''The Real World'': The roomies gang up on Melanie
There's nothing the Real World producers like more than turning a personality flaw into a 10-episode arc. Being annoying is a character trait second only to romancing a roomie in show-hijacking power. Think about Hawaii: When Amaya hit a twofer, being a complete irritant and romancing Colin, they might as well have sent everybody else home. So considering how eager the show is to spotlight character flaws, I wonder how bad Melanie really is. Having hinted slightly at the beginning of the season that she could be a problem, the producers stuffed everyone's gripes about her into only one episode. Hell, they could make three episodes out of somebody forgetting to say ''gesundheit.''
Okay, granted, the writing has been on the wall for somebody to rail against Melanie. She is intensely judgmental, and her embracing of the Tom Drinker's pub punks smacks of the same kind of gnawing need to be viewed as above it all that led San Diego's Frankie to dub herself ''punk rock.'' Sorry, Mel, when you sign up for The Real World, you officially relinquish your right to the adjective cool. And the same goes for the Tom Drinker's punks. The way they ran around the Philly house, rifling through the fridge and doing flips into the hot tub, they seemed more like Peter Pan's Lost Boys. The only reason a real punk would enter a Real World would be to toss in a Molotov cocktail. These guys looked more like they were auditioning to be backup dancers for a Broadway musical set to the tunes of Sum 41.
I'm not sure whether it was the Lost Boys themselves who really bothered the other roomies or the fact that Melanie preferred to hang out with these outsiders over them. M.J. snarled that Melanie had crapped on Sarah for kissing three boys, but the Lost Boys probably ''couldn't hook up with any girl.'' And that is frat-guy logic at its best: In attempting to figure out the human psyche, it all comes down to ''They're probably fags.''
Shavonda mused, ''How do you tell somebody, 'Your personality bugs the s--- out of me?' You can't.'' (Yes, you can, Shavonda: All you need is an Internet column and too much free time. It's worked for me with you!) She finally snapped when Melanie came home drunk from an evening with the boys, happily slurring how amazing they were: They're funny, they own their own dirt bikes, and their tattoos look like a pony when you squint just right!
Shavonda got right to the point, telling Melanie that everybody thought she was a know-it-all. ''You talk too much and like the sound of your own goddamn voice,'' she added, which was a fascinating criticism from the woman whose only silent moments last week were when she was making out with Landon. I'm not sure if Landon was really attracted to her or if it was just less effort to kiss her than to listen to her. I wouldn't be surprised if he proposed marriage with the dim hope that it might strike her speechless and at least buy him five minutes for his Tylenol to get a jump start on his headache.
Then came a comment that rivaled any of Shavonda's hypocritical moments from last week: ''It is a mature characteristic to be able to listen to people,'' she said, and then, when Melanie tried to defend herself, Shavonda stormed out, saying, ''I'm done, I've said my piece, good night.'' Boy, last week there was a lag time of at least a few hours between her obliviously contradicting herself, now she's got it down to a few minutes. Maybe next week she can wear a ''No War for Oil'' T-shirt with a ''Bush 2004'' pin stuck to it, thereby reducing her lag time to nil.
Shavonda and M.J. handled this in the most tactless way possible: Shouldn't there be a preliminary warning system in place before you go to ''Everybody in the house hates you''? Start out with a few exasperated sighs, then work up to ''Hey, that's really not nice,'' and then maybe a final direct constructive criticism, and then and only then do you tell the offender that he or she is universally despised.
But this isn't to say that Melanie was blameless. She sure is judgmental. As am I, but I get paid for it, which somehow makes it okay. Even when being accused by Sarah of acting superior, she responded with the infinitely patronizing ''I try to care about you as much as I can.'' It's like saying, ''I'm doing the best I can to summon interest for your dull problems, but it's like asking me to spend a week reading a recipe for Chex Mix.''
And so, after a false threat that she was going to leave the show, she told Sarah and Shavonda that she would try to change although this came after many disclaimers that no one but them had pointed out her problem. It was as if she'd been worn down and brainwashed, the Patty Hearst of The Real World: ''All right, I'm too tired to fight anymore. Fine, I'm judgmental. Now are we going to hold up a bank or what?''
The rest of the episode dealt with the roomies' final charge to assemble the playground. Karamo initially didn't see the point of building it, taking the crazily shortsighted view that it was more important to just play with the kids. Yeah, why do hard work that can keep the kids happy long after you're gone, when instead you can play a little tag with them and go home early, leaving them to kick a can around a barren field? Apparently Karamo subscribes to the maxim ''Give a kid a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give a kid five bucks and send him to Long John Silver's and tell him to wake you up with your lunch when he gets back and he'd better have exact change and you'll eat for a day.''
The disassembled playground arrived; the roommates estimated there were anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 pieces. They all grumbled about what a huge undertaking this would be, but to me it just looked like an oversized Ikea project. How big an Allen wrench does it take to assemble a slide?
In the midst of all this hard labor, they were summoned to an ING Bank, where a smiling rep donated $5,000 to the playground, and Karamo was so happy that he extolled their checking and savings accounts. Two days ago Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad hailing U.S. troops, and now this. Apparently product placement masked as do-goodery is the new marketing tool. On this week's Apprentice, will the teams work with Nestle to see who can douse the most orphans with chocolate? I'm sorry, that sounded judgmental. From now on, I'll try as hard as I can to care about those fudgey orphans.
What do you think? Were the roomies being unfair to Melanie? Would you rather see her or Shavonda be quiet for a week? And what is making Karamo so grumpy these days?