With a few Latin words, Pope Benedict XVI did what no Pope has done in almost 600 years – abdicate the Papacy! His announcement sent shockwaves around the globe and sent the world atwitter (all puns intended) with speculation as to the reason for his sudden announcement and departure.
Most people who give notice to their employers leave to accept a better opportunity. Although the Pope did not indicate his plans (perhaps he could not fully express them in Latin), my money is on reality television. Recently, an anonymous source indicated to me that several cable networks had made handsome offers to his Holiness for reality TV shows.
truTV has allegedly offered the Pope a leading role in a reality program starring his Holiness and a retired Hindu master. Dubbed Holy Cow!, the show will air on Sundays and feature lively banter between the Pontiff and his Hindu foil on subjects such as God, Eternity, Heaven, reincarnation, and the comparative popularity of sitar music versus Gregorian chants.
Not to be outdone, however, E! Network is also seeking the Pope’s services. With the demise of The Girls Next Door, E! network is seeking new programming, and the Pope’s resignation may be just the ticket to create a reality television megahit. Teaming Hugh Hefner with the Pontiff, The Pope Next Door will be a buddy list reality comedy enabling his Holiness to demonstrate his lighter side. Whether worshipping the sun in Honolulu or cruising for snow bunnies in Aspen, the Pope and Hef are sure to delight their viewers. If contract talks with Hugh Hefner stall, E! has a backup plan, employing the Pope to replace Bruce Jenner on Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Of course, in all seriousness, I am certain that the Pope’s decision has the best interests of all Roman Catholics at heart and fear that it is based on some debilitating mental or physical illness. Yet, if he wanted, he could be bigger than Honey Boo Boo!
Imagine leaving your home to relocate to a distant land, never to return. What thoughts would cross your mind? What emotions would you experience? Now, imagine that the distant land to which you are to relocate is not even in this world!
Well, if the plans being laid by a Dutch Company are successfully implemented, that is exactly the scenario that awaits four brave, adventurous humans in 2022 when they will depart planet Earth on a one-way trip to establish a human settlement on Mars – a planet they will call home for the remainder of their lives.
Led by Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch researcher who was a co-founder of Ampyx Power – an alternative energy startup, Mars One, as the initiative has been dubbed, has laid the groundwork for this epic mission, identifying potential suppliers for every project component. Additionally, a timeline has been established with astronaut selection beginning in 2013, a communications satellite and supplies launched in 2016, a rover transported in 2018, and a second rover and remaining supplies including living and support units sent in 2021. The rovers will take all materials and supplies to the settlement location and prepare for the arrival of the astronauts who will embark on September 14, 2022 and arrive at their new home sometime in April 2023.
Taking a page from reality television programming like Survivor, the team planning the Mars One mission hopes to fund their project via the entertainment value of their endeavor. Using the Olympics as a model, they look at the marketing revenue generated by the Winter and Summer Games (approximately three weeks each) once every four years. In the 2005-2008 Olympic cycle, for instance, marketing revenue from all sources totaled $5.45 billion with the implication being that in the three weeks before and after arrival of the astronauts, audience interest should enable them to generate at least as much money.
But, beginning with astronaut selection in 2013, the plan is to broadcast preparations and training of the selectees. Forty astronauts will be selected and trained. Four will embark on the maiden voyage in 2022 with an additional four dispatched every two years thereafter. And, according to the Mars One team’s plan, the audience will participate in the selection process. The Mars One website states that “who gets to go to Mars will be decided, at least in part, by the audience. This audience interaction will greatly enhance entertainment value and audience engagement for the project.”
It sounds to this observer as if this entire project may be nothing more than a pitch for a new reality television program with prospective astronauts, like contestants on American Idol, being promoted by the votes of an engaged public. While the team may indeed be planning on making this mission a reality, they have a number of years (and perhaps, even more with “technical delays”) during which to earn marketing revenue from the selection and training process. One can only presume that some of those selected may decide to bail out of the program during training and new selectees may have to be voted onto the mission.
If the mission does succeed, viewers can only anticipate the human drama and hardships to be endured by the first settlers on a desolate planet. The team anticipates this as its website further states “the candidate astronauts are sure to be interesting characters, and their training programme will be fascinating for a great many people – for its technical interest as well as the human challenges involved with such a physically and psychologically demanding programme. It’s true that audience figures for the moon landings dropped off after the initial event. However, this was because nothing particularly new or interesting happened after the first mission. In the case of Mars One, the audience will experience life on Mars in a much more direct, engaging and comprehensive way, through our astronaut’s eyes. All their experiences and discoveries will be as new and fascinating for us as they are for the astronauts. They will not just be ‘doing their job’, they will be living their lives, complete with all the emotions and struggles that are part of normal everyday life; but they will be doing that in the most exciting habitable place in the solar system, complete with its own completely unique challenges. It is the human aspect that makes our Mars mission so interesting for people.”
Is this just hype to get investors and contributors on board before it becomes apparent that the Mars One team will not be able to deliver on their plan? If it is, they seem to have duped a distinguished scientist, Gerard ‘t Hooft who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics, who stated: “This is an extraordinary project by people with vision, imagination. This is really something that can be achieved.”
I’ll let you form your own opinions. Below you can view a slickly-produced video from the Mars One website. Note the eery similarity to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. If entertainment value can foot the bill for this project estimated at $6 billion, maybe we can pay the national debt with a reality show following the exploits of Presidential candidates and, after the election, the President himself.
For those of us not in the public eye, our brushes with celebrity can provide an escape from the humdrum nature of daily life, as well as a subject of conversation when someone asks us “what’s new?” During my own life in the greater New Jersey area, I have personally encountered many personalities from the sports world, including the Philadelphia Phillies’ Greg Luzinski, Philadelphia Eagle Keith Krepfle, Philadelphia Flyers Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach, and others, and Don Zimmer, former major league baseball player, manager, and coach, most recently with the New York Yankees. I very nearly literally bumped into actor Ted Knight (who played Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) a number of years ago on a street in Philadelphia and former Senator, Rhodes Scholar, and guard for Princeton University and the New York Knicks, Bill Bradley, while checking out at a well-known Cherry Hill sandwich shop “Big John’s.”
In many cases, I was struck by how unpretentious these notables appeared, at least on the surface. Never, however, have I met a celebrity as down to earth and genuinely nice as Olivia Bloise Sharpe. Who, you ask, is Olivia Bloise Sharpe? None other than one of the new batch of reality television stars with a Jersey flavor.
For the uninitiated, Olivia is among the cast of characters on one of the Style Network’s entries into reality programming, Jerseylicious. And, for my money, she is the star of the show. The program’s setting is The Gatsby Salon in Green Brook where Olivia is hired as a makeup artist. There, she works under the direction of Alexa Prisco (aka, The Glam Fairy) and the salon’s mother and daughter ownership team, Gayle Giacomo and Christy Pereira. Much of the program’s drama is created by the tension between Olivia and hairstylist Tracy DiMarco, who is dating Olivia’s former boyfriend and who, according to information gleaned from one of the early programs in the series, has travelled in similar circles for a number of years and had a longstanding animosity with Olivia.
Make no mistake, however, Olivia and Tracy are both Jersey girls. The big hair, the animal prints, the heavy makeup, and the liberal use of bronzer are all indicative of their Jersey roots, as is the fact that neither would in any way, shape, or form be considered a shrinking violet. They are just two of a growing number of reality TV personalities hailing from the Garden State. Like Jersey Shore and The Desperate Housewives of New Jersey, the success of Jerseylicious seems to hearken a national trend toward interest in all things New Jersey.
To viewers in the Midwest, Olivia, Tracy, and the goings-on at Gatsby Salon must seem as commonplace as extraterrestrial visitation. Yet, like alien encounters, one must question how “real” is the reality being viewed? In answer to this, I can only reference personal experience. You see, I met Olivia at an Exxon service station in Green Brook. The station and appended “On the Run” convenience store is operated by brothers George and Samir Yazgi and is the place of employment of Write On New Jersey’s own contributing writer, Small Town Girl.
I must confess that I had been alerted to the fact that a scene from an upcoming Jerseylicious program was to be shot at the station. And so, anxious to see “reality” in action, I arrived to find the production staff readying the scene. Speaking with several production crew members as we awaited Olivia’s arrival, I posed a number of questions about the show and its cast. Although reticent to provide details, comments from the crew enabled me to draw a couple of conclusions. First, while the cast members are indeed real hairstylists and makeup artists, they do not work at Gatsby on a regular basis (i.e., if you book an appointment, you are not likely to see Olivia, Tracy, Gigi, Alexa, Anthony, or any of the other cast members present). Second, while the show does not have a formal script, it does have a theme or context. The show’s characters simply react to the situation presented.
In the case of the scene shot at the Exxon station, I promised the field production manager that I would not divulge the plotline, but rather leave you to draw your own conclusions. I will disclose, however, that both Samir and George play significant roles in this scene and that neither was prompted regarding what to say or how to react. Having witnessed it firsthand, I think that there may be Emmy Awards in the offing for both George and Samir, as well as perhaps a reality program of their own.
Questions of the nature of reality and the impact of the camera on human behavior aside, I would conclude that reality programming is more “reel life” than “real life.” Yet, in the 21st Century, we seem to be evolving into a culture of voyeurs, and reality television is feeding this voyeuristic compulsion. And so, if you like your reality staged, tune into Jerseylicious where you can witness the dramatic interplay between the lovely Olivia and the bitchy Tracy.
Write on New Jersey would like to thank Field Production Manager Lisa Colangelo for the professional photo at the top of this article and George Yazgi for the other photos taken with his cellphone. To catch Olivia in action, you may watch the video below.