gym, and after seeing her, they relayed the message through her sister that Sarah needed to go back on the South Beach Diet. Interesting approach: Did they think, ”Hearing this from us directly might not be painful enough. Let’s get another family member in on this horrendously damaging critique.”

Okay, I thought, let’s not blame the parents right away. Maybe they just told her sister, not meaning it to be passed on. Granted, gossiping about Sarah’s weight behind her back wouldn’t have been kind, but it’s better than the alternative. But no: When Sarah finally spoke to her mom, meekly stressing that she had only gained five pounds, her mother said, ”Five pounds? You look like you did that first year of college!” Considering Sarah is 23, this was at least the fifth anniversary of her mom’s starting to chip away at Sarah’s self-esteem. I wonder if this began when she was 13, as a bat mitzvah present: ”Today you are a woman . . . and you’re eating for two. Enough with the knishes.”

Sarah talked to Deborah the social worker, the playground’s director, who Sarah says she looks up to more than any adult other than her mother. Now there’s some faint praise. So what’s Deborah’s specialty: making Sarah feel stupid? ”I think your body looks just perfect, Sarah. Probably because you’re too dumb to learn how to work a fork.”

Sarah chose to hold her impromptu therapy session during the work day, which led to a brief screaming match between her and Willie, who accused her of slacking off to whine about her little fat problem. This was another turnaround from my usual Real World allegiances, because normally I’d be supportive of someone telling someone else to quit whining and start working. But this was no little fat problem. Willie’s was the faux pas equivalent of saying to someone, ”Why don’t you go cry to your daddy?” and having them respond, ”My father’s dead.” Granted, there’s no equally perfunctory way to say, ”I think I’m fat because my mother has been telling me I’m fat for the past ten years . . .” but the point would still hit home.

I’ve just started writing the TV Watch for this season of The Amazing Race, which is a reality show with a clear-cut winner and loser every week. Not so The Real World: By the end of the episode, it seemed like the mother had understood what she had done wrong, and Sarah was the victor of this argument. But not so fast! Yes, the mom apologized at a restaurant, but as she did, Sarah’s dinner arrived: a salad. So, really, who won the round? I’ll bet you a crouton it wasn’t Sarah.

What do you think? Do you have more sympathy for Sarah? Are the roomies actually learning to get along better? And was Karamo’s awarding of a best-playground-builder plaque to Landon sweet or lame?

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