April 11, 2005

TV: Popularity Contest

New from Country Music Television, Popularity Contest, which had its first episode tonight before settling into a Friday night slot.

Ten city dwellers are brought to Vega, Texas (population 949), and each is sent to live with a local family. They take part in various challenges for cash prizes -- tonight, it was a scavenger hunt -- and involve themselves in town activities like the Methodist Church potluck, where the scavenger hunt winners made themselves instant favorites by donating their prize to the church and the football team.

Vega is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone, and news spreads very quickly, so when New York opera singer Marthia fails to ice the cake in preparation for the 18th birthday party of her host family's daughter, everyone is a-buzz. Seriously; we spent nearly five minutes on the cake thing, listening to the shocked townsfolk. ("And not only didn't she ice it, but she left in uncovered on the counter! You can't do that in Texas; a cake'll dry right out!")

Other un-small-town behavior that has the locals in an uproar: Chicago management analyst Mandell is 90 minutes for his morning shift waiting tables at the local diner, and Beverly Hills model Leyla is horrified to be awakened at 7:00 am.

Every three days, the residents of Vega vote for their favorite, and the least popular resident is sent home, escorted from the County Barn and driven out of town by the sheriff. (The last shot of the episode shows a hand changing the "welcome to Vega" population sign from 949 to 948.) The grand prize is $100,000, and the winner has to split it with a Vega resident of his/her choice, meaning that we're going to see lots of sucking up on both sides.

It's culture shock galore for the contestants, and probably for any viewers who've never lived in a small town. It's a low-key show -- certainly no Survivor -- but it has a pleasant charm.

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