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The Celebreality Cycle
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27 May 2010 EST

- by Rachel Allen, Staff Writer

Reality television today has seen a shift, from elevating the average Joe to fame and fortune to simply acting as a platform for the already famous (or, more often, semi-famous) to become even bigger celebrity characters.  With most reality television coming to a close before the summer season of TV begins, one of the most notable celebrity-focused TV shows, The Celebrity Apprentice, has chosen its fame-seeking winner.

Of all the celeb-wannabes on shows like Dancing with the Stars and Apprentice, the standout of this TV season has clearly been Bret Michaels.  From Poison rock-star to TV ladies’ man (three seasons of Rock of Love and he’s still looking for the one), on Celebrity Apprentice Bret finally came into his own.  Dealing with multiple medical issues--diabetes aside--including a brain aneurism, stroke, and a hole in his heart, Bret has become the heartwarming sensation that had the entire TV-watching community rooting for him.  And in the Apprentice’s finale, the Donald answered in support: Bret became THE Celebrity Apprentice.  This season, he not only won the competition and $250,000 for juvenile diabetes research, but also America’s heart.

Without reality television, where would Bret be? Probably touring (he’s still touring now, as well as managing multiple reality TV shows and public appearances), and sleeping with a lot of hot groupies.  Only Poison fans would know his name, and he would rarely be spoken of by others--except as the butt of “every rose has its thorn” jokes. 

Bret has fallen into what is called the “celebreality cycle” of fame.  One television series, in search of “true love,” leads to more series of the same, and then to joining a show with a cast of other relatively famous people--whether to break addiction, lose weight, or just to keep your name in the paper. Being kicked off first means sinking back into the void of has-been fame-seekers who can’t keep up.

Instead of joining a ridiculous show like I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, Bret took the smart route, hoping to prove himself as more than just a slutty rock star. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bret said, “I said I want to show people that you don’t just get lucky, especially in the music business for 20 years. I wanted to show that there is more here and in the process just be myself. I would like to think that some of that came across. And I didn’t want to cut someone’s throat to win.”  And it worked: By being open, warm, and supportive of his other cast members, Bret was able to not only show his capabilities but also to conduct himself in a manner that avoided confrontation and negativity--nearly an impossible feat on reality TV.

And because of his new respected status as a celebreality success story, Bret now gets to do things his way.

Instead of going back for another Rock of Love series, Bret is being rewarded with a classier VH1 show called Life as I Know It, which will focus on his home life, as a father and boyfriend, musician and businessman--the life behind all the partying we’ve come to expect from him.  It’s a step forward for his image and his TV persona.

But it’s not often that a “celebrity” on a reality show becomes famous because of their good conduct and honesty.  The other route, and the one most often taken by those clinging to the last threads of fame, is to completely fall into the world of crazy.  It has worked particularly well for one duo who market themselves completely as the craziest couple on TV--Speidi.

Yes, Spencer and Heidi, those nobodies who rose from the ashes of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, and into the absurd space of crazy celebrity land.  Landing on the cover of gossip magazines more times than anyone on Laguna Beach or The Hills combined, their outrageous acts--from threatening others on their shows to having more plastic surgery than any one person should ever have--the two have made themselves into the best kind of brand.  They have even come out with a book, aptly titled How to Be Famous: Our Guide to Looking the Part, Playing the Press, and Becoming a Tabloid Fixture.

While some TV stars are known for being plain mean (that’s you, Kate Gosselin), Heidi and Spencer almost seem to be acting, using their celebrity prowess to manipulate TV and media for their own good.  In that sense they understand celebrity TV as much as Bret Michaels does--they are simply using different means.

Whether or not the celebreality TV circuit is taken as serious or ludicrous, there is lasting fame for those who succeed--and an endless supply of “reality” television shows.  If a celebrity is willing to go to extremes to bring in the ratings--whether they garner sympathy or entertain with insanity--there are TV shows ready and willing to feature them. 

It is for this reason that the celebrity reality cycle will never cease to exist; it will just regenerate in new series, new specials, more extreme angles, and new “celebrities” grasping for fame.

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