The Bitchy Bunch 

It's not necessarily a casting couch (sadly) but more of a Barbara Walters wicker/rattan situation, imprinting both my elbows and my emotions with crossed currents. It's early Satur-day morning, and I, along with a smattering of other sun-dried Florida menopause splashes, am looking to change my life ... publicly.

Well, not really. There is no changing my life -- just some predictable shakiness and the hope for good column fodder. And here it shall be. The Bunim/Murray folks who brought you "The Real World," "Road Rules" and "Making the Band" are now in the business of "Making the Bland," redirecting middlebrow, daytime-lady lives toward Starting Over, some Dr. Phil survival catatonia -- "6 women, 1 house, 2 bonbons." I've already got goose bumps.

Here to entertain my investigation is the modern answer to Punky Brewster, casting director Dr. Sarah Levy. Fresh from her hotel workout, her hair is still wet, but her L.A. publicity skills aren't.

"So just what type of person are you looking for," I leg lift.

"It's really not a type," she calculates demographics. "Well, let's say, it's more of a personality: Somebody who's really uninhibited, able to be themselves on national television. And, I think, really, motivated is most important."

They would have to be, considering the application. A series of easy questions about what you would change and why (not to mention a SAG/AFTRA clause forbidding self-promotion) are followed by some of the best fine print I've seen since the advent of the lambskin condom. You must be open to "personal, surprising, defamatory, or unfavorable" portrayals, while understanding that said comments "may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation, or condemnation."


Already, I've caught an advertisement for the affair, wherein a pretty black girl bangs on a bathroom door, while a (presumably) larger woman throws up her cheesecake within. Is this helpful?

"I'm actually an undercover psychologist," assures Levy, despite the sabotage ethic that term implies. "You can't tell anybody, but I am a psychologist."

Mums the word. "I could use your help, then," I sniffle and shake.

"In about eight hours, I'm all yours!"

In about eight hours, I'll be passed out in the bathroom, throwing up my cheesecake. "So why are there men here?" I quiz, having already been outed by a male fan (of mine, even) in the lobby.

"Probably partners," she gay bashes. "We've had a few confused men ... "

Yeah, me too.

Inside the holding pen, women are comparing notes about their lives, probably secretly trying to outdo each other on the abuse tip. One decides that the novel she recently read made her both laugh and cry -- like it's the first time she's ever realized it. Really!? Hello lamb(skin), meet slaughter.

"There is a sense that women have been caretakers, a lot. And we're seeing across the country, a lot of 'Now it's my turn,'" Levy takes care. "You see this in women at all stages of life, but predominantly in the 50-something category. They've raised children, grandchildren, husbands, and now they want to raise themselves."

"Do the contestants ever fight?"

"Applicants?" she slaps me in a PR rage. "It ranges. Usually, it's very supportive. You'll see one woman going, 'That's ridiculous, you're beautiful! Blah, blah, blah.' You see a lot of bonding."

Blah, blah, blah.

"Typically you hear the scenario that, 'I don't get along with other women.'" I typically don't. "That's one of the major aspects of the show."

"But aren't you inspiring some sort of separation anxiety by pulling them into this?"

"It's funny." No it isn't. "We thought they would be dying to go, but once we get them there, we can't get them out of the house! Ha ha ha." Heh.

"It's not Club Med," she covers the IKEA. "They're working hard. But how often do people get to take a break with their life?"

I bring up the "E! True Hollywood Story" ripple effect that now has "Real World"-ers like Puck crying foul over their soundtracked editing and subsequent public lynching. Because Puck is funny.

"Bunim/Murray, they were the originators. "Real World" was the start of reality TV, for better or for worse. It set TV in a different direction," she toes the party line. "As far as the editing, the idea of this show is really to watch women make progress toward a goal. So, you definitely see that. And there's also the other side, that women struggle to get along with each other. You see that, too."

"And failure?" I cough. "Is it an option?" Yawn.

"Well, just in life," she slips me a Freud. "Not everybody succeeds. So, I don't know if you'd call them 'failures,' but maybe people didn't accomplish as much as they'd like to?"

Mmm-hmmm. Keep going ...

"I think anybody who comes on the show is gonna find success in some area of their life, just by the mere fact that they've decided to make a change and that usually starts a roller coaster in one direction or another. And change brings change."

Rattle, rattle, rattle.

Can you spare some change ... so I can call my therapist?

"Um, if I put on a wig and pretend to be a woman, you could start me over?" I make a go at further futility.

"You might just get away with it! Hahahahahah!"

"So, you're saying I'm pretty, then?"

"Yes." Phew. "Well, actually, I'm saying that you may have some feminine characteristics."

"So, what you're actually saying is, I'm gay."

"No, I think you're saying that you're gay."

I think I'm done saying anything. I'm starting over.

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