Reality TV really kicks into gear this week, with "American Idol" returning on Jan. 18 and "The Apprentice" starting its third season on Jan. 20.
Hey, wait, didn't we just finish up a season of "The Apprentice"? Apparently Donald Trump believes that in TV seasons, as in marriages, there's no such thing as too many.
Q: What happened to 'Obnoxious Boss' on Fox? I was looking forward to [the contestants'] reactions when they found out it was all a hoax. —Magi, New York
A: “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” wasn't quite as popular as last year’s smash ambush series “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance.” “The Apprentice” parody featured actors challenging eager MBAs to perform absurd tasks such as selling soup in the summer and panhandling.
A self-important executive who makes irrational firing decisions in a boardroom ultimately didn’t really seem like a parody, since we saw that every week on “The Apprentice.” FOX bailed on the series after the fifth episode aired on Dec. 12. While the show appeared on FOX’s mid-January schedule for a while, the network recently announced that time slot would be filled with “Family Guy” repeats, and the series officially met its end.
But those who gave five hours of their lives to the series want to know how it ends. That’s especially true because FOX promised a twist: the actor who played the boss was deferring to a secret boss. Since the fake boss’ name, Mr. N. Paul Todd, was an anagram for “Donald Trump,” some speculated the fake boss could be Trump, although it’s doubtful Trump would stoop to appearing on FOX. (Steven Bailey, the big fat obnoxious fiance, would be a better guess.)
We’ll soon know who it was, as FOX plans to put the remaining five episodes online. The network just did the same thing with all eight episodes of the similarly-killed series “Playing it Straight,” although each one of those episodes costs $1.99 to watch. “Big Fat” will apparently be free when it debuts on , but there isn’t a premiere date set yet. —A.D.
Q: What’s the deal with the second- and third-place winners on “The Biggest Loser” getting nothing, especially Gary who was only 1 point away from winning, while one of the people voted off are going to win $100,000? What’s fair about that? Was there a consolation prize for them that we don’t know about — aside from the obvious benefit of losing the weight? —Lori
A: "The Biggest Loser" finale was an odd end to an odd show. The series was presented in such a way that many viewers of the second-to-the-last episode thought the show had just ended once the three finalists were sent home. Many asking who'd won, unaware that the final episode had yet to air. And it was unclear as to just how the show was going to declare a winner.
The finale did air on Jan. 11. Kelly was revealed to have lost 79 pounds, going from 242 to 163. Her total percentage of weight loss was given as 33% and she was said to have had decreased her body fat by 17%. Host Caroline Rhea then announced that those two numbers added together equaled Kelly's "Transformation Total," which in her case was 50.
Gary had lost 71 pounds, going from 227 to 156, for a 31% total percentage of weight loss and a 23% decrease in body fat. His Transformation Total was given as 54.
Finally, Ryan had lost a whopping 122 pounds, going from 330 to just 208. His percentage of weight loss was given as 37% with an 18% decrease in body fat, for a Transformation Total of 55. Ryan was announced to be the winner of the $250,000 prize.
Many thought the numeric way of figuring the winner was really strange. You could look at the finale and say that Ryan and Gary were incredibly close, since their Transformation Totals were just 1 number apart. Or you could say for sheer weight loss the two men weren't close at all, with Ryan losing 122 pounds to Gary's 71.
Things only got weirder: Caroline Rhea announced almost in an aside that there would be a "reunion weigh-in" the next week, during which "one of the nine eliminated contestants will take home $100,000."
Many viewers, like letter-writer Lori, think this isn't fair. They'd rather see the $100,000 split between Kelly and Gary, or given to Gary, since his Transformation Total technically made him the second-place winner (or, Loser).
UPDATE: Since we first published this story, Bob Meyer from NBC publicity contacted us to confirm that Kelly and Gary don't get any cash. "The episode on Jan. 11 was the conclusion of the $250,000 winner-take-all game conclusion," Meyer says. "Kelly and Gary do not receive anything, unless you count their new leases on life. The episode on Jan. 18 [is] for $100,000 for the folks who did not make it to the finals."
It's easy to see why the show is doing it this way. Bringing back the other ousted contestants for a televised weigh-in gives "Biggest Loser" one more episode, while simply handing a smaller check to Kelly or Gary would have taken maybe 10 seconds, tops. We'll find out Tuesday night who takes home the next check, and maybe we'll also find out if Gary or Kelly earned anything additional.
Just one more note: Rhea also yelled out that interested candidates can apply for "Loser's" next season at NBC.com, but did not give the — and many misheard her anyway, thinking she said MSNBC.com, writing to us when they did not find an application on our site. Although MSNBC is a joint venture of NBC and Microsoft, we have nothing to do with "Loser" casting. —G.F.C.
Q: Why is it that there isn’t nearly as much written about “The Amazing Race”? I have occasionally seen articles, but there certainly isn’t the coverage that “The Apprentice” and “American Idol” receives. —Heidi
A: Andy says: That’s a good question. While the series has always had its fans, it didn’t take off in the ratings until this past year, and it still doesn’t pull in the number of viewers that “American Idol” or “Survivor” do. Plus, the series debuted on Sept. 5, 2001, and the events that followed six days later made a travel-focused show not quite as appealing to viewers and to the press as it might have been at another time.
But the lack of constant coverage might also have to do with that fact that, over its six seasons, “The Amazing Race” has been consistently engaging and compelling but in a nonabrasive way.
The game play is different than what we see in “The Apprentice” or “Survivor”; it’s not strangers backstabbing one another, but pairs of two racing against other couples. Teams just have themselves to blame when they come in last, and that doesn’t leave us with much to argue about after our heart rates slow down at the end of an episode.
This season, though, has definitely given journalists and fans something to write about, and his name is Jonathan. Who knew that just a few months after we got rid of “Amazing Race 5” jerk Colin that we’d be facing the most obnoxious “Amazing Race” cast member yet? Jonathan’s behavior this season has raised eyebrows, particularly the pattern of verbal and, once, physical abuse of his wife, Victoria. Jonathan’s behavior week after week has made him the center of attention.
All of the attention has prompted Jonathan to relentlessly break the time-honored rule that prevents reality TV cast members from talking until after they’re eliminated. He’s come up with a litany of excuses for what we’ve seen. First he it was the editing; later he posted to his Web site that his behavior was “a publicity stunt” but also “stress and obsession mix with medication for a sickness called Sarcoidosis.” After that, he it was simply “playing it over the top,” and now that he wanted to be a character, and he “tried to quit the show” when his “role-playing got out of hand.”
The show’s creator and executive producer even that he “had many conversations with” Jonathan and told him “to tone it down.” This all seems like awful foreshadowing, possibly damage control to soften us for a possible Jonathan and Victoria win. At the very least, all of this controversy has brought the show some new attention, even if it is negative.
Gael says: From a TV watcher's point of view, I love "The Amazing Race" (though this season did come too quickly on the heels of the last one. Left to my own devices at home, I'd rather watch a mediocre episode of "TAR" than the best episode of "Idol."
From a TV editor's point of view, I know from researching hit counts and watching our e-mail boxes that a story on "Idol" or "The Apprentice" will pull in ten times the amount of hits and feedback as a story on "Race." That doesn't mean we won't do those stories when appropriate, as with or this recent , but it does mean that we'll be judicious with our planning. We just can't write about every show every week. Thanks for understanding.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.