Pop Culture

MTV may have lost all faith in ‘Road Rules’

Q: Will we get another "Road Rules"? I wish they would go back to how it was ... NOT the way the last one was. — SJB, Saint Petersburg, Fla.

A:  First, I tried to check with Bunim-Murray, the production company behind "Road Rules" and "The Real World," but they didn't return my calls. Thus, we're only left with speculation, and I think it's pretty clear that the series is dead and gone, replaced for good by the spin-off "Challenge" series.

But "Road Rules" has come back from the dead before. MTV declined to renew it after its 13th season aired in 2004. But in 2007, MTV brought it back, but in a modified form. As you said, the format was very different; it aired in real time, gave viewers a minimal amount of control via votes, and kept the RV in Southern California. That lack of geographical excitement, combined with too much product placement and a poorly conceived game made it pretty unwatchable compared to its predecessors.

MTV ended the season early after stripping viewers of half of their promised votes, meaning that it didn't live up to its "Viewers' Revenge" subtitle. Concluding the season ahead of schedule seemed to indicate that MTV wasn't really fond of it, either.

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Perhaps most damningly, Bunim-Murray's Web site no longer includes any mention of "Road Rules" in the list of shows it produces, only mentioning it as part of a list of other shows on its About page. When its parent starts to ignore it, you can probably guess a reality show has seen its final episode.

Q: I assume that contestants on "The Biggest Loser" are not allowed to have any surgical enhancement surgery, but how do they deal with all the loose skin that is associated with significant weight loss? Loose skin doesn't snap back into place and by the end of the show, all the contestants look super svelte and muscular! — Molly W., Charlottesville, Va.

A: Some contestants may look, to use your words, "svelte and muscular," but contestants are not allowed to have surgery before the finale weigh-in. Contestants may look better than others — and even at the final weigh-in, some clearly have extra skin while others look tighter — because skin responds to weight loss differently, depending upon a number of factors from age to genetics to the amount of weight lost.

"Biggest Loser 3" contestant Erik, who lost 214 pounds on the show, got plastic surgery to remove the excess skin — but after the show concluded. His plastic surgeon detailed the procedure on his Web site. In that article, Erik says he had the surgery "in March of '07. I had just had it with the loose skin. It was irritating me and flopped around when I ran my daily miles. In a dress shirt, I looked nice and neat at the collar and chest, but then there was this big, sloppy bulge at my waist."

Others have also gotten surgery after the fact, including season two finalist Suzy Preston. That's true of the international versions, too. Australian "Biggest Loser" winner Adro Sarnelli told Woman's Day, "When I came home from 'The Biggest Loser,' I felt cheated. All my life as a fat guy I dreamed that if I lost weight, life would be perfect.

I lost more than 50 kilos, but my body was just as bad as when I started because my skin sagged so much. The first thing I saw when I looked down were these horrible flapping man boobs. When I washed I had to lift up bits, like the apron hanging from my stomach, to clean underneath." He, too, had surgery.

Q: I never understood why "American Idol" does not have online voting. They can keep the phone voters, as well as the text messaging voters, but why not add online voting? It would make it so much easier for people living in busy areas constantly getting busy signals, who eventually quit after trying to get through so many times. — Cheryl, Chattanooga, Tenn.

A: That's a good question, one that really don't have concrete answers. In 2003, producers did talk about having online voting, but that was forgotten and it's never really come up again. Now, there's just voting via toll-free numbers and not-free text messages, assuming you have the show's sponsor as your cell phone provider.

While "Dancing With the Stars" does offer online voting, it gets far fewer votes every week than "American Idol." Still, why doesn't "Idol" allow voting on the Internet?

One possibility is that online voting might give the edge to those who follow the show online and thus are more connected to the show's controversies and scandals — or more intent on voting for bad singers — unlike those who people in, say, nursing homes who have only a phone.

It's also much easier to shut down a Web site due to heavy traffic or a malicious attack, just as it's easier to get a computer to vote for you repeatedly. Right now, 'Idol's' producers say on the show's Web site that a "monitoring procedure will be in place to prevent individuals from unfairly influencing the outcome of the voting by generating significant blocks of votes using technical enhancements," and they "reserve the right to remove any identified 'power dialing' votes."

Online voting would give them yet another group of votes to monitor, ones that arguably are much easier to manipulate.

Ultimately, there's probably also not enough of a heavy demand for online voting to institute it. Most viewers are content voting by phone, and while some voters would use an online option, it's not like they would refuse to vote via phone if they don't have online voting.

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

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