The giant machinery that is "American Idol" has begun to creak into gear, along with other reality shows, including "Project Runway," "Dancing with the Stars," and short-termer "Skating with Celebrities" (scheduled for just six ice-chip filled shows).
But looming right around the corner are old-school biggies: "Survivor: Exile Island" will return on Feb. 2, and "The Apprentice" with Donald Trump will return Feb. 27. "Survivor" is returning to Panama, where "Survivor: All-Stars" and "Survivor: Pearl Islands" were filmed. The show's also shaking things up a bit, starting out with four tribes, divided by age and gender, and an "Exile Island" to which castaways regularly will be banished.
"Apprentice" is moving from Thursdays to Mondays, and while this season will be shot in New York, as all the others have been, plans are for next season to take place in L.A. Apparently Trump and his minions have about worn out the patience of innocent New Yorkers for being harassed to buy lemonade, one-of-a-kind T-shirts, or accept free samples of vanilla Crest, and hope to bring said salesmanship to the West Coast.
Q: What happens to all the clothes they throw away on "What Not to Wear?" Do they really pitch them or do they donate them to a charity? Do participants have to bring ALL their clothes or can they leave a few favorites at home, safe from the garbage can? —Sue
A: A great question, and one we've wondered about, too. First off, a spokesperson for TLC informs us that the show does donate all confiscated wardrobe items to New York charities, so they're not just wasting perfectly wearable clothes because they're deemed unstylish.
Although no one said how this is enforced (closet cam?), apparently participants are supposed to bring everything in their current wardrobe for Stacy and Clinton to evaluate. Says the spokesperson "the only exceptions would [be] work uniforms, team sports apparel or the like."
But say your favorite polyester leisure suit is the one you wore to see Elvis on tour in Macon in 1976, and it still has traces of The King's sweat on it. You can keep it, you just can't wear it. The spokesperson notes that "if [a clothing item] has some long-held personal memory or the like, the 'What Not to Wear' participant can keep it only if they vow not to wear it!" —G.F.C.
Q: Do the celebrities on “Dancing with the Stars” receive any money for appearing? —Anonymous
A: They do. Nearly all shows that use celebrities, from the C-list celebs on VH1’s “The Surreal Life” to the quasi-celebrities on MTV’s “Challenge” shows, receive compensation for appearing. While their new-found fame is sometimes compensation enough, that’s not guaranteed, and celebrities need to pay bills, too.
Networks are typically quiet about cast salaries, but last summer, first season winner Kelly Monaco told TV Guide, “Everyone got a lump sum of money up front, so the [financial] incentive is definitely over. It’s not a million-dollar prize at the end—it’s a trophy,” she said.
She added that she was glad they weren’t competing for a prize. “Money is the root of all evil and people can get pretty nasty on reality shows. So I’m really glad that’s not the incentive in the end,” Kelly said. —A.D.
Q: What ever happened to Lisa and Hank from “Cupid”? While I think reality dating shows are an absurd concept, Cupid actually put the people through more realistic dates, it appeared. It also appeared that Hank and Lisa really had a shot. Are they still together? —Mary, Ottawa
A: For a relatively unpopular show, people certainly are fascinated by what happened to Lisa Shannon and Hank Stepleton of "Cupid."
That’s probably because, at the end of the series, the pair declined to be married live on TV, turning down $1 million. Instead, they said they wanted to get to know each other off-camera, and from what we’ve heard, they followed through with that.
In 2003, after the show aired, they moved to Chicago — Hank’s hometown — together. In August of 2004, they were still together, having moved to LA, although they weren’t yet married or engaged. But the summer of 2004 was the last we’ve heard of them.
A CBS spokesperson said that no one at the network knew anything about the couple any more, and that seems to prove that, whether or not their relationship has lasted this past year and a half, they’re apparently enjoying life outside the public eye. —A.D.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.