When NBC came out with The Apprentice, it set the standard for reality shows in its genre. Many have come and tried to emulate that theme, whether it be the awful low-budget My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss to the slightly less awful high-budget The Cut, and many places in between including The Benefactor and The Rebel Billionaire. Finding a protégé on television is not as easy as it looks. So when we learned that Kathy Hilton was going to spend her time trying to find the next Manhattan socialite in her new show I Want to Be a Hilton, I figured it would be nothing else if not interesting.Say what you will about Paris Hilton, but in the span of less than three years, she has become one of the most recognized faces in the United States, all without what most people would call a marketable talent. She’s not a star athlete. She’s not a celebrated actress or singer. It’s probably safe to say she doesn’t spend her free time working on cold fusion. The girl is attractive and has done modeling, but she has more presence than she has looks. No, she got to where she is by being thin and slutty, which is not the way I would choose to make a living, but people say that Paris is not an idiot and knows what she is doing, and she had to learn it from somewhere. That’s the appeal of I Want to Be a Hilton, at least initially.
The premise (stop me if you’ve heard it before), is to take fourteen people who are not from the jet set crowd and teach them how to be, well, a Hilton. Basically, it’s like a course on how to live when you worry all day about the money you’re going to spend and none of the day worrying about how you are going to make that money. At the end, the winner gets a Manhattan suite and $250,000, plus enough social contacts to perhaps change your life forever.
I think one of the most important parts of any reality show is the casting, and from the first look of things, I Want to Be a Hilton does a great job at that. Everybody is so savvy these days, you really have to take care to find people who are real, and not wannabe actors looking for some face time. Granted, you do have to have a few of those types, because they make the show interesting, but overall, you want people who don’t know what to expect and will give you natural reactions to situations. If you can find a bunch of people who are actually interested in the grand prize other than being on TV, that’s an added bonus.
As the contestants arrive at Grand Central Terminal, we get a chance to learn a little bit about their backgrounds. Among them, we have a golf caddy, a plumber, a construction worker, a ranch hand, an interior designer, a Vegas showgirl. It didn’t seem like all of them were devoid of the finer points of proper decorum, but when they were escorted to the Campbell Apartment for some hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, I was kind of shocked at the behavior. Call me old-fashioned, but if you are going to go on a show where you are learning the better parts of high society and know that whatever you are doing is being filmed, do you start slamming the drinks and scarfing the hors d’oeuvres? My guess is no, but our group did exactly that, not knowing that above them, watching everything they do, was Kathy Hilton.
When we first see Kathy Hilton on screen, it is kind of strange. Hilton is obviously a widely-known name, but outside of Paris and Nicky, you probably wouldn’t notice one on the street unless they hit you with their Bentley. Therefore, it was a little hard to believe that everybody was in awe when they saw Kathy Hilton in the flesh. Seeing Kathy Hilton, you can see where her girls get their looks. For a woman of 46, she doesn’t look that bad. You can tell she has had a plastic surgery or three, but it’s actually pretty tasteful. Take a walk around Beverly Hills and you sill see the walking Frankensteins who look like they have had six or seven face lifts, a couple brow lifts, plenty of collagen injections, huge, almost alien-sized fake boobs, and enough Botox to last a lifetime. Really, they make Joan Rivers look fresh by comparison.
While I can suspend disbelief about how everybody recognizes Kathy, it is hard not to notice how stiff and unnatural she is in front of the camera. Fifteen minutes in, I don’t want to say that she is worse than Tommy Hilfger, but she is certainly not much better. Then again, this is kind of expected. After all, as much as people enjoyed the Simple Life, Paris never blew you away when she was on camera, and Kathy is much the same way. Even though it looks like they had to do several takes, they still had to dub a lot of audio into scenes, although they do a pretty good job at that when they have to.
Anyway, Kathy gives each person a silver spoon, not only to symbolize the type of life they are getting themselves into, but to split them into teams. Green spoons would be for team Park, and blue spoons would be for team Madison. And with that, they were introduced to their new homes at the Melrose Hotel, with each team getting a suite directly across from each other. Quickly, we see that the teams are clearly different, with the Park team being more serious, and the Madison team being much more laid back. While the Park team was enjoying the little gift baskets Kathy had left them and completing a little champagne toast, Madison was busy figuring out how to get comfortable in their own way, and Johnny the plumber decided one way to do that was to moon the other team from across the building. A home isn’t really a home unless you’ve bared your ass to your neighbors across the way.
Each week, we are promised that everybody is going to learn another lesson in how to live the life, and the first lesson of “Etiquette Boot Camp” is going to be on attending a dinner party. Whenever you go to a dinner party, it is polite to bring a gift, and so each team had to pick a person to go shopping for a gift. The trick was that they weren’t going to be picking somebody from their own team, but instead picked somebody from the other team. The teams know that this is going to be judged, so we get to see our first little bit of strategy in the choices each team makes to go gift shopping. The person who goes shopping is also going to miss that day’s etiquette lesson, so not only do you want to find somebody who probably has no idea what to get, but somebody who is really going to be harmed by missing out on the etiquette, and at least for the latter point, there was nobody that could afford to miss anything.
Park picked Jabe from Madison, and Madison picked JW from Park. JW is a construction worker from Missouri and Jabe is a ranch hand from Texas. Being picked is kind of an insult, even among this bunch, because it basically means your peers think you are the least qualified of anybody there. With that being said, JW was determined to prove that the other team made a huge mistake. And to his credit, he did a good job. He had no idea what he should buy, but settled on something simple with some flowers and a bottle of wine. Not the most creative gift, but one that you really can’t mess up. Assuming he spent about $50 each on the flowers and wine, you can get some decent quality stuff for that price.
Jabe, on the other hand, was just as lost, but about one hundred times less effective. Now, he had a good idea for his gift, which was to buy some chocolates, but he didn’t go searching for any gourmet stuff. When you think of chocolate, at the very least you are going to try and find some Godiva, right? Sure, there are plenty of high-end chocolate shops, but if you are new in town, maybe you don’t know what to look for. Jabe is one of my favorite characters, a Southern cowboy who may not know what sort of wine goes with truffles, but completes every thought with a nice “yes ma’am,” which makes him kind of endearing.
So, he had a good idea, but the execution was off. He bought chocolates at what looked like a tourist gift shop, and the problem wasn’t necessarily that they weren’t expensive, but he did buy a lot of them, like five or six pounds worth, an amount your host probably won’t know what to do with. If JW had tried the same thing, he would have bought a case of Two Buck Chuck and a hundred carnations. But that wasn’t the worst part of his execution, believe it or not. Jabe decided that he was going to get his chocolate wrapped. Not only was the paper sort of tacky, but in lieu of a card, he simply had the salesperson write Kathy’s name and thank you directly on the box with a sharpie. Seriously, no card at all is better than that.
While the guys were shopping, their teammates learned some of the basics of dining etiquette, including mastering things such as wine tasting and the intricacies of eating escargot and lobster. They even had a little lesson on cheeses, and in case you were thinking that the etiquette teachers weren’t any fun, they did have plenty of jokes, like the one about cutting the cheese. Apparently even the fart humor was below most of the contestants, because nobody was laughing.
With all of their newfound knowledge, everybody got dressed to the nines in preparation for what they thought would be a group dinner with Kathy Hilton. When they arrived, each team discovered that only one member of their party was going to eat with Kathy, and that would be the one who had spent the day shopping. The other team members had a chance to use what they learned, however, as the dinner guest would wear an ear piece, and their teammates would feed them instructions on what to do and what not to do during each situation. Joining in the dinner would be Ted Allen from Queer Eye, Billy Bush from Access Hollywood (looking very excited not having to sit at the kiddie table), and Prince Dmitri of Yugoslavia.
Call me crazy, but I thought Yugoslavia didn’t exist anymore, so I figured the family would have had a hard time holding on to the throne. But you know those crazy Europeans, everybody has a royal family. Doing a little cursory research, it looks like the Royal Family is Serbian, and Dmitri is some cousin of the Crown Prince. You just know that he is one of those jerks that loves to be introduced as “His Royal Highness” because he would have to kill a lot of people to ever be in line for the throne of marvelous Serbian empire, which is equivalent to saying “I own the biggest Ford dealership in Southern California.”
JW and Jabe have to go through a few little tests during the dinner. First, of course, is the arrival and the gift. Kathy is very impressed with JW’s gift, but the same can’t be said for Jabe. Now, even Jabe’s teammates couldn’t believe that he had bought a year’s supply of chocolate, so you could imagine how stunned Kathy was. Well, actually, you really sort of have to imagine it, because her face didn’t display that much shock value, although you can argue she was just trying to be polite. It also didn’t help that Jabe showed up to dinner without a jacket (although he did spend the five minutes to properly shave his head before leaving for dinner).
Throughout the rest of the tasks, which included accommodating a late arrival (Kathy’s sister Kyle), choosing the proper wine, as well as eating escargot and lobster, you could see that Park had a much better strategy. They had one person, Vanessa, speak into the microphone attached to JW’s earpiece. Her teammates gave her some instruction, and she calmly relayed them to JW. Madison, on the other hand, was a complete disaster. Everybody was basically shouting their information into the microphone, meaning that Jabe had a difficult time trying to pick up on the advice he was being given at the same time he was supposed to be trying to have a conversation. Therefore, he seemed very lost and not into any of the conversation.
Overall, the dinner party was no contest. The only area where Jabe really beat out JW was during the escargot portion, where JW refused to eat the snails. Still, I actually believed that Madison had a chance to win the contest when it came time for the toast. While JW did a great job ad-libbing his toast, Jabe seemed to be doing well since there was only one person, Latricia, who was feeding him his lines. He was able to complete them verbatim, and at a medium pace, but when Latricia told him to “say thank you” he actually repeated “say thank you,” which ended up being quite the humorous end to the whole evening.
As expected, JW was chastised for not at least trying a bite of the snails, but Madison was just too addlepated to have a chance at winning. Team Park was rewarded with a trip on a private plane to a winery. The show is obviously on a budget, because the private plane was kind of a joke. Even a trans-atlantic coach seat looked like it had more room than these people had on their plane. If you want a nice air charter, try a charter with a little more luxury.
Because they lost, Madison went to see who was going to be eliminated. The Apprentice calls it the board room, The Cut calls it the style forum, but there really isn’t a catchy phrase to describe what they do on I Want to Be a Hilton. Everybody sort piled into one of the rooms at the Hilton residence and went at it. “Bitching in the Parlor” and “Complaining in the Tea Room” just don’t have any sort of zing to them, so we’ll just call it Elimination Time! So, during Elimination Time(!), everybody started to dissect who was to blame. At first, you would want to say that Jabe had sort of failed, but other than the gift, he handled himself pretty well at dinner, and his teammates weren’t making it any easier on him.
For his part, Jabe laid the blame on Alain, who was one of the more sucky contestants. I mean, I can’t stand those Alans who must put an “i” in the middle of their names, it’s just unnecessary. He also thinks that because he knows about cosmetics and perfume, it gives him a touch of class. However, selling Cliniqué at Macy’s does not make you classier any more than working the fryaltor at Wendy’s makes you a chef. Jabe’s problem wasn’t Alain’s misplaced haughtiness, but rather the fact that he looks like somebody who does poorly under pressure, and Alain was the only person on the Madison team who didn’t have anything to say into the microphone during dinner.
Latricia, a single mom from Inglewood who wants to improve the life of her kids, had been complaining about Yvette, who she thought wasn’t taking herself seriously, and was trying to be a slut more than a socialite. In most cases, I would say that Latricia, who is probably at least three bills, is jealous of Yvette, who is younger and thinner, and only complains because she couldn’t fit into the same outfits, but this is not the case. Yvette is a dancer in Vegas, which either means she is a show girl or works for tips at Crazy Horse. I would say the former because even though strip clubs are dark, her face is not worth looking at if you are any closer than 50 feet. And Kathy did have a few words about how skankish Yvette looked, but when your daughter is on DVD is doing it doggy style and taking a pop shot right in the face, just how much complaining can you do about a revealing skirt? Yvette also didn’t like Latricia, who she thought was too bossy and would be a hindrance to a team that needed to rely on working together.
Kathy asked if anybody else had any final words to say, which let Latricia get in a quick “I’m doing this all for my kids” plea, which probably only pissed off her teammates a little more. It also gave us a chance to see Ann in action. Ann is a former Miss Tampa, and said that she was going to treat the competition like a pageant, meaning should would do anything to win. I though to myself “Hmm, she’s going to give Kathy Hilton a blowjob to advance?” but soon learned it just meant doing crazy shit to get herself noticed. In this case, that crazy shit was breaking out into song like she was in a musical or a, well, pageant, which left Kathy quite unimpressed by the whole thing. I thought she could have been a little harder on them though, because it’s OK to make reality contestants cry.
With all of that on her head, Kathy went on to make her list. Those who were on the list would move on and enjoy a dinner that evening with Kathy, and the person left off would, well, leave. The choice came down between Alain and Latricia, and since he wasn’t able to make himself noticed in any way, Alain was left off the list. I kind of like how they didn’t put too much into the catch phrase, just a simple “I’m sorry, you’re not on the list,” none of the awkward dual catchphrase strangeness we get with Hilfiger. It might have been nice to sort of have a velvet rope to close off as the contestant left, or perhaps show the loser riding the bus back home to their normal lives, but maybe that’s just too much to ask. Latricia was really happy that she made it, and as she entered the dining room and started to cry, some people came over to give her a hug and let her know it was OK. Naturally, these people were from the thoughtful Park team and not her own teammates of self-absorbed Madison.
Overall, I think this show has potential. I do think the cast is good, and it looks like the personalities will lead to plenty of drama later on down the road. The challenge was interesting, although I wish they could find some better personalities to pluck from the NBCUni celebrity bin. Ted Allen is OK, because he is a food expert, but who cares about Billy Bush? And Yugoslavian royalty? Luckily he has diplomatic immunity, because he should have been shot for how worthless he was to the show. As for the worst part of the show, Kathy Hilton, I do have to say that she did get better throughout the episode, and during Elimination Time(!!!) she actually looked comfortable, and in the end, it is those elimination moments that makes a great benefactor-to-be host and separates them from the wannabes.
Next week, Paris and Nicole join everybody for a romp in the Hamptons – panties optional, of course.
What do you think? Does the show have potential? Who is your favorite or least favorite contestant?