A traveling salesman. Mmmm. Wonder if he's experiencing a letdown.
Joel, along with Stacey, Ramona, Stacey, Sonja, B.B., Dirk and nine others to be revealed later, is now a loser. And several million people saw it happen.
The storied tradition of reality-TV rejects dates back to Puck, whose roommates kicked him off the third "Real World," but with the success of "Survivor" and the arrival Wednesday night of its claustrophobic real-time sibling, "Big Brother," the vicious side of voyeurism is starting to shine through. Exposing your life (and blurred private parts thank you, Insensitive Naked Man Richard) to the glare of a million water-cooler pundits is one thing. Being publicly branded as unworthy is another.
A contestant of the Swedish version of "Big Brother" threw himself in front of a train after being voted off. But, the show's top exec said, "he would have done it anyway." Obviously, contestant screening is a smart idea.
Psychologists seem of two minds about the real-life effects such rejection can have on the human psyche. On the one hand, the deafening if fleeting humiliation can magnify insecurities a contestant might have about him or herself, and the return to normal life as an unpopular non-millionaire could be a rude awakening (both shows employ counselors who try and ease that transition). On the other hand, as Los Angeles TV news shrink Carol Lieberman told the New York Post, those 15 minutes of fame can be a powerful balm. "I'm not saying it's not humiliating," Lieberman says. "But the attention they get helps mitigate any pain they might be feeling after being called a loser in front of millions of people." As the man said, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Or is there? "Big Brother" takes the viewers way past rooting interest, giving the masses a vote on which of a pair of rejects has to leave the CBS lot each week and letting them choose the $500,000 winner from among the final three contestants. (Early guess: In a house that has cameras everywhere, Jordan the exotic dancer and Jamie, Miss Washington 2000, will be among the last to be booted from afar.)
Joel, at least, seems just the kind of guy this wouldn't bother a bit. He's already back in Arkansas, checking out the Paula Joneses, smiling that oily smile and basking in his four or five minutes of fame. The breathless CBS web site even let him depart with some favorable spin, calling the vote "shocking" and discerning a political shift in tribal voting from weeding out the weak to "offing likely winners."
But perhaps Joel is crying on the inside. Perhaps he's curled up on the couch at home, eating chocolate ice cream straight out of the carton and torturing himself with a baleful inner monologue about democracy, popularity and the price you pay for chauvinism:
If the tribe says I'm a loser, then I must be a loser, and when people see me on the street they're going to tell me so, again and again, until I start to cry. I'm a bad, bad person, and now, thanks to Reality TV, everybody knows it.
And maybe there should be an element of emotional risk when someone exposes himself, figuratively or literally, to the viewing public for money. Maybe Joel, Ramona, B.B. and the rest deserve all the angst they get. Maybe losing, even in so capricious a forum as Reality TV, ought to be about more than getting a hot meal and a shower.
Certainly, Joel's no Colleen.