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Competitions rule summer reality TV

Although "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars" and other shows are completing their spring seasons, the summer reality TV season is about to begin. A number of shows will air this summer, most of which have become warm-weather staples for broadcast and cable networks.

The name of the game this summer in the reality TV arena is competition. Nearly all of the major reality series that will debut or return to air new seasons are competitions of some kind, both ridiculous and serious, ranging from the search for romance to parades of the talented and talentless.

Here are some of the most anticipated debuts this summer. The dates and times below are based on announced premieres, but networks enjoy changing their minds and airing the first episode of shows at odd times, so check listings or just set your DVR.

While many summer shows are returning favorites, some have been away for a long time. After three years, ABC will resurrect "The Bachelorette" for a fourth season (May 19, Mondays at 8), giving DeAnna Pappas a chance to find love after being rejected by Brad Womack. A week later, the network will resurrect "The Mole" (June 2, Mondays at 10), the cult favorite competition that finds a group of contestants working to win money and identify who among them is trying to sabotage their efforts.

The new "American Gladiators" returns May 12 (Mondays at 8) on NBC with new gladiators —last season's two winners — and new competitions. The night after "Idol" ends next week, Fox debuts its fourth season of "So You Think You Can Dance," (May 22, Wednesdays at 8, Thursdays at 9) and that same night, NBC kicks off its sixth season of "Last Comic Standing." (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

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The network also moves the country-music-singer competition "Nashville Star" from USA Network to NBC for its sixth season (June 9, Mondays at 9:30), and looks for more talented — or not-so-talented — people with a third season of "America's Got Talent" (June 17, Tuesdays at 9).

Two cable networks will search for new stars for their own networks. The Food Network's "Next Food Network Star" looks for its fourth foodie host (June 1, Sundays at 10), while HGTV will look for a third "Design Star" a week later (June 8, Sundays at 9).

Bravo will bring back its hair stylist competition "Shear Genius" for a sophomore season (June 25, Tuesdays at 9), and airs the fifth season of "Project Runway" (July, likely Wednesdays at 10) before the show moves to Lifetime in November. Also on the cable network, Kathy Griffin's docudrama, "My Life on the D-List," will continue to chronicle her life (June 12, Thursdays at 10).

Extending some of its favorite franchises even further, VH1 reunites a bunch of contestants from its comedic dating series — "Flavor of Love," "I Love New York," and "Rock of Love" — to compete in an all-star competition called, appropriately enough, "I Love Money" (July 13, Sundays at 9). It's sure to be a train wreck.

New competitions include "Greatest American Dog" or "America's Top Dog" (July 10, Thursdays at 8), a CBS series that may not have selected its name but will be a competition between dogs, and "Celebrity Circus" (June 11, Wednesdays at 9), where people who stretch the definition of "celebrity" compete in circus acts on NBC. As if the world needed another dance series, it will get one on ABC with "Dance Machine" (June 27, Fridays at 8), an "Idol"-like dancing competition between regular people.

In July, "Big Brother" (July 13, Sundays and Wednesdays at 8, Tuesdays at 9) returns for a 10th season on CBS just a couple months after ending its first-ever winter season. And a week later, the Disney Channel's franchise will become a reality series when "High School Musical: Summer Season" (July 20, Sundays at 8) debuts and searches for a person to become an as-yet-unidentified part of the franchise.

If competitions aren't your thing, FX will air a new season of Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days" (June 3, Tuesdays at 10), where a person lives another person's life for a month, while History will bring back "Ice Road Truckers" (June 8, Sundays at 10) for another look at the people who drive trucks over not-so-stable surfaces. That show's producers will also air two new series on NBC, the documentaries series "Shark Taggers" and a competition called "America's Toughest Jobs."

Also tentatively on tap this summer are two shows that have been frequently postponed: Fox's "When Women Rule the World" and NBC's "Baby Borrowers."

Clearly, it'll be a busy summer in reality television — unless you don't want to watch people competing, in which case you'll have to seek out activities outside your living room.

Q: Recently on "American Idol," Ryan Seacrest shook the hands of Rascal Flatts and then a half hour later, they were performing on "Dancing With the Stars." Both shows are live, so what gives? Are the studios that close together? — Kelly, Queensbury, N.Y.

A: Yes. The studios for "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol" are located immediately next door to one another on the same studio lot. Ironically, the shows, which air on ABC and Fox respectively, are both taped on the CBS Television City lot in Hollywood.

Because "American Idol's" performance show airs at 8 and "Dancing" has its results show at 9, it'd be extremely easy for the band to go next door for its performance.

There is part of the "American Idol" results show that is pre-taped: the viewer call-in and time-filling guest performance segments. While the results are live, they go to tape for the viewer calls (in case someone decides to ask a different, potentially offensive question than they indicated they were going to ask) and some of the guest star performances.

Q: The new homes along with the swimming pools, groomed landscapes, appliances and amenities that the families are given in "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" are often well beyond what they are accustomed to having or can afford to maintain. In what shape are these homes two to three years after families move into them? — Jason G., Charleston, S.C.

A: "Extreme Makeover" concluded its two-season, 50-state tour last Sunday, and although the show has now helped more than 100 families by rebuilding their houses, there's been very little follow-up. Your question suggests an interesting possibility for a segment on the show, checking in with previous families. Or maybe it's time for a reunion tour of sorts. ABC spun-off a short-lived series called "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition — How'd They Do That," but that offered only details about the actual construction and makeover that wasn't included in the regular episodes.

However, several families have struggled with the houses the show built, according to a media report. Between property taxes and increased power bills, one family wasn't able to handle the increased expense, even with a cash donation from the builder.

They may have received a brand-new home, but they didn't have the means to maintain it.

As my colleague Gael Cooper noticed, the Marrero family in New Jersey, which was featured on the show in November, but which has had their new house since August, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that they couldn't keep up with the increased expenses and recently put the house up for sale.

"I gave up. I gave up out of desperation. I didn't want to lose the house to the taxes. I felt like there was a lion coming after me," Victor Marrero told the newspaper. He said the show wasn't interested in helping him ("When I got into trouble, they wouldn't take my calls. They didn't care. They made their 100 million and moved on"), but that he is still grateful. "I appreciate everything — this house and everyone who helped me. But it's too much house," he said.

is a writer who publishes reality blurred, a daily digest of reality TV news and analysis.

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