On Sunday, I went to my sister-in-law’s house for a birthday celebration for my brother-in-law Art. He has the unfortunate luck of being born on Dec. 29, which means his birthday always gets squashed by Christmas and New Year’s.
After walking in, I found Leah in the kitchen desperately opening packages of cheese and Art, my nephew Eric and his girlfriend Emily riveted by the TV in the nearby living room. Noticing that Leah kind of just wanted to be left alone in the kitchen (actually, she politely told me to get out), I wandered into the living room.
“Happy birthday,” I said to Art.
“Yeah, it was two weeks ago,” he said, not taking his eyes off the screen.
I sat down on the couch and soon discovered I was at the beginning of an episode of “Killer Karaoke,” a show I had never heard of on a channel, truTV, I had never seen. The goal of the show, explained a man with tattoos named Steve-O, was for the contestants to keep singing karaoke despite the trials and tribulations placed before them. The person who the audience deemed the best, most consistent singer and who also won a final contest, would be given $10,000.
On the screen was a very pretty blonde woman looking nervous.
“Are you ready?” Steve-O asked her, looking like a boy who was about to set off a firecracker.
“I think so,” she said.
Then the woman started singing “Staying Alive” in a strong, pretty voice as she walked barefoot down a runway. But this runway was not like any other. It was fitted with six small trap doors, which opened sequentially as she moved forward. As she approached the first door, it slid open to reveal a fish tank’s worth of squirming, brown maggots.
“Ah, ah, ah, AHHH!, stayin’ alive,” the woman sang as she realized she would have to step into them.
Then she did, with Steve-O holding her hand to guide her. Her pretty, pedicured toes sunk firmly down into the maggots until she was led forward toward the next trap door. She shook off the maggots as she sang and then looked down to see a tank’s worth of scorpions, into which she likewise had to step.
Looking terrified, she did but kept singing. Then she was made to step into a tank filled with snakes, another filled with fish guts, one with biting lizards and, lastly, one with a baby crocodile lying in wait.
Finally, the woman reached the end of the runway shaking, her calves bleeding from some type of bite the camera did not witness.
As I sat on the couch, I realized I couldn’t pull my eyes from the screen if my life depended on it. It was as if I’d been injected with TV heroin and was instantly addicted. Right then and there, despite the family gathering, I decided I would need to spend the next hour watching this show.
Soon thereafter, my stepdaughter Gabrielle arrived with her grandparents and I pulled her down to sit beside me. Seconds later, her eyes were saucers as we watched a man dressed in a puffy mailman’s outfit get attacked by snarling dogs as he tried to deliver packages while singing the Jackson Five’s “A B C.” Then, in what I deemed the absolute worst challenge, a woman sat on a swing and was descended into a pool of cold water that was increasingly filled with snakes. She didn’t get far into her “These Boots Are Made for Walking” number before it was replaced with desperate shrieks as the snakes slithered around her shoulders, waist and hair.
Gabrielle and I held onto each other as we also shrieked, feeling, at once, terrified and thrilled by what we were watching.
“This is NOT worth $10,000,” Gabrielle screamed.
“Not worth $100,000,” I agreed, covering my eyes
Yet we kept watching until the finalists of the show were pitted against each other and made to sing while they stood on a giant merry-go-round with no handles. It started to spin increasingly faster until finally it started to spit out contestants from its midst. The last man standing — one who’d been made to wear shock collars all over his body and serve Steve-O breakfast while singing a country song — was jubilant after he was finally thrown from the Wheel of Death.
But because he hadn’t ridden the merry-go-round for the duration of the song, he was only awarded $6,700.
It was, ladies and gentlemen, the trashiest TV I’ve ever been accused of watching, and when I told my husband about it in detail when I got home, I’m pretty sure he started loving me a little less. But, man, it sure made poor Art’s birthday memorable.