Is "Joe Millionaire" for real?

I hate reality TV.

I think reality TV creators pander to the lowest common denominator so often that I’d rather sit and eat paste with kindergarten children than watch one more minute of Survivor: Thailand (Elmer’s is particularly tasty, by the way).

I particularly don’t like what I call the desperation reality shows. Shows like The Bachelor, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire?, and Blind Date prey on those desperate for attention, be it desperate attention from the opposite sex, or craving those fifteen minutes of fame.

In a recent America Online survey a majority of people found cast members of reality TV shows “embarrassing.” I can’t say I disagree. However, I must say I was intrigued by FOX‘s latest reality TV adventure, Joe Millionaire . The premise: women are enlisted to vie for the affections of a rich young man. The twist: Joe Millionaire isn’t really rich, but a construction worker who is worth about $19,000 a year (before endorsements). “Joe Millionaire” (who’s name is actually Evan) plans to weed out the gold-diggers and find a woman “who really wants me, for me.” But perhaps the tables will turn on Joe when his chosen soul mate finds out that he’s been living a lie.

My first thought upon hearing this show was, “Finally, a show that turns the tables on both the insecure female and the male who plays on that very insecurity. Don’t the reality TV karma gods have a right to reek vengeance on these wanna-be celebrities?

I’m hooked on the show because I want it all to blow up in their face.

But now I’ve gotten sucked into the vortex that is reality TV. I am shamefacedly entertained by the networks who produce these situations of pseudo-reality, and on the venom that I see participants spewing at one another.

The producers have slugged this series: “Can love survive a fifty million dollar lie?” Perhaps the fifty million that they are referring to is the money that will soon lie in the pockets of the network brass, who continue to use this reality ploy to sell beer, chips, and other assorted items that we know are vital to our everyday lives because they tell us so. Perhaps too, we are beginning to believe more of what they tell us when they suggest that they are showing us real life every week and not some pre-produced recipe for disaster.

Even if “Joe Millionaire” finds a woman who accepts him “for who he is” and not for the money (which he doesn’t have), the stark “reality” is that the woman who falls in love with him will be falling in love with a mirage. And once she gets to see the reality of the man behind the millionaire, life again becomes mundane, filled with the realities of our broken and sometimes difficult world.

Will she continue to love him when times get tough? Or is she counting on the white knight of reality TV to take all her troubles away? And will “Joe” (who’s real name is Evan) be someone whom she can depend on when the network’s money goes away? Is this guy a true prince or a frog with a bankroll?

“Joe Millionaire” has suckered us all into the lie. For women, the lie is that Prince Charming will take away all your troubles. For men, the lie is that we have to be rich, good-looking wunderkinds in order to get a woman even interested in us. What happens when these expectations fail?

The onus is on men to not buy into the façade. I become a real man when I live in the vulnerability of our everyday existence, when I face the problems cast at me and my loved ones, and share not only in their joys but also their pains. When I dare to exist as my truest self, owning my own feelings and vulnerabilities, I become someone sensitive enough to understand the needs of others. It’s risky, but it’s better than being one of the folks on reality TV, who react to situations that were dreamed up not by the forces of nature but by the twisted minds of the network executives.

Therefore, perhaps “Joe Millionaire” is a prophet after all? I think I’ve learned that I’m thankful that those who love me, love me and not some hare-brained idea of who they’d like me to be.

It’s easy to be a pseudo-celebrity. Being real is a whole lot harder. Why can’t FOX sell that?