Andy Dick is making three people walk the gangplank tonight, and MTV is letting him do it. This random act of cruelty is just part of Dick's new reality game show, ''The Assistant'' (debuts Mon., July 12, 10:30 p.m.). Like a mildly insane Donald Trump without the billions, Dick has challenged 12 contestants (seven female, five male) to live in a Los Angeles-area mansion together and perform menial tasks and ridiculous challenges for him. Through a series of elimination rounds, one beleaguered whipping boy (or girl) will eventually emerge as the ultimate Hollywood assistant. Along the way, the show will skewer reality TV conventions, extinguishing torches à la ''Survivor,'' handing out roses ''Bachelor''-style, and quizzing contestants about Dick's résumé on a set straight out of ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.'' EW.com visited Dick on the set of ''The Assistant'' to get a sneak peek at what the poor souls had to endure.
The last person standing will take home a car, a new wardrobe, a cell phone, an entry-level gig at MTV Networks, and more than 15 minutes of exposure. Not bad for roughly a month's work and a marked loss of privacy -- but not everyone has risen to the occasion. ''Some people got to the point where they said, 'I can't do this anymore; f--- it,''' says Dick, who looks slightly worse for the wear himself, slumped at the kitchen table. His voice is raspy from late hours and lack of sleep. ''Why would you give up fighting for a new car?''
On this night, the three hardened, sleep-deprived competitors who haven't given up fighting are huddled around the pool, waiting for their latest challenge. This event requires the trio to walk across a wobbly wooden pole suspended over a pool while carrying a script and a cup of coffee. They look determined, albeit tired. Even though it's a sultry spring night and the mansion is a luxe pad (it also housed the female competitors for ''The Bachelor''), the assistants have been consigned to sleep on cots in the garage. Cameras have been following them everywhere for weeks, and the days are long. And then there's Dick.
When the cameras roll, Dick is the essence of a petulant, spoiled celebrity, demanding that contestants detail his car and act out his scripts so he won't have to read them. But much of what the contestants see -- the mansion (which Dick claims to be his), a maid and butler, and his nasty attitude -- are just a bit of reality TV tomfoolery.
Not that the assistants can be sure of that. ''On our show, you don't know if I'm really unraveling or just acting, but the contestants were really crying and laughing and getting upset,'' he says. ''After spending all these weeks with me, none of them want to work with me. None of them.'' [Ironically, Dick may soon be in the market for an assistant: His current lackey is moving up to producing projects with the actor.] ''The other weird thing that happened,'' he says, ''was Stockholm syndrome, where you become infatuated with the people holding you captive. There was this weird tension.'' Luckily weird tension was as far as it got. Dick notes that all the contestants underwent rigorous psychological testing. ''There's only room for one insane person, and that was me.''
The board is almost in place over the pool, and the producers are asking Dick to come to the patio. The three contestants smile at him, but their happy expressions look strained. ''There have been times when they've been p---ed at me, but whenever I show up they'd give me the fake 'Hi! How are you!' This is the thing I like about reality TV. I like to see people being fake at first, but you can only keep up that front for so long. So at the beginning they're the best people they can be, and by the end the worst often comes out.''
The cameramen take their places, and Dick shakes off his weariness to terrorize his final victims. He alternates between screaming encouragement, jokes, and criticism as they try to keep their balance on the pole. But no matter how difficult this is, Dick says -- half-seriously -- that these remaining three should be relieved they aren't actually working for him: ''Being my assistant is a thankless job. I can be kind of a baby and a whiny little bitch. I've got a lot of problems, I just do.''